It is funny how we can find reasons to dislike something just because we are not good at that very thing. A confession: I am hopeless at taking photographs. Despite the fact it has never been easier in a sense, with the advances in mobile phones and so on, I am still hopeless. All the technology in the world cannot hide my incompetence. I was looking at some photographs taken by one of my nieces of her wee girl. I can see that they are perfectly framed, but know that give me a month of Sundays and longer, and I would never be able to produce something of similar merit. It is one of my secret long living shames hiding there among many others, such as that at school I was never able to make an owl noise with my hands or whistle like a Shepherd! While I am at it, another long standing embarrassment comes to mind: I have never quite managed to make out the Sleeping Warrior on Arran! There, it is out in the open: “Thank you Jesus!” In fact now I am released from the shame of not seeing this wretched man let me give you the lurid details. At times I have even tried to help others see it/him, not knowing what on earth I was pointing at! Once I thought I had seen it/him at last but when I pointed it out to the person manfully persisting in trying to show me he told me it was not where I was looking at all! He persisted and persisted saying, “`But look, you must see it!” Eventually I lied: “Oh you mean there? Oh yes, it is really clear. I see it now!” By the same way I see the same thing with folk being prayed for in Charismatic meetings: “Are you feeling better?” “No, no difference!” “Let’s pray some more…” “Are you feeling better now?” “No!” “Let’s s pray some more then…” In front of 4000 people only people with quite weird personalities can take this without embarrassment and without eventually cracking. Most will be reduced within a few minutes to saying, “ Yes, yes, YES, the pain has gone!” and everyone claps as you limp back to your chair, not only not healed but now you realise that not quite all the crowd is clapping after all! Despite you trying to put on your most convincing “I have just been healed” face, the more discerning among the 4,000 know you have just lied as well! What a relief it is to get these secrets out there! By the way, do not send me a photograph of the Sleeping Warrior in response even if you do mark him out in fluorescent paint to point him out for me… and don’t send me a “name it and claim it” healing book either! Been there, got the T Shirt!
Now that I have got the honest confession out of the way, I want you to believe that what I am writing today is not to hide my inadequacy as a photographer behind lofty sounding spiritual principles. As far as I can tell, God’s message to some of us this very day may well be, “Before you take the photograph…” That may sound a pretty vague message, but I have to try and be true to what I think God wants to say.
When you get some sort of revelation from God, you don’t aways get the interpretation, but in this case I think I know what God is wanting to say today through that half sentence. I was looking not long ago at a photograph of a time when my son and myself were staying on the shores of Loch Fyne, with some other fine fellows. Actually we nicknamed ourselves, “The Fyne Dukes!” It sounds like a brand name that could be an umbrella over all sorts of produce with the vaguest of links to Scotland. In fact maybe I will copyright it and sell it to you if you want to buy it! Anyway, we had a wonderful time, just wonderful. We were blessed in so many ways, including by the Northern Lights showing up on our last night. I found my heart bursting with gratitude to God for all sorts of reasons, and to this day am thankful for the memories, for the goodness of God and for the generosity of the couple who allowed us the use of their beautiful house.
However, my photographs don’t really capture what I found so heartbreakingly beautiful about the place and the whole experience. C. S. Lewis one talked about a beauty that was so extreme it could break and heal your heart. I think that is the sort of phrase I would use to describe actually being there with the Dukes of Fyne on Loch Fyne. In many ways I was at a very weak place in terms of my illness and coming to terms with the inevitable retirement on health grounds. I encountered in these days the beauty of God in nature and in my fellow Dukes who looked after me so well. All of that did have both a breaking and a healing effect…
…. enough tangents! Back to the photographs! They were probably some of the best I have taken. In a sense they are accurate, but the most accurate remembering is in the banks of my emotional memory, in my heart. It is good to be like Mary and “ponder things” in our heart.The photographs took seconds to take, but I must have stared at the actual scenes fact for a cumulative total of many hours. Kenneth Steven sums up so well what I am trying to say in his book of poems, “Salt and Light.” In a beautiful poem called “Pictures of Assynt” he speaks about another type of picture taking than the click of anI iPhone or any other type of camera shutter. He says, “Let the eyes filter these pictures instead, through the dark room of the mind, into the pages of the heart.”
It is sad that many people’s only access to some beauty that they have seen in the past will be iPhone photographs. A sudden click, and then moving on. The truth is that nothing but gazing and pondering and storing things in the heart can then conjure up remembrance of truest beauty and make the blessing live once more.
By “Before you take the photograph…,” I think God is maybe wanting to challenge the pace at which we live our lives: immense beauty pondered, then becoming a trace in the memory banks of a phone. There is merit in standing and staring, and allowing beauty to filter though into the heart. I am not sure there is much space for lingering, thinking, meditating in our culture these days of everything having to be instant. A pause of a few seconds waiting for something to appear on a computer screen can cause an off the scale reaction of frustration! Somewhere in my memory I remember someone saying, “Hurry is of the devil.” Another person present corrected them and said, ‘Today, hurry is the devil.” It stops us being still, stops us gazing. We take from many experiences only a few drips of the blessing we could have known, because we just rush on.
Ian White once wrote a song containing the line, “A glance may save but the gaze transforms.” I think this is one of my very favourite lines out of any hymn or song, ancient or modern.
Have you got an iPhone camera approach to beauty and to times of blessing? Click!… and move on? Patterns in one sphere can become a more pervasive habit covering bigger areas of our life than we might have intended. Have you, have I got an iPhone approach to God? Read the bible… click! Nothing carried in the heart through the day. God tells us something encouraging through another person…click!… it has become a past event rather than something that lives and breathes within us.
According to Paul, for sons and daughters of God to change more and more to be like our elder brother Jesus and our Heavenly Father, we have to behold the beauty of the Lord. This sounds like more than a glance. It sounds to me like a gaze that transforms.
That strange sounding word that is the title of this blog and its explanation may be difficult for some of us to receive because our minds and bodies are so conditioned by a restlessness to move on. Well, at some point you have to ask God to break that bad habit. What good will it do you if you achieve much, gain much, but your soul suffers? The bible tells us “ Be still.” I am doing a course on Christian Mindfulness at the moment. In the meditation exercises at first it was incredibly difficult for me not to take a look at my phone or emails half way through! Lingering and gazing are so unfashionable today it might seem a very uncomfortable place for some of us. Can we be still and alone in general? Can we be still before God, or is there something that seems very strong urging us to get on with things? Remember, in many though certainly not in all instances, “Hurry is the devil!”
So,”Before you take the photograph…,” is not just for those who have iPhones. Maybe you were going, “Whew, I haven’t got an iPhone so this blog is not for me!” I hope after reading it you will understand what that half sentence laid on my heart by the God who loves everyone who reads this blog, is really about. After all we probably were made to ask the question by rote when we were at school, “What is this life if full of care we have no time to stand and stare?” Stop clicking and moving on. Learn to be still. Remember “a glance may save but the gaze transforms.”
God bless you, real good!
PS – I would commend to you again the Concept of Christian Mindfulness which is relevant in the light of this blog.
I am finding this so helpful myself.
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