Although I suppose I am genetically predisposed to be, I am in fact not a photographer. My maternal grandfather was a prolific professional taker and maker of everything photographic, from thousands of school portraits to magnificent winter scenes to serene lakeside perspectives to all the necessary supplies. His name was Leo, and folks across our community may have heard of him.
Alas, those particular genes are not developed in me, so to speak.
However, a different photographer named Don offered me a rather simple yet illustrative gift that I’m using in this reflection. Don said he had the key to taking a really good picture.
Don’t just “point and shoot,” as one camera used to advertise. After seeing your intended subject through the lens or in the window, pause, and think about how you feel in the moment. Then after determining the specific part of your subject that triggered the emotion, simply crop away everything else, make your final adjustments, and press the button.
Said another way, focus on what matters most ... and trim away the rest.
I recall a short video on “perspective.” It began with a photo looking down from ten feet away on a little girl sleeping in a hammock. Cute, but uninspiring. However, from about two feet away, lower down and through the woven cords with a slightly softened focus, the picture told a story — a story of serenity, innocence, trust.
It became clear, one might say, that this is the same process or work of our spirituality — focusing on what matters most in our lives and trimming away and releasing what does not.
When we, me included, go about our lives with little challenge or difficulty, proceeding through our routines and presuming that positive things are the norm, we may lose focus on what matters most. We may be tempted to “take it all in” and thus find it hard to let go of unnecessary properties. And, like photography, when there is too much in the picture, we lose perspective, nothing stands out, it becomes overwhelming, and the story is lost.
All too often it is not until our lives are traumatized by a crisis, that we suddenly see that we’ve been focusing on too much stuff and on the wrong stuff.
We have not been paying attention to the important aspects of existence, such as justice, kindness and humility. In such times, we have the opportunity to re-frame the picture, to readjust the aperture through which we look at life. As we make hard yet vital decisions about what does and does not offer meaning and purpose, we may discover that even negative things have potential.
The author of an insightful book, “When Sickness Heals” states that healthy spirituality re-frames the picture before us. Spiritual re-framing allows the (Holy or Great) Spirit that creates and sustains life to inspire our spirits to refocus and thus pay attention to the meaningful things of life, what is true, beautiful and good.
That is our gift; that is our work.
Timothy J. Ledbetter is a board-certified chaplain helping persons in crisis effectively cope and find their hope in hospital and hospice settings. He is married and delights in their children and grandchildren.