As I noted in last week’s post, I’m getting to know a new camera. I’m also using this opportunity to connect some photography terms, which are top-of-mind for me these days, with the spiritual life. Last week I focused on focus and this week I’ll address a related term: depth of field.

Depth of field is basically how much of a picture is in focus. Field refers to what we can see within the frame of the camera. It’s similar to the medical definition of “visual field,” which is what we can see with our eyes. Depth refers to how deep (in terms of inches or feet) is that part (or plane) of the photograph that’s in focus.

There are several elements that factor into how much of the photograph is in focus, but that’s not the primary focus(!) of my post today. Instead, I want to ponder how some of those ideas impact how we approach our spiritual lives.

The photo above has a shallow depth of field, meaning that the background is out of focus, which naturally brings our attention away from the blurry background (called bokeh) and onto what we can see clearly. Spiritually, we do that when we choose to focus our attention on one spot and ignore other areas within our visual field.

For example, when we worship in a church, there’s a lot going on. We might focus our attention on the alert choir, the busy organist, the gesticulating clergy, or the cute young acolyte playing with the folds of her vestments. Each of those focus points will bring us different input and possibilities. We might imagine joining with the choir in joyous song or recall a time when we belted out melodies on a hike without concern for any audience. We might recall times when we, like an organist, have practiced and perfected something challenging and important that would help others draw closer to Christ. We could watch clergy lifting the eucharistic elements in prayer and give thanks for Jesus’ love incarnate. We could also celebrate the innocent unselfconsciousness of youth and thank God for the active presence of young people in our churches.

On the other hand, we could choose to expand our depth of field and take it all in, as a whole, along with the art on the church walls, our fellow worshippers, and the sounds and smells that surround us. With this broader depth of field, we embrace the sense of “church” as a whole. We let it all have equal focus in a unified frame. No one thing is central. Instead, we catch a glimpse of our unity in Christ and perhaps even connect with the unseen communion of saints that help to bring it all together in this one moment of time.

So, spiritually speaking, do you tend toward a shallow or broad depth of field? Do you focus on the individual elements or the greater whole, and why? What would it be like to shift your perspective in the other direction in the days ahead?

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