Prey prefers to blend into the surrounding landscape. Look at this photo from my recent trip to the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum; can you easily see the cactus wren? It blends into its background beautifully, making it more difficult for hunters to spot. (In fact, until this recent visit, I had not managed to photograph cactus wrens in the wild, even though they are the Arizona state bird!)
As I continue my series on connecting camera concepts with the spiritual life, I’m focusing (pun intended!) this week on contrast. When we want something to stand out in a photograph, we make sure to take it against a contrasting background. The best backgrounds are either monochromatic (such as a clear blue sky) or unfocused patterns (the bokeh I mentioned last week) which do not draw the eye. This allows our attention to naturally shift to where the photographer wants us to look.
So, what does contrast have to do with the spiritual life? There are times when we naturally want to blend in with our surroundings. In church, we want to sing in harmony and pray on pace with our fellow worshippers. (If you’ve ever worshipped in a large, multilingual congregation and been invited to pray the Lord’s Prayer in your own language, you understand how discordant it can feel, regardless of the good intentions!)
Yet there are times for standing in contrast with our tradition as well. Sometimes that means truth-telling when we feel the church is not acting in accord with Jesus’ values, as Episcopal Bishop Jennifer Reddall did in a post about the recent Lambeth Conference. We do it with honesty and love, pointing out what we are also doing right, as she did. We do it with our painful and problematic past, as is happening with Christian-run schools for Native American children. We also do it in prayerful realizations and personal conversations as the Spirit gives us opportunities to comprehend (and sometimes point out) the contrast between the choices we make and how Jesus would have us live.
Photographers can also create contrast by juxtaposing unlikely elements. I particularly like to photograph new growth arising out of something that seems ancient or dead. In the spiritual life, we sometimes do this by highlighting ancient practices in fresh new ways, as St. Philip’s Church is doing with Night Song Tucson, a fresh, multisensory experience of the ancient Daily Office service of Compline staged monthly in downtown Tucson.
This week, I invite you to look for points of contrast in your life. Where do you want to blend in and why? Where is the Holy Spirit focusing your attention on something that stands out? What are you called to do, say, or pray in response to what you see, hear, or learn?