This week I continue my series on connecting photographic ideas with our spiritual lives. Today, I’m reflecting on the concept of speed. This refers to shutter speed, which is the amount of time that a camera shutter is open, allowing the film or digital sensor to receive light (be “exposed”) and record the image visible through the camera’s lens. While the digital camera on your smart phone doesn’t have a mechanical shutter, many modern DSLRs (like my new camera) do, and if you’re curious about why, you can learn more here.
It’s helpful to understand that the higher the speed (the longer the time that the shutter is open), the more light comes in. Exposing for one second is helpful if you’re trying to capture the crescent moon at midnight, but leaving the shutter open that long during the day will result in an overexposed, mostly white image. Here in the desert, I typically shoot at 1/500 or 1/800 of a second and the image comes through just fine. (There are other settings that I use which impact this choice of speed, including ISO, which relates to the “speed” of film from back in “the old days”…but I digress…!)
If we leave the camera shutter open too long, so much light will flood in that it will overwhelm and wash out the image we hoped to capture. This happens in the spiritual life, much like with social media, when there is too much input and we are so oversaturated (another photographic term) that our brains, hearts, and souls can’t process or sort through all we are receiving. We are not wired to be bombarded with information 24/7/365, just like the camera system is not designed to withstand the shutter constantly being open.
In terms of speed and the spiritual life, I think of the amount of time we give to checking in with God in different contexts. Sometimes it’s a speedy, “Thank you for this gorgeous sunrise!” as we drive to work. At other times we step into our spiritual routines and spend twenty or thirty minutes with God in scripture study and prayer. Scripture records how Jesus did this by regularly going off by himself to connect with his Abba in the midst of a full life of ministry.
Occasionally, I hope we all set aside entire days to go on spiritual retreat, removing ourselves more completely from our full lives of ministry, work, and media saturation. We need the equivalent of that slower speed and longer exposure in order for the subtler midnight light to fill our souls. (In fact, there’s a monastic retreat happening at our diocesan retreat center here in Arizona right now—but no, I didn’t sign up for it this year, as I recently returned from two weeks of communing with God in the Colorado mountains, as the above photo shows.) If you haven’t been on retreat ever, or in a while, I encourage you to explore what’s available in your area and consider slowing your speed to receive more of what God has to offer.
Meanwhile, I invite you this week to notice the different speeds at which your spiritual life operates. Ponder how you might change things up a bit. What impact might that have on what you can see and receive in prayer?
The fast jam-packed lifestyle is destructive to family and community as well. Most people “don’t have time” to take a walk, visit with the neighbors, slow cook a dinner, calmly eat the dinner in conversation with family and friends, raise a garden, knit, read. And what are they doing instead?
Thank you, James, for this powerful point. Substantive relationships certainly can suffer in this way, and our relationship with God suffers in a similar fashion.