When I worked as a reporter for the Rapid City (S.D.) Journal eons ago, the paper had on staff an outstanding photographer in Don Polovich. Don won my admiration and that of many others with his artistic and newsworthy shots, so well composed and eye-catching. He may still be with the paper for all I know.
I know I was not alone when I would report into the office about something I had witnessed and Don’s response was always, “Where’s the photo?” I wonder if he ever counted the number of times he said that to writers. Those of us who write are intent on making our words paint the picture. But there are times when only a photograph will do, and often without a caption or, as we used to say in the business, a cutline. Don could do that. Yes, he went on assignment to get photographs to illustrate stories in progress, but some of his best work, to my way of thinking, were those photographs that just stood on their own, telling the story without the assistance of a writer.
I’ve carried Don’s admonition to me through the years. For a long time, I was never without a camera. Well, a camera and several lenses and a bag to carry it all in. Then there was the film in canisters (my preference was always black and white). I even set up my own darkroom. But over the years that camera bag seemed to get heavier and heavier. I finally turned to point-and-shoot equipment and, later, to digital point-and-shoot. At one point I gave up taking pictures at all because I knew what I was taking was not up to my standards and it was because of the equipment. When point-and-shoot became not only digital (no film) but self-contained with a really good quality zoom lens, I picked it up once again. Not so much weight to haul around, but I could still snap a picture easily.
When I have since seen a picture to snap and haven’t had my camera with me, I have heard Don’s voice ringing in my head, “Where’s the picture? Don’t tell me about it. Show me the picture.”
There are few times I had with me a piece of necessary gear: a tripod. Oh, I have two very nice ones, but I forget to throw them in the car. One is tall and similar in design to tripods of old (but more streamlined and lighter weight). The other fits in my hand and is meant to be set on top of a stable object (a parked car comes to mind). Very little of the time do I have either one.
Down the road a piece from our place at a farm we have come to take for granted in the last 15 years we’ve been here (although I’m not sure it has always been there) a star that seems to appear out of nowhere in the night sky. My guess is that the farmer has mounted the huge lighted five-pointed man-made stellar equivalent to what may be an old windmill infrastructure. I don’t know if he takes it down every year and replaces lights or if he somehow climbs up there to do it, but every year it just appears out of what would seem nowhere and, wouldn’t you know it, right in the weeks leading up to Christmas. While the cities and their lights are closing in around the farm, the sky stays relatively black with the exception of the lights of incoming planes to the nearby Madison airport or the flyby of the International Space Station. Even through the fog, the star acts as a beacon to those wending their way up and down Portage Road, an increasingly busy but unlit rural highway.
So early last night I decided to find a point where the star has taken my breath away on evenings in the past few weeks. We’ve had a mild December, but the temperature had dropped quickly as the day went on and I was unprepared. I didn’t have gloves. The wind blew around my ears. I didn’t have a tripod. And I didn’t account for the atmospheric change that can distort a photographic image. I was out of practice.
Still, there it was. I parked the car on a side road and let the few neighbors drive by me and gawk. They had to know what I had in my sights. I snapped photo after photo, every single one of them slightly out of focus or so out of focus that they gave the appearance of a falling star. I finally got back in the car to warm up and find my way home.
One of these days I’m going to stop at that farm, knock on the door, and let that farmer know how much I appreciate that light in the sky. I get so busy that I forget about Advent and waiting and exactly why I am waiting. That star, high atop an old windmill tower, leaps out from behind the hills and the trees for miles around as a reminder that I am waiting for someone special, someone who will be a wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that my photos of that star are distorted. I suspect that the Messiah I expect to come has little to do with what God has in mind. He’s not going to look or think like I do. He’s going to speak a language I don’t understand. His view of the world will be loving beyond my ability to imagine. And his acceptance of all people, especially the poor and ostracized, will make me very uncomfortable.
And yet I think, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” Clear up the distortions in my own life. Help me to see clearly in the dark and the light. Help me to see that you come for all of us.
And if I could get a good snapshot of you when it all happens, that would really be nice.
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. – Isaiah 9:2-7