There’s a trope where we see pictures from a concert or a festival or some other notable event and no one in the crowd is watching. Instead, they’re looking at their phones. Of course, they’re taking pictures or videoing the event for posterity or to share with their friends later. It’s not that they’re not looking, but they are only accessing the event in a mediated way. They could have direct access if they put their phones down.
I’m not sure it’s the end of the world that people do this, though I’m old enough (midway Millennial) that it seems strange to me. I’ve attempted to watch a few gigs on Youtube that someone recorded on their phone. They invariably sound awful.
There are a number of philosophical angles we could take here to think about mediation and presence, but I want to approach a simpler idea.
I’ve taken to walking in the hills below Birmingham for a few hours every month or so. I take myself off to the woods with a notebook, the Psalms, and a travel mug of coffee, and I go on a walk with Jesus. Which in less religious language means that I pray while I walk around and look at the beauty of the forest.
It’s not a particularly breath-taking setting, they are a fairly low set of hills for all they have some good views from the heathland at the very top of each hill. Occasionally if you look away from the city you can catch a mountain brooding in the south down by Malvern. The forest is a country park, so the paths are well made and maintained, and it has a car park. It’s not exactly the wilderness.
But it’s a few minutes away from my door and I’ve come to love the opportunity to pray in an extended way that it grants me. It’s been important for me to do business with God about my own soul and I’ve grown to love those woods over the last few months.
You only have to take a step off the path between the trees and its easy to find yourself in a little dell, hidden from eyes, or a shadowed hollow, or a goat trail up the side of a hill. Every time there’s a moment where something about the woods catches my breath.
The views that stop me, the way that the light cascades through the trees and illuminates the scene just so, are not photographable. Perhaps for a professional with great equipment they could capture the subtle interplay of the sun and shade, but for me on my phone? Impossible. I’ve tried occasionally, thinking either that I’d like to show Helen or just that I’d like to capture the beauty that the Lord has painted for me to look at later. It isn’t possible. Invariably the pictures I take are flat and uninteresting. They do not demonstrate the depth or the beauty. It’s just a bunch of trees.
There is something here—between my flat photographed trees and concerts filmed on a phone—of the uncapturable. We cannot truly capture God’s creation well with the devices we make. Or, those of us who can require incredible skill and effort to do so—much as those who capture the creation on canvas with paint do. Instead, we can only observe it with our eye, that wonderful device that the Lord has given us to witness his glory resplendent in the temple of the earth.
Even that falls short—I, for example, am profoundly colourblind. I see almost entirely in brown and grey, I’m told. I don’t perceive the world like that, and my eye is still caught by the changes of green as I visit my forest month by month. But there is a world that I do not know, and I would imagine will not know until I observe it with resurrected eyes.
I suspect that is true of all of us. We await bodies that are raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15), that will have eyes that can perceive more of God’s glory in creation than those we have now. Or perhaps it will be more a change of perspective. Either way, I suspect we will all have the same reaction I will on seeing colour for the first time.
And, inevitably, you wouldn’t be able to capture it on your phone.
To subscribe and receive email notifications for future posts, scroll all the way to the bottom of the page.
Would you like to support my work? The best thing you can do is share this post with your friends. Why not consider also joining my Patreon to keep my writing free for everyone. You can see other ways to support me here.