I’ve discovered a new hobby, and I have to credit my son with introducing it to me. Nate is currently a member of the yearbook team at Central High in Little Rock and has taken up sports photography. Over the past several months, I have driven him to and from Tigers games so he can capture the action, and on the way he’s been educating me on the basics of cameras. For those of you who are into photography, you know there is a whole wide world out there far beyond the simple iPhone selfie. There’s so much to learn. I’ve always had an interest, but never access to the gear. So, I decided that Santa needed to splurge a bit and bring Nate a camera with some bells and whistles for Christmas this year. Of course, he would probably need some help setting it up and testing it out, and, you know, someone to keep an eye on it from time to time when he wasn’t using it. Well, Santa came through, and Nate and I have had a lot of fun with our new toy over the past several days.

Little did I know, though, that a camera is so much more than a gadget to capture images–it’s also an uncanny metaphor for the spiritual life. I’m not sure if Nate has fully bought into the philosophical angle on this hobby just yet, but for me, our camera has inspired some rich theological reflection. You see, cameras are all about light. That is, measuring it, limiting it, focusing it, and capturing it.

The heart of a camera is its digital sensor, or if it’s an analog camera, the film. Sensors are sensitive to light, and this sensitivity is measured in something called ISO. In front of the camera’s sensor is the shutter, which can be adjusted to stay open for different durations, exposing the sensor to the light outside for longer or shorter times. And beyond the shutter is the aperture, which works a lot like the human eye to constrict or dilate, controlling the amount of light coming in. In photography lingo, these three measures comprise the exposure triangle. First adjust the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. Then do a little focusing, press the button, and the sensor is exposed to the light of the world beyond.

Of course, like any art form, there is good deal of skill involved in photography, and that takes practice. But after just a few days of taking shots of our golden retriever in the backyard, I’ve already begun to notice how I pay attention to the world a little differently. The time of day and angle of the sun matters. Cloud cover matters. My capacity for patience matters. The willingness of the subject to stay put matters.

And here’s where the theological reflection comes in. In a way, a person is similar to the sensor in a camera. Like a sensor, we are sensitive to light. And I don’t mean in the physical sense, like how we need to wear sunscreen when we go to the beach (although that’s important). Our default mode of operation as part of God’s creation is to receive and respond to light.

Recalling the passage from Isaiah we heard on Christmas Eve: “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.” Isaiah is prophesying about a people witnessing a glimmer of hope after generations of political turmoil. Light brings so much, particularly to those who have experienced darkness: Warmth and rejuvenation, for one. People can shirk off the blankets they’ve been hiding under. Clarity of vision is another. They can peer far into the distance to plot their path, and they can better see their companions walking along side them. Light brings understanding, connection, and hope. This is why we’re sensitive to it. Light is life.

And this morning we heard John’s gospel link light to the person of Jesus: “What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people.” Just as we are instinctively drawn to a sunrise, we are drawn to Jesus. We simply cannot help it.

Like a photographer, we naturally want to do everything we can to get light to the camera’s sensor. We can work the exposure triangle to fine tune what we see, and sometimes we have to move around to get the right angle. It’s the same for us as Christians. As we go through occasional periods of darkness in our lives, it is helpful to know where and when that sunrise is going to take place. And it’s helpful to learn how to recognize light coming from sources we may not expect. The light of Christ is in this gathered community. It’s present within each of us. It’s present in our neighbors, indeed, it’s present in all of God’s creation. And just as we are drawn to it, the light is drawn to us: “The Word became flesh and made his home among us.”

One of features I’ve loved playing with most on our new camera is the aperture setting. As you recall, that’s one of the sides of the exposure triangle. Adjusting the aperture changes how much light the sensor is exposed to. But the aperture also controls something called “depth of field.” I’m sure you’ve seen those cool portrait shots where the subject is crystal clear in the front, and the background has a smooth blur. I have a bunch of these of my dog now, by the way, highlighting the many facets of her personality. Playing with the aperture is a way of playing with light, and insight awaits through experimentation. Portraiture becomes a way to see others, and life, in a new light.

As we begin a new year, how might we explore new ways of playing with light? What adjustments might we make in our prayer life, for example, or with our relationships with one another? How might we actively seek out the Light of Christ that is actively seeking us, and in doing so, open ourselves to new ways of seeing the world around us?

I want to leave you with a short poem by Chelan Harkin. It’s part of a collection she’s written on a theme entitled, “Susceptible to Light.” The poem is called, “The Reason I’m Hopeful.”

The reason I’m hopeful
is because I’ve never seen a tree
that grows backward,
never known a flower
to scurry away
from light
and I think the human spirit
to have even more
light thirsty petals
and an even stronger
and more determined

First Sunday after Christmas


See Harkin, Chelan. Susceptible to Light: Poetry. United States: Chelan Harkin, 2020.