“The best camera is the one in your hand.”
– Pete McBride, a National Geographic Photographer –
I photograph shadows that I find interesting, but shadows don’t last long, so I try to have a camera nearby at all times. If I have to search for a camera, by the time I return, the angle of the sun will have changed the shadow, or clouds will have blurred or blocked it completely. Catching a shadow means using the camera that’s nearest to hand.
Last week, I mused about finding meaning and purpose in life, which I suggested begins with discovering the gifts we’ve been given and cultivating them. Then we give of them graciously and generously. But that can be done only in the moment-by-moment context of our individual lives. So how do we do that? How do we know which direction to go? How do we know what our gifts are? It’s a bit like catching a shadow; it’s done with what’s at hand.
So what’s in your hand right now? (Literally it may be a phone, which could be your answer, but in case it’s not, go with me metaphorically for a minute.) That’s where we start: What do I have? What can I do? What doors are open for me at the moment? Sometimes the answer hits like lightning; we wake up one morning and simply know what to pursue. At other times, discovering our direction requires pausing and taking the time to reflect. What is in my hand?
It’s an ancient question, as old as Moses. Before he was a famous leader, Moses was a not-so-famous leader . . . of sheep. (Well, maybe he was popular among the sheep, and he was wanted as a murderer, but that didn’t look so good on his resumé.) Then one day Moses took a Time-Out from shepherding his flock to get a closer look at a burning bush and found himself standing before God (Genesis 3, 4).
Behind Moses was his conflicted past, which he knew all too well; before him lay his future, which was about to blow wide open with risk and uncertainty. But at that present moment, all he knew was that he was standing barefoot on holy ground, watching the strangest bonfire he’d ever seen, and hearing the Voice of God.
“I’m sending you to Pharaoh,” said God. “Tell him to let my people leave Egypt.”
“How?” asked Moses. “No one will listen to me.”
And God asked, “What’s in your hand, Moses?”
I picture Moses glancing sideways at his shepherd’s staff, maybe self-consciously shifting his grip a bit. His staff was a symbol of his leadership, although at the moment his only followers were sheep, and they weren’t always so cooperative. He had to nudge, guide, and sometimes even rescue his sheep. With his staff. But that was his gift at the moment. And it just so happened that at the moment, his gift was needed. Moses knew very well what was happening in his generation. Now Life was calling to him. And where was his gift? He was holding it.
But to figure that out, Moses had to take a Time-Out. Seth Godin has said, “[S]ilence used to be precious, it used to be at the heart of our joy and our humanity. . . The silence of sitting and wondering. The silence of ‘what happens next?'” Sometimes we don’t slow down long enough to notice the burning bush. Or to listen for the Voice. Or to discover the gift that was in our hand all along.
The fact that we often call slowing down “taking time” hints at the need to be intentional about it. We can take time. We can look for it, grab it, and spend it purposefully and meaningfully. That may require setting aside our devices for a while. I’m on social media, and I’m grateful that the internet connects me to information and networks me with a variety of people, but I’ve also experienced the way it cuts into my time, lures me in, and lulls me into pursuing the next story and the next. Link, link, link. Eventually links make chains, and some of those chains are awfully hard to break.
Author Matthew Crawford points out that when we live through and on screens, we’re “encountering the world through manufactured experiences” and we’re more easily manipulated, because those encounters are mediated. It’s worth asking what we might be losing with 24/7 connectivity. Could we benefit from a Time Out?
In her book Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett quotes Ellen Davis of Yale Divinity School as saying, “. . . anything in our world now that slows us down is to be valued.” Why? Because slowness and stillness is the state in which we cultivate calm and inner peace. Slowness and stillness can help us notice the sacred space within us and the touch of God in the world around us. Slowness and stillness can nudge us toward appreciating what we have rather than racing toward what we don’t have. Slowness and stillness can nurture gratitude rather than greed, contentment rather than cravings.
Jonathan Swift said, “May you live every day of your life.” He obviously meant more than simply breathing and having a heartbeat. Swift’s way to live requires being intentional and aware, and that often means slowing down. When we speed through life, it’s hard to gain more than just a fleeting impression of people, places, and events. But when we gear down our minds and bodies, we give ourselves a chance to be present and to witness life.
We also give ourselves a chance to discover the specific how-when-and-where of our gifts, which, like Moses’s gift, can be found only in the context of our time, our era, our generation. Are you a baby boomer? A Gen-Xer? A Millennial? How is your life calling to you? What is your time, your era, your decade asking of you right now? What’s in your hand?
Next week: a bit more on taking time.
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Shadow photo and Text © 2017 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.
Other photos courtesy pexels.com.