Friday, October 19, 2007

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words ...

… but sometimes even a thousand words is not enough.

In recent weeks (feels like a lot longer!) I have been working on a photo gallery to add to my parish’s website. I’ve spent a bit of time taking pictures at church and more than a few evenings viewing and sorting and generally wading through pictures of the worship and parish life of the church – plugging a few photos in and “trying them on” and replacing them with others I thought might be better, considering and reconsidering which images might be helpful, especially for those potential visitors who would like a little visual taste of Holy Trinity.

At first I was fairly charged up about this task – eager to present to the world a glimpse of at least some of the beauty I have long seen in Orthodox Christianity. But the longer I spent with this project poring over the same images many times, the more futile I began to feel such efforts are. How can something as simple as a photograph or a series of photos give anyone a real or true sense of Church?

For example, how can a picture of our lovely new icon (an icon of Christ Enthroned which covers the entire ceiling of the nave) give anyone a sense of what it is like to stand in the presence of it and to see it with their own eyes – to be engaged by it and to be changed by it? The photo of this icon is nice enough and it is beautiful, but merely seeing a picture of it seems so one-dimensional. It is nothing compared to being there.

It’s the same with the liturgy. We can put some photos out there of liturgy; the liturgical actions of the clergy and the laity - of the community at worship – all of which is beautiful to see. But to simply see pictures taken at worship is so far removed from the reality of being a part of it – of worshipping – that it almost seems pointless to put such photos out there.

I feel this way sometimes when friends ask me what Orthodox worship is like. How can I answer this question? Nothing I can possibly say will describe it adequately – and so I say what the Church says, “Come and see.” But when I tell them to come and see for themselves, I say it almost fearfully – almost hoping that they don’t. Because deep down inside I fear that they will not see what I see; that what I find beautiful and rich and what I find to be undeniably the Truth, they will find to be empty or meaningless or just plain confusing. I fear that their experience of worship at my church will serve to only somehow drive us apart. So I don’t often invite – but inside I always want to, thinking that if these friends could just see for themselves a little of Orthodoxy, then they wouldn’t have to ask why I became an Orthodox Christian – they would just understand. Yet from my own experience, I know that this isn’t always true, either (having attended my first Orthodox liturgy when I was about 23 and not becoming Orthodox myself until I was 46).

But I think I have come to a place of peace about the photo album – or at least a place of relative peace. The old saying is true: pictures cannot do justice here. But the gallery is what it is, however inadequate. Whatever it turns out to be, with God’s help, it will be enough.


DebD said...

I so understand what you are saying.

I remember once about a year ago watching a Hierarchical DL on TV. It was such a disappointment. Things like that just do not tranfer, they must be experienced first-hand. I know whenever I take photo's of my parish they just don't look like they should... the "experience" cannot be captured. I do enjoy looking at other people's photos of all things Orthodox.

Do you know that Flickr has an Orthodox group? You could literally spend HOURS looking at lovely photos.

-C said...

Is that the Orthodox Photos site? I've been there (many times and for long visits) and just love it.


DebD said...

Yes, I think thats the same one. Its hard to break away once I'm there.

Emily H. said...

Your church's website is very nice. A photo album will be a good addition. I can't wait to see it!

-C said...

Thank you, Emily - I'll share your comments with the designer of our site.

Soon enough the link will be on Holy Trinity's website, I hope. I'm just awaiting a couple of permissions, then I'll send an email to our gifted webmistress, who can then make it available to the public.

Thanks for visiting, too, Emily - I've been a longtime lurker at your blog. Seems we share some bloglinks ...