Family Photos

cameraMy wife is fascinated by all things technological.  Deep inside, I know that if I could manifest even a thumb-drive-full of tech-savvy for her, our love-life would immediately be upgraded by many, many gigabytes.  Alas, when it comes to technology, I’m an eight-track to her iTunes; a Walkman to her iPod; a three-speed Schwinn to her Segway.

One of the primary ways that Lisa’s love of technology manifests itself has to do with photography.  She loves her digital camera.  To me, a holiday or vacation photographer is like an entomologist who must capture and kill the rare butterfly in order to study and display it.  Right in the middle of a spontaneous experience, Lisa will pull everybody out of the action of the here-and-now moment, in order to frame up a picture for posterity’s sake.  During such Kodak moments, I have been known to go all Eckhardt Tolle on her, expounding on the importance of living in the “now” moment, yadayadayada…

Well…that’s what I used to say before my techy wife cut and spliced her photos and videos together to make an iMovie in honor of my birthday.  It was loaded with images of my kids and our family, framed up with an accompanying song, guaranteed to squeeze tears out of even the driest, most macho, cactus-heart. To this day, when I’m in a grocery store, and hear the song that accompanied my video, I have to bury my blubbery, tearful face in the canned goods, so as not to make a scene.

What I have come to understand, is that the frame of Lisa’s camera has a special setting to detect the sacred embedded within the ordinary.  Through its magic lens, Lisa scans her environment, and makes snap decisions about what will stay in the fuzzy background, and what will get pulled into focus as foreground.  In this way, Lisa’s photography has a way of framing up our experiences together.

I believe that her camera does what good stories are supposed to do.  Her snapshots, like a family’s stories, become the mental coat hooks on which family members hang memories and meanings.  They become important data points as each of us connect our family’s dots to make meaning of our lives together.

The extended form of the Gospel selection for this Sunday was Luke 2: 22-40.  In this selection, it was as if Luke opened up the Holy Family’s photo album for us.  From those old pages, the reader encountered some of the earliest snapshots of significant Holy Family events.

First, there was the photo of their encounter with the cryptic, poetic, old Simeon.  Next, was the snapshot of the ancient holy woman/prophetess, Anna, rejoicing with the bewildered young family.  Finally, the passage ended with a series of pictures taken back home in Nazareth that showed Jesus growing in “strength,” and manifesting “wisdom” as well as “God’s favor.”

When I read this passage, it occurred to me that the only way that the Gospel community of Luke would have known about these snapshots would have been through Mary’s stories.  I imagined her face, lined by the events in her son’s life.  I can see an oil lamp-lit room and the disciples’ faces.  They’re taking in stories told by that gentle voice, that only now, after her son’s death and resurrection, make sense.  These stories, preserved by the community gathered in that upper room, have provided essential data points in the Christian community’s self-understanding.

What are your holy family’s signature stories?  In each of our lives, there are moments, like the Holy Family’s encounters with Simeon and Anna that seem pregnant with meaning to us, and only make sense in retrospect.  When I tell my son, John Harry the story of how his mom’s water broke abruptly, with the startling sound of a firecracker, both he and I muse about how that moment framed up something special about his personality and future.  Lizzie never seems to grow weary of her own nativity narrative in which she pierced that silent night with an entrance cry so loud, that whales beached themselves trying to collect their new-born pod member from Saint Louis.  If ancient old Simeon from this week’s Gospel selection was standing nearby, his famous adage would have had to be re-written from,  “Master, now you may let your servant go in peace,” to “Master, now your servant will never have another moment’s peace.”  When God knit my little Lizzie together in her mother’s womb, he crafted a young lady who would exercise a unique, strong, and often-utilized voice.

An old favorite story I tell Annalise has to do with how she used to give me little plot lines, and together we would construct fairy tales out of them.  Her baby-sitter, Ratana, would transform into an Indian Princess who would fight tigers, befriend animals, and learn important life’s lessons.  The telephone poles on our street would re-grow their bark and branches at night, and discuss the previous day’s events with the chatty morning birds.  When I would tell later versions of Annalise about those old stroller rides, we would muse together about her love for reading and writing stories that has been evident all along.   At almost nineteen years of age, glimmers, evident in those early stories about her, are beginning to light the way as she chooses her directions for the future.

Like Lisa’s camera, family stories have a way of capturing the sacred in the ordinary.  By framing up select dimensions of the past, they set a course for the future.  What are the stories in your life that highlight the signature strengths of your marriage, of your children, of your own personality?  What are those stories told in a minor key that outline descent, followed by ascent and resilience?  An excellent way to honor the Feast of the Holy Family would be to pop the corn, light the fire, and tell those stories that highlight what is meaningful in your family.  As you live your life as a dad, or mom, son, or daughter, friend, or community member, what stories are you constructing by the way you are living your life?

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