I was on the edge of the Sea of Galilee just before dawn. It was my first time in Israel. Like many tourists, I had risen early that morning to get the perfect sunrise photo. Back then we still used something called film, which came in a cartridge we loaded in our camera. I had plenty of film left, at least a dozen shots.
As the sun came up, I snapped away, focused sometimes on the horizon, at other times on the glistening water. I had captured the moment, I thought, as I ran out of film. Then it happened. I first saw it through my view-finder. Then it was close enough to see with my own eyes. A little boat with a small, make-shift sail came into view about 50 yards from shore. The rising, blazing sun in the background encircled the boat for a picture-perfect moment. And I was out of film!
To make the moment richer yet, the man aboard the boat, sun behind him, took a fishing net and twirled it into the water with choreography of sheer beauty. I wondered, “What next? Maybe an appearance of Jesus walking on water?” I was in that moment without benefit of film. Years later, I can’t tell you where those dozen pictures of the Sea of Galilee are, but the beauty of that moment without film is forever inscribed in my memory.
Flash forward 30 years. Susie and I are in an airport restaurant. I comment to her that the couple at a table near us is hardly in the moment. The guy has his earphones in, listening to music or an audio book.
The woman is playing some game on her iPad. They’re eating lunch together alone, completely unengaged with each other. Then it dawns on me that I was not much better; I was busy people-watching instead of being fully present with Susie as we lunched together alone.
How difficult it is for us to be fully present in the moment! God (thank God!) has no such problem. God’s presence is rich, full and intense. Ps. 139:1-18 makes the point that God's presence with us is intense, constant, undistracted and penetrating. The presence of Christ, Immanuel, God-with-us, is like that too — constant, “always” (Matt. 28:20).
Perhaps our witness as Christians can be enhanced by giving those we know, work with and live with our undivided attention. That kindergarten teacher who raised our chin and looked right into our eyes to make us feel we were the only person who mattered in that moment — she may be our model. Better yet is Jesus, who made the needy person of the moment the center of his undivided attention, without distraction.
I suggest we set the camera aside, along with every other distracting device, and open ourselves to the present tense intensive — God in Word and Sacrament, worthy of wonder, love and praise, and the person before us, just now, waiting to be graced with our full and focused presence.