Saturday, June 11, 2011
On the Gift of the Spirit
I have a small collection of books that can be summed up under the title “Street Photography.” They are books of photographs, mostly black and white. Helen Stummer, Helen Leavitt, Milton Rogovin, Vivian Maier, Robert Frank, Robert Doisneau. Most of the pictures are of ordinary scenes taken on city streets. Places like Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York. Tiny slices of life taken from the billions of scenes that make up life every day.
I have my favorites.
A little girl proudly carrying two bottles of milk down a city sidewalk. The bottles are nearly half her size.
Two kids in their first communion clothes, a boy and a girl, dressed in a white suit and white dress, standing in front of the tenement where they live.
A black man, dancing in front of a juke box in a bar in Buffalo, New York, swaying just right to whatever was playing on the jukebox.
A little boy in a tattered coat and pants, crying and wiping tears from his eyes as his friends stand at a distance, laughing at him.
Two little black kids, two boys, on sitting on a curb. One is crying. The other has his arms around him, trying to comfort him.
A group of kids, staring at a dead cat on a city street.
Two old people, a man and a woman, sitting on folding chairs in front of their apartment, watching the world on their street go by.
Pentecost moves one to wonder about God, about the gift of the Spirit, about the gifts that came with wind, with fire and the shape of tongues, when for a miraculous moment, men and women understood with clarity what was being said in the babble of many languages. A gift, it was, of seeing clearly and deeply into life, into the human heart.
And so it moves one to try and frame this fire with words, to contemporize it, to say yes, we still can say we live from the spirit, for we are church and we believe.
All my pictures are silent. But there were voices when the photographer framed the picture and pressed the shutter release. There were voices, and the sounds of cars and busses and trolleys. There were birds, and the sound of the wind as it moved through the trees. There were tears, cries and laughter. All silent now. At least in the photographs. But the sound is not necessary to see the beauty, the aching beauty in each of them. How much of the world’s sounds is made of words? Very little, I would guess. Meaning comes through to us in more than language. It is all around us, all the time. In a hug, a dance, a face full of tears, a little girl proudly carrying two bottles of milk.
Photos always say more than words can say.
And I think Pentecost does, too. It is a gift of the Spirit, who opens our eyes to what we cannot say with words, cannot see with our eyes, cannot know with our minds, but can surely take in with our hearts. We experience something, someone, wondrous and we cry because we cannot have it all or even say it all. It is a gift larger than our hearts, but of our hearts. A gift, more than we can say. A photo, taken at just the right moment, can be like stealing fire, allowing us to see what we always seem to miss, right in our midst. A world aflame, and someone saw it, and took a picture.