Seeing as I’m 23 years old, I thought posting with just 23 days left is rather appropriate. This past weekend, the Rutba House spent three days at Wrightsville Beach. Absolutely gorgeous weather, water, location. Every time I go to the beach, I can’t help but compare it to the few days I spent in Mombasa, Kenya on the beach there (the little bit of picture on the top of this page is from a sunrise in Mombasa). I think of the countless times I’ve woken up to see the sunrise or stood in awe at a sunset, especially over the ocean, and I’m reminded of something Jean Vanier said when he visited Duke back in November: You shouldn’t photograph sacred things.
I’ve thought about that a lot and I certainly agree with it. My parents have always objected to photographers during the wedding ceremony, or video cameras or pictures during baptisms. I don’t know if that’s exactly why, but it makes sense to me.
I’d actually go a step further and say that it is impossible to photograph/capture the sacred. Anyone who has ever tried to take a picture of a flower or a sunset/sunrise knows this. I can’t count how many times I’ve tried to take a picture of the sunrise and been disappointed because it didn’t come out quite like I saw it. I’ve come out with some beautiful pictures, but never have I once felt like the picture showed exactly what I saw and felt. Wedding pictures are the same way. There’s just something intangible and necessary about witnessing firsthand a wedding that cannot be captured on film. Sex, we all know, loses all its sacredness through the media, television, pornography.
This doesn’t diminish the place of art or photography or even film to have something to say about life or sacredness. While I certainly believe those are parts of new creation, life is meant to be lived and experienced and will always be a fuller instance of new creation than a piece of art or music. A human being has the capactity to embody the new creation in a way that non-life ever will be able to.
In an age that increasingly expects to be able to record pretty much everything in sound and film, it is important to step back recognize the uniqueness of sacred acts. It’s okay that we didn’t capture it on film. Just like we don’t need to always be available to the world through cell phones and email, we don’t need to feel the pressure to photograph every important moment in our lives, because in reality, I think that we all know that some of the most intimate and important parts of our lives have never been captured and cannot be.
I guess I relate this to leaving here because I haven’t taken as many photos as I’d hoped to. I won’t leave with more than a few pictures of everyone that I love, and many of the most significant moments of my time here are vivid only in my memory. There is something sacred about this place, these people, this life. I don’t know what exactly that means for me as I move on, but in the sacrificial love of the Rutba House, God comes here to dwell, and that is an experience in sacrament and holiness that is unique to this place. How often we understate the importance of place, the sanctity of place. Life isn’t easy here, but it is good. Jesus invites us not to an easy yoke (though often translated that way) but rather to a good yoke, a good way of living. “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good,” comes to mind. There’s something alive and dangerous about a committed life, a life of prayer, solidarity, hospitality, and humility. It threatens complacence, apathy, and our subconcious complicity with a world that tells us to move up economically while pushing down our brothers and sisters.
I can’t say that I’ve figured out all that Rutba House points to, but I am happy to say that I’ve been here for almost 10 months, that I’ve seen and been seen by some people who dwell in a place of transfiguration, of transforming love. As I look for spiritual formation and guidance, I will always look back at my time here as foundational to who I am and who I serve.