“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
— Romans 8:25
In 2004 I published a multi-genre book entitled Border Crossings: Words and Images that featured poems, essays, short stories and images. Virtually all of the photographs were “old school” — that is, analog not digital. The book was a combination of writings that I had written for performance, including a live dramatic reading with a jazz ensemble at the famed Sydney Opera House, and a photographic installation at the Wollongong City Art Gallery, also in Australia. What I remember most about preparing both shows was the slow, deliberate and tentative process of experimenting with musicians and developing film to create the right material for display. It was exhilarating.
It seems odd to me nowadays — for example after a university function — to receive hundreds of photos mere hours after the event, all in living colour, some already Photoshopped. I remember those early days where I waited weeks to get films back from the Kodak processing plant, or spent long hours in my own darkroom inhaling noxious chemicals and developing my own images. It is still true that some of the most exciting moments I can remember in my life involved submerging photographic paper into the developer and then waiting as the image hidden there slowly emerged. Then, and only then, did I know if a shot I had taken was any good.
I am not against the instant gratification of the digital age where iPhones render images up “in a flash” and everything is available, like fast food, at the drop of a hat. Or think of Snapchat where the goal is to send photos that will only remain visible for as little as one second and then forever after be deleted. I can’t help but feel that something has been lost in our speedy society, where patience and surprise no longer feed wonder. I see it sometimes in young people who expect everything “right now” — even in matters of learning. And I know that education can’t work like digital photography. Knowledge is something layered and built upon — it is something that develops, even in the dark, until slowly, what we know emerges and takes shape. Great teachers understand this. They don’t try to create instant knowledge. They layer and challenge, tease out and build upon. Sometimes students don’t even realize the scope of their understanding until much later, when the full picture emerges.
I believe this is true as well of faith. For many, I know, faith is immediate and irrevocable. For many more, however, it is a journey — one with twists and turns, progress and set backs. At times it is a struggle completed entirely in the dark, until something happens and the beauty of faith develops. And it is no less precious for being slow in coming or for being, initially, out of focus. True believers are no less valuable to Christ because they stumbled, searched, resisted or questioned. Because when that moment of faith does finally emerge it is a thing of beauty — a picture, dare I say, worth a thousand words.
Turcotte is president of St. Mary’s University in Calgary.