5:20 a.m. on Thursday. I opened the front door and gasped. A golden round moon hung just over the rolling hill, rendering my tiny flashlight superfluous. I stopped in my tracks as the dog, impatient for our morning walk, tugged at his leash. “Wait,” I commanded, and he stopped, cocking his head and looking at me in confusion. “Look at the moon, Beck!” He waited patiently as I stood and breathed in the pre-dawn air.
We walked our usual path, and the moon followed, lighting our way through the silence of a neighborhood still asleep. When we returned from our walk, I darted inside and pulled my cell phone from my purse as the moon prepared to drop behind the western horizon. I hurried to the top of the hill and snapped several photos, increasingly frustrated at the quality. I considered waking my husband, but by the time he pulled out his Nikon and dressed to go outside, the moon would be gone.
The next day I took my camera with me, but while the moon was still spectacular, it had lost its crisp roundness and its golden glow. And the best camera couldn’t have done justice to being in the presence of even that less spectacular moon.
While technology is increasingly able to capture sight and sound, I’m struck by how often I’m disappointed. A few years ago, I was introduced toJonathan Butler, a South African musician who came of age during apartheid, when friends invited my husband and me to join them for a Dave Koz Christmas concert at the Strathmore Theater in Bethesda. Butler brought the entire crowd—a very diverse audience in both ethnicity and faith, since Koz is Jewish—to their feet.
A former evangelical who has converted to Presbyterianism—a faith sometimes laughingly referred to as “the frozen chosen”—I’m not entirely comfortable with overt expressions of religious emotion. But hearing Butler sing “O Holy Night” made me feel I was in the presence of a spirited and joyful God. I went out the next week and bought a Butler CD. I love the CD, but each time I listen to it, I’m reminded of seeing him on that stage, and the recording can’t come close to the power of his presence in a live performance.
As I try to describe both experiences now, I understand all over again how words are so often inadequate. To describe the perfect incandescence of that full moon in its beauty or the power of Jonathan Butler’s talent is beyond my capability.
But I’m comforted that far greater writers have tried to describe the awe of nature or the power of an event. Today’s lectionary tells how Jesus was asked, after performing a multitude of miracles in a single day, if he were the Messiah or whether they should wait for another. Jesus doesn’t give them a direct answer. He simply tells them to go tell the people who are asking about what they’ve just seen.
I love to read—great literature, entertaining stories, the holy texts. And yet knowing how many times I’ve experienced something that is so much more powerful than anything I’ve read about the experience, I know that even the holy texts fail to capture the magnificence of God, of Jesus, of miracles.
Sometimes, I just have to take a leap of faith and go out and experience the world for myself. So I’m going to go take a walk on the beach now. And though it’s just an ordinary spring day on the Outer Banks, I know that I’ll revel in the sensory experience of that resplendent ocean.
So while vicarious experience may not do it justice, tell me a story. Bring me close to your experience of the world.