Hanging by a thread. Standing on your last legs. At the end of your rope. Clinging to hope.
These are phrases that come to mind when I examine this photo that I took for my first photography assignment. These last two stalwarts stubbornly hang on to the tree in our front yard — all the high wind and rain we’ve had lately have not yet shaken these shriveled and used up leaves loose.
The assignment was to bracket our photos so that we shoot three pictures of each subject: one at the correct exposure (seen above), one underexposed, and one overexposed. Our instructor wanted us to see that what the camera thinks is perfect exposure might not actually be the case. We varied the exposure by adjusting shutter speeds and/or the aperture.
These underexposed leaves look dismal and appear to be in shadow. The dark shadow at the bottom of the picture feels almost menacing. I can imagine a giant nothingness (“The Nothing,” for those of you Neverending Story fans) oozing up from the bottom, swallowing these leaves until they fade from existence:
Letting a bit more light in transformed this image yet again. We can still see the leaves bravely hanging on. The extra lighting, however, shows us that there is more to these leaves than initially met our eyes. We can now see that their brown hue actually incorporates a bit of red. We see their structure clearly defined — the life giving-veins stand out in sharp contrast to the rest of their crispy leaf bodies.
The dark shadow at the bottom of the frame doesn’t seem quite as menacing when more light was shed on the subject.
That’s one of the qualities of light that impacts the real world, not just photographic images, isn’t it? Light exposes the truth in life, just as light exposed the veins and color of the leaves in the photo.
The Bible is filled with references to light; ancient writers have “blogged” about it for centuries. Jesus referred to himself as “the light” after he refused to condemn a woman who had been caught in adultery.
Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said,“All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
11 “No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” John 8:6-12, NLT
I am always fascinated by word origins. Jesus said he was the “phōs” of the world. I imagine he was speaking metaphorically since the Bible does not say that as he said those words he lit up like a light bulb (although, in another incident in Scripture, he did become “transfigured,” surrounded with a literal, bright light). The definition of “phōs” as used as a metaphor is this (from Blue Letter Bible):
a) God is light because light has the extremely delicate, subtle, pure, brilliant quality
b) of truth and its knowledge, together with the spiritual purity associated with it
c) that which is exposed to the view of all, openly, publicly
d) reason, mind
1) the power of understanding esp. moral and spiritual truth
In this scenario outlined in John 8, Jesus’ accusers were trying to trap him into saying something wrong. But, light that He is, He exposed their motives through his unconventional actions.
He also shines light into our hearts and minds and helps us see the way forward, so we don’t have to walk in darkness. There are times, I confess, when I feel like that underexposed photo of the two leaves, barely hanging on to this life that surrounds me. The dark shadows in my life are anxieties that crowd out my joy as they push back the Light I glean from the Lord himself. When I find myself in that underexposed attitude, I need to open up my internal aperture a notch and soak in the goodness and light from the Lord. Bathing in His word, drinking it in, floods those anxieties and brings beauty — and truth — back into focus.