There’s a catchphrase among photographers reminding us it’s okay to occasionally set down our cameras. “Pet the whale” experts tell us. Switch off the camera, tuck away the iPhone, and reach out to live in the moment for once.
The expression evolved in some form from whale watchers so keen on capturing their spectacular, Facebook-worthy moment, they forgot to actually “pet the whale.”
We may not face the chance to stroke a sea giant every day, but we are met with similarly beautiful moments in life where the camera doesn’t have to be present. Why? Greg Morse states it clearly:
“We miss precious moments not because we didn’t have our phones, but because we did. Like kids texting at the dinner table, we forgot to look special moments in the eye. We pass on the first take of life in favor of a later viewing, trading the real for the replica, and in so doing, counterfeiting our joy.”[i]
Photos are often beautiful and treasured possessions that remind us of God’s past and lasting goodness. But they weren’t meant to replace the actual moment. When we try to capture every smile, every step, every giggle, every soccer goal, we’re dividing ourselves between two worlds. We’re so focused on cementing the event into our digital memory card that we aren’t devoting our full attention and therefore committing it to the memory God has given us.
In a sense, even John understood this difference between real life and captured life. He wraps up his second letter with these words:
Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete (2 Jn. 12).
We’re so focused on cementing the event into our digital memory card that we aren’t devoting our full attention and therefore committing it to the memory God has given us.
Music artist John Foreman reflects on this in a modern sense:
“Our urge to record is only natural. Time marches past us: we want to capture it, to preserve it. We want to acknowledge the worth of the present tense — to take a picture, to write it down. But as I look out from stage night after night at a sea of cell phones, I wonder whether anyone could really capture a moment? How much of the joy of the present tense will be communicated through these blurry, distorted, pixilated videos?”[ii]
Our joy doesn’t have to be distorted. For once in our lives, let’s attempt to pet the whale together. Let’s breathe in the September air no camera can capture and watch the clouds without a screen stealing the joy of the moment.
And when the baby does grin, the birds do swarm, the sunset does blaze, we’re free to snap a photo. But know this: If a picture is worth a thousand words, being there is worth far more.
We are liberated to pet the whale by living fully in the precious moment God has placed before us. Because in Jesus Christ, the photo-worthy moments in this life are only snapshots of what will one day be a glorious reality.
“We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
“Wherever you are—be all there.” -Jim Elliot