I have two jobs. By weekday I am a counselor, sitting and talking with people who are trying to cope with life’s confusions and difficulties and surprises. By weekend I am a photographer, driving to pretty parks and chasing babies and doing crazy dances to get a smile. (By night I am a masked avenger, but that’s another story). Counseling and photography are, to me, wonderfully complimentary professions. Both deal with people and require quite a bit of creativity. And in both, I do my best to see and interact with beauty, albeit in very different ways.
As a counselor, my interactions with beauty often take place from a distance. Beauty functions as a beacon – a shining source of hope – but rarely a close companion. Generally people choose to come to counseling when they find themselves in a dark place. They’re down in the hole, sitting in grime and wondering if beauty ever actually existed at all. As a counselor, it is generally unhelpful to say “Hey but don’t worry because… beauty! That grime’s not as bad as you think. Let’s just pretend we’re in a tropical paradise – mind over matter right?” Attempting to manufacture beauty for someone who is mired in the depths usually does more harm than good. Instead, my role is to climb into the hole and sit down in the grime saying something like “Well here we are – it’s pretty grimy down here but at least we’re together.” With time, I can begin to remind them of the beauty that exists outside the hole. And with even more time, we can begin to climb out. The process is slow and, at times, frustrating for all involved. As a counselor, if I am going to be helpful over the long haul, I must be careful to not let myself become mired in the same hole that my clients are in. It’s easy, as a helper, to spend too long in the grime, to get a bit stuck, and to forget about the beauty that I know exists.
For me, this is where photography comes in. I’m sure there are very sophisticated artists out there who would disagree with me, but in my mind the purpose of photography is to find beauty and to capture it in a way that allows others to experience it too. This, to me, is an incredibly freeing goal. As soon as my camera is slung around my neck, my eyes are trained for beauty. Now over time, I have developed an ability to see beauty where others might miss it (I’d like to think that this makes me a good photographer). And in these moments, with the help of my camera, I am able to capture that snippet, that bright corner of reality, and share a beautiful moment with those around me. This mission is, in some ways, the exact opposite of counseling. As a photographer, I get to say “Look, I get that the world is a dark and broken place… but look at this. There is beauty and I can prove it.” Now I am writing this as if my mission as a photographer were very altruistic – the sharing of beauty with those who might otherwise miss it. But let me be honest here. Often, the goal is much more selfish than that. Often my time with my camera is spent rebuilding my own faith in beauty, enjoying the minutia of this world, and shaking off the grime of that deep dark hole.
There is something of heaven in both of my jobs. As Christmas approaches, we remember the divine leap that the Almighty God made in coming to earth and living a human life. I have heard sermons about his Counselor role that have made my heart ache. This holy, blameless, and loving God stepped down from his throne and into a world full of brokenness. He lived in the midst of the selfishness and the ignorance and the sadness and the confusion that is humanity. In an act of grace that I will never fully comprehend, he crawled down into our human hole with us and sat down in our human grime and provided us with an eternal advocate – One who gets it because he’s been there. One who can ultimately wipe away our tears because he, too, has wept.
I have heard fewer Christmas sermons about his Artist role. Because our Creator God is truly an artist. And when he made this world and the people in it, he stepped back admiringly and called it “good”. Though marred, this world is his masterpiece. Our God appreciates beauty. It came from and points to him. And on Christmas, he himself entered into his great work of art. Ultimately, he did not come to sit in grime and darkness. He came to remind us of beauty – the beauty that is here already and the beauty that is coming through his work of restoration. And what’s more, he enjoyed the beauty of his creation while he was here. He made friends, he went to parties, he ate food and admired nature. And he himself became a part of the artwork – an example of a man living an upright life and loving others well.
There is much more to the story. Jesus’s work was multifaceted, impossible to summarize. But this Christmas, these pieces bring me comfort and joy: God can handle my grime and he can see my beauty. I am, to him, one of those bright corners of reality worth capturing and treasuring. You are too.