If there is one thing I can be credibly accused of its thinking too much. Whether it be faith, science, sports, art, my family, my brother priests, my parish, or my personal well-being, I don’t shy way from analyzing things. The problem is trying to stay away from over analyzing my life and ministry.
I start with this self-reveal because I’ve been thinking a lot lately. As I’ve shared with you in the past, one of the “gifts” of Covid-19 I’ve discovered is nature and wildlife photography. At first, it fulfilled a long desire to do astrophotography, but then it blossomed into doing nature photography and urban landscapes. Every once in a great while, I can combine these passions and get some neat images. That happened to me about a week ago when I captured Ursa Major over the city of Eau Claire. Here’s that capture.
Captured – An interesting way to describe taking a picture. Taking – Another interesting way photographers try to put into words their craft. These words came to mind again while I was imaging some rare wildlife that has showed up in the state of Wisconsin: A Ross’s Gull and a Canvasback Duck.
It was a great joy to find these birds. Both of them are seldom seen where I live, qualifying them as rare finds! The Ross’s Gull is a bird from the Arctic that typically spends its time in Siberia. This species has only been observed one other time in the state of Wisconsin’s history. Bird enthusiasts were literally flying across country to see this small white gull. The Canvasback is a bit more common in Canada and the United States, but where I live seldom sees this beautiful brown and beige duck. The red eyes of this diver are quite piercing.
Now, I wasn’t the first person to discover either bird, but I’m sure glad someone did so I would have the chance to see them and understand why they should stand out. At the same time, my thoughts began to linger on a discomfort with the words “find” and “discover.” Then it dawned on me: All of these words have a possessive character.
Capture, taking, find, and discover all have an undercurrent of “I found this so it’s my discovery.” The problem is that both of these birds were doing just fine before I clicked the shutter on my camera. This was definitely my first encounter with these creatures, but the fact I saw them and took their picture doesn’t mean that I have any right to consider them “my birds.” In light of this, I’ve been having a nagging thought: We need a new language of discovery.
In regard to faith and astronomy, I think there are interesting parallels to consider. We are all anxiously awaiting the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope that, if it works properly, will provide us with new discoveries in the universe! This is a very true statement and I am not trying to throw shadow on an historic moment of science. The critique I am going to lay out could be applied to any telescope from the Hubble Space Telescope to my 60mm refractor. And that critique is this: Is our language of “discover” creating a possessive mindset that is unhealthy? Do we need to find a language of “encounter” that does not create a mentality of domination over but relationship with?
When it comes to faith, we can also see a need to have an aversion toward the idea of “discovering” or “finding” faith. Though it is common to use phrases like “I have found God” and “I discovered faith at a certain age,” we need to temper these testimonials with the fact that Christianity does not believe in private revelation. This means that God is ever present and to speak of encountering God is more accurate. Christians should be cautious of someone who claims they “discovered a new truth about Christianity.” All that is needed for salvation has been revealed through Jesus Christ and though we need to deepen our understanding of faith, the idea of adding to Jesus’ revelation is not true to Christian thought. Another way to look at it, is faith really about finding God or is faith about how God is revealed to us?
Now, just to be clear, I am not someone who is big into inclusive language and I have a gift of sticking my foot in my mouth on issues of sensitive language… just ask my staff at the parish! Still, I wonder if our cultural mindset of discovery has created a possessive mentality that leads to control, dominate, and claiming ownership over the things of our natural world and, dare I say, even our faith lives?
What do you think? Am I thinking too much? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. My hope is we can develop a vision of stewardship, both on this planet and other celestial bodies, that will be hesitant toward a possessive mindset. Maybe if we develop an attitude of encounter and relationship, we can see how these findings can benefit us, but also how they can enrich us as a people and a part of God’s Creation.