A photo of a young man looking at a cyclist outside his window reminded me of just what you do when you’re distracted in prayer.
Posted in , Oct 2, 2012
Last week I went to an art exhibit at the Andrea Meislin Gallery here in New York, along with my colleague Anne Simpkinson, that featured photos of prayer. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, because I’m not sure you can really take a picture of someone praying.
A couple of years ago a journalist wanted to take a picture of me praying on the subway. I told him no. I said, “If I know you’re taking a picture of me when I’m praying I won’t be really praying. I’ll be thinking of you taking that picture of me instead.” As a compromise we settled on him taking a photo of me reading my small pocket-size Gideon Bible of the psalms, then he got off the train so I could pray.
The photos in the exhibit were large, glorious, luminous prints of prayer in many different faiths and different locations. The one of a family praying grace before eating at McDonald’s made me think exactly of my hesitation about being photographed praying. You see the whole family bowing their heads with one exception, the teenage daughter looking up, catching the eye of the photographer. That would have been me, eminently distractable.
But then a smaller shot of a young man sitting on a train or a bus, looking up from a page of the Hebrew Scriptures to a cyclist outside his window, reminded me of just what you do when you’re distracted in prayer. In fact, it was something I learned from my dad when he said grace at dinner, like that family at McDonald’s. You put the distraction right into your prayer. If the barking dog or ringing telephone or timer on Mom’s rolls interrupted Dad’s grace, he would just pray for the dog... or whoever was calling us... or Mom’s brown-and-serve rolls.
If I were that guy with the Hebrew Scripture in his lap, I thought to myself, the thing to do would be to pray for the cyclist who just went by. Incorporate that distraction right into the prayer.
It made me rethink my hesitation about anybody taking a picture of me praying. What if it were an opportunity to pray for the photographer? I looked around at the gallery, all those shots by different photographers. What if each one were blessed not only with the shot they took but by the subjects who prayed for them? I can imagine hearing the click of the shutter and thinking, How do I look? Then turn that moment of vanity into a prayer for a cyclist, the man at the McDonald’s counter, the words of a psalm on the page, the photographer.
For now it felt better to be on the other side of the lens, seeing the infinite variety of prayer.
Photo credit: Blake Eskin, Morning Prayer, Q, Manhattan Bridge, 2011. Courtesy Andrea Meislin Gallery.