Smoke from the seasonal brush fires lingers in the nighttime sky. Behind it, the full moon is dirty orange- but in a beautiful way. Otherwise, the smog of burning sage brush is felt, more than it is seen. The fleeting immediacy of the moon to the horizon makes it look so much bigger and closer than it truly is. On a night like this, with the smokey hue, it’s a guarantee that many people will want to capture this sight while they can. Most of them will only be armed with a smartphone. Anyone snapping photos with one of those will be disappointed with the results, but in many cases, that won’t prevent them from sharing their shot with the world on Facebook or Instagram, or Twitter. Because even if the photo is terrible, the message is, “Go outside and see for yourself.”
The moon creeps away from the horizon as the night progresses. It crawls out of the smoke and shrinks, and it whitens and the magic is seemingly lost- if it ever really existed. But we will see this moon again. Maybe next summer. Perhaps even tomorrow night, even though it will be waning. It will just be a little smaller and not quite as round. But the smoke will still make it look like it truly is made of cheese, if only for an hour. And we will take more mediocre photos of it. Even those who have spent far too much on a camera that can capture the right image won’t ever be able to fully reproduce the feeling of sitting in the grass listening to crickets and traffic and neighborhood dogs barking while staring at the kind of moon we see in children’s picture books. They’ll only nab a small part of the experience and leave us hungry for more.
Writers don’t do much better than photographers. When we feel something, be it rage or wonder, we want to share it. So we set to typing. We too, want to represent that experience in the purest sense. We yearn for others to see what we saw or understand the conversation we overheard in the Starbucks downtown. We join letters together to form words, words grow into sentences which we break into paragraphs, all in the hope of sharing meaning or understanding with somebody- sometimes anybody.
I can’t speak for any other writer, but often, I see myself as the blinking cursor that moves across the blank white space of the WordPress page or Word document. I imagine that I’m chasing my subject, be it a tiger in the wild or an ontological understanding of the triune God of Christianity. I keep up the chase as long as I have the words to do it. Sometimes, I have to go to a thesaurus or delve into various sorts of theological compositions in order to continue my pursuit. Eventually though, I find myself winded. I can’t tell if I’ve exhausted my ability or my understanding, but I’m done. And just like the photos of the moon posted to various social media, my representation is imperfect. The explanation or description is incomplete.
Even though I haven’t represented my subject wholly and with any notion of justice, like a small child with their crayon masterpiece, I still feel compelled to share my incomplete thoughts with the rest of the world. I click “publish” and hold my breath, hoping that someone else may respond, saying something like, “I saw that too.” Or, “Mind Blown!”
Often, I’m disappointed.
Plato had a theory of forms, which posited that everything we see is only a shadow of a perfect form. That is, a particular thing has momentary representations of itself throughout history that are not exactly the thing itself, but versions of it. The original form has all the essence of the subject, but each representation in physical reality only points toward the original, though imperfectly. Similar to a shadow not being an object so much as a representation of sorts. The same goes for reflections. Think of all of humanity being made in God’s image, then consider the vast diversity of people on the planet. We imperfectly represent the perfect image of God. If that doesn’t work, think about every kind of cheese there is out there. Consider each flavor and consistency, then move on to how each is cut and delivered to the table. Then know that there is a perfect cheese out there, from which all others are a simple representation of cheese-ness.
Aside from humanity as God’s image bearers, I don’t believe in forms. Frankly, even that has its limitations- we don’t share in any of Yahweh’s eternal attributes, at all (that’s for another essay). But I think the philosophy is helpful when we consider the glory of God. Everything I create and write should point to the glory of the almighty Creator of all the things. That is, if I’m trying to honor him. But I can’t create God’s glory. I can’t make Him any bigger by way of writing great things about him. Instead, my words are only imperfect representations- signposts pointing to the One who made me and saved me, saying, “Go see for yourself.”