One evening in 1988, I chased a thunderstorm across central Kentucky. Why? Well, I’d seen photographs of lightening in books and I’d decided that I wanted to get a picture of lightening, myself. At the time, I lived in Muldraugh, Kentucky, just south of Louisville, and that region of the world is known for its extremely active and powerful thunderstorms. One evening, I noted the approach of a storm, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
How do you get a picture of lightening? This was the way I did it. I drove across Meade County, taking first the main road toward Brandenburg. As I gauged which way the storm moved, I took about six or seven turns and as many stops on secondary and tertiary county roads. I hopped out at each location and set up the camera on my tripod. Then, using the ‘B’ option on my shutter speed control, which holds the shutter open indefinitely for time exposures, I’d simply wait until a bolt flashed, then I’d close the shutter and advance the film (yes, FILM. This was before digital and during this photography session, I produced about 60 slides, 58 of which I threw away).
Then I came to a hillock. I stopped, got out of the car, and surveyed the location. I could tell by the roiling clouds above me that the rain line approached. I could hear the trees about a quarter mile across the sloping field in front of me hissing in the wind and downpour. Repeated flashes strobed through the cloud front as it came at me. Wind began lifting my hair and blew my coat open. I could smell the moisture. But I sensed that this was the moment.
Quickly, I fixed my camera on the tripod, aimed it at the chaotic mass in front of me and opened the lens. Almost five seconds later, a bolt ripped through the clouds and hit the ground at the edge of the tree line. I closed the shutter, advanced the roll, and was contemplating a second exposure when the explosive thunder slammed my ears. I quickly collapsed the tripod and almost threw it in the back seat. As I slammed the door shut and started the engine, the rain and wind hit with such force that the car rocked.
But I got the shot. Yes, I’m a nut, but I GOT THE SHOT.
My Jewish colleague, Michael Horwitz, reminded us in staff meeting today that Hanukah (or Chanukah) is not the “Jewish Christmas.” As he said, Hanukah is minor in comparison to Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), or Pesach (Passover), or even the Sabbath. The holiday, however, commemorates an important event in the history of the Jewish people that took place in the second century BCE. After the forces of the Jewish insurgent, Judas Maccabeus, drove the occupying Assyrians out of Jerusalem, they moved to rededicate the temple desecrated by the Assyrian tyrant, Antiochus. The Maccabeans found that they didn’t have enough oil to keep the ceremonial menorah lit, but they lit it anyway, and miraculously, the oil they had continued to burn for eight days. So, coincidentally like Christmas, Hanukah plays the theme of bringing light into a dark world.
But there’s another angle to this. Both Christmas and Hanukah remind us to “shine our lights” in a dark world, true, but both have something deeper and more convicting to say. We have to keep our eyes open in order to see the light. As the Gospel of John says, the light CAN shine in the darkness and there still be people who don’t see it.
We might be surrounded and pounded by storms that whip out of our darkness. In such cases, it’s tempting to close ourselves off and hide. If we cower in the face of storms, however, we’ll most certainly “miss the shot.” However, if we keep our eyes open, even when it seems audacious and risky, we just might see something magnificent.