My wife and I were invited to a potluck supper over a Labor Day weekend with some of her former colleagues and their spouses. The main complication was that our hosts were allergic to gluten. They mentioned they would not be serving beer because it had gluten in it (who knew?). They never explicitly told us to bring only gluten-free food to share, but we obviously didn’t want to show up with something we knew our hosts would not be able to eat. Fortunately, my wife had agreed to bring a salad, but our hosts emphasized that they would be supplying the salad dressing. Only later did it occur to me that this was to assure the dressing would also be gluten-free.
We live in a time when even something as simple as a potluck supper can be problematical because of dietary restrictions. Our daughter-in-law and granddaughter are vegans, so we are used to it. There are also branches of my wife’s family that observe kosher dietary laws, while others do not. This potentially could complicate even family get-togethers. And, of course, the older you get, the fewer things you can eat in general because they are bad for you, which can take much of the fun out of eating altogether.
The early Christian church faced a kindred problem when it began recruiting Gentiles, who were not bound by the same traditions or dietary restrictions as the church’s Jewish founders. Should Gentile converts be required to observe Jewish practices? The issue was settled when St. Peter fell into a trance and saw all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air being lowered from heaven on a great sheet. A voice commanded him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." This Peter refused to do, because the wildlife was “common and unclean.” But the voice told him, "What God has made clean, do not call common." From this Peter concluded he should not fear associating with Gentiles, who under Jewish law would themselves have been regarded as common and unclean.
This morning when I was out for my morning walk, the Bible verse came to me out of the blue: "What God has made clean, do not call common." What could this possibly mean? I am not bound by dietary restrictions – or at least none that my doctor hasn’t recommended to keep my cholesterol and glucose levels down. Somehow I knew it had more to do with what I was seeing rather than what I was eating. As a landscape photographer, I am always on the lookout for subject matter. But like everyone else, I tend to get lost in my thoughts and lose touch with my surroundings.
I was walking along a stretch of road that skirted a golf course near where I live. It was early in the morning, and the sun had lit up some wildflowers growing by the side of the road. I stopped to look, momentarily transfixed by their beauty. I made a mental note of where to find the flowers again, so I could come back to photograph them. They were just common wildflowers growing by the side of the road. And yet, to borrow a phrase from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” I realized how easily I might have walked by them without noticing. Something in me was trying to get my attention by quoting Scripture and forcing me to figure out what it could possibly mean.
If there is one thing I have learned as a landscape photographer, it is that there are no common sights. There is nothing in God’s creation that lacks interest when seen in a certain light or from a certain angle. The trick is to be able to see what is often staring you in the face, if only your thoughts hadn’t snatched you off somewhere else. In his poem, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” William Blake wrote, "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite/For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern." This sounds like a complicated thing to achieve when you dress it up in poetic language. But it’s really not. You just have to pay attention.