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The cliff's edge

The cliff's edge

The cliff's edge

7 September 2020

Photo: Gareth McGuigan

By Peter McGuigan

Yesterday, an urge to shoot the world’s best photo got the better of him and the image-producer drove to the foothills of a mountain range about 100km from home.

There he studied the best route to the top and began his ascent, carrying a backpack filled with all the equipment needed to achieve the result he could see through his image-producer eyes.

Upon reaching the highest point, he began preparations to capture the majesty of the earth in a single image. He slept under the stars in anticipation of what would unfold at daybreak.

At the first glimpse of dawn, he decides to take anonymity out of his image, sets the camera’s timing device and walks to the cliff’s edge. He raises his hands, not as a gimmick to give the image more life, but because, suddenly, an instinctiveness takes hold from deep within and he can’t resist.

He lifts his arms, his hands, his soul to the majesty of the one who created the brilliance now before him. Words come rushing from a far-flung corner of his life, a place of yesteryear that in an instant becomes as current and as fresh as the first light around him: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).

Behind him, the camera clicks, but he remains transfixed. The words bring a sobering reality to his moments of remote meditation. In an unexpected collusion, the outlook from high above and the view from the street that he has carried to the mountaintop, are one.

He is at once overwhelmed with joy and grief; he sits down and closes his eyes, still at the cliff’s edge. How long can the earth’s beauty and the tragedies of humankind co-exist? How can the love and meticulous care evident high above the earth coincide with the destructive and desolate experience below? How can “the world and all who live in it” be reconciled with the one whose nature is love and who has given us such a profound dwelling place?

The scenes from below are strong and vivid. George Floyd’s last words, “I can’t breathe”, haunt us and become our cry for equality, our chant for freedom and our plea for listening – our ultimatum: we can’t do this anymore, stop!

The image-producer has read that George was “a gentle giant” who loved people, an encourager with “a quiet personality but a gentle spirit”. In a recent video message, George had spoken against gun violence, saying, “Our young generation is clearly lost”. He worked two jobs and had been “a loving father”. Now, through tragedy, he is a citizen of Heaven.

Within seconds a thousand thoughts flood the image-producer’s mind. It’s about stopping racism, yes, definitely, the sludge still lurking in the human heart, disfiguring the human experience even amid ‘advanced civilisation’. It’s about a global crisis in physical and spiritual health, something only a far-reaching, depths-invading change of the human heart can fix.

The image-producer hopes it’s about humans coming of age, an awakening to the truth of a line from a song he suddenly remembers that we are “prisoners here of our own device”. It’s about getting off the apocalyptic road and allowing a much higher view and experience to reconfigure and re-energise our everyday lives and encounters with each other – person to person, in families, in communities and between nations.

Becoming whole

But the image-producer himself has been on a journey towards holistic health – towards addressing and solving the issues stopping him from being the best father and husband and son and employee and photographer he can be.

Suddenly, the feeling of things swirling dissipates. The eyes of his heart are open and he can see from this inner place that the violence and the pandemic and homelessness and the general state of the earth below are part of the same condition. Humankind has become distracted and separated from the reason for its existence. We are responsible together for the life we have been given, nurturers of our life with God, with each other and with the earth as our home.

Then his physical eyes open and once more he stands at the cliff’s edge. The earth’s beauty again he sees. He feels the Maker’s love and presence. He recalls the words of Jesus: “I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest” (John 10:10). He considers that the sun continues to rise despite humanity’s seeming recalcitrance. It disperses its light and its energy across the earth and its peoples without discrimination, inviting our full participation, stewardship and respect for one another.

Major Peter McGuigan is Corps Officer at Preston in Melbourne.

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