What Photography Taught Me About Prayer

By Marlee Klopfer

A friend of mine recently let me borrow his old, Pentax film camera. I love photography, but have only ever used digital cameras. Curious and excited, I began learning how to use this new camera and soon realized that much more work went into capturing one photo than I had thought. With my digital camera, all I really needed to do was focus, zoom, and snap! And to make sure that I got a good picture, I could just keep clicking the shutter button, getting picture after picture. I could delete the ones I didn’t want later, right?

But to capture one photo with this new camera, I had to put in a lot more effort. I had to be oh so precise when I focused it because unlike digital zoom, this camera wouldn’t automatically focus crystal clear on its object; I had to do that. And after it was focused, I had to make sure that there was enough light flowing into the lens by turning a couple knobs on the front and top of the camera. (There were a few more minor steps after that but I won’t bore you with the details.) And then came the grand and almost anti-climactic last step of finally pressing the shutter button, only to sit and wonder what the photo actually looked like because there wasn’t a screen to view it on.

However, after much practice I became faster when using that camera. One day while sitting and waiting for the perfect shot with the camera, I thought, you have to be so intentional with this camera! You can’t just click and hope to get a good photo; you have to intentionally seek out that perfect shot.

And this is where photography taught me a little something about myself and prayer. I had fallen into the comfortable habit of routine in my prayer--monotonously saying the rosary every day over and over, simply going through the motions of praying my morning offering, and so on. I had a routine of prayers that I would rattle off in my head day after day, simply hoping that it would do me good, just as I had simply hoped I would get a good photo with my digital camera by easily clicking the shutter button over and over.

Yet, what the Pentax film camera taught me was that we can’t get comfortable in prayer; we have to be intentional about it. In order to get that “perfect shot,” in order to become as close as we can to God, we have to work for it. I realized that I needed to concentrate on every aspect of my prayer, not just on making sure I got it done. I knew I needed to get out of routine and so I decided to change my everyday prayers. Rather than praying the same morning offering I have done all my life, I found a different one; I found new prayers to pray every night; I used a different rosary book to meditate on during the rosary. Just like the Pentax camera, I need to intentionally seek God. I cannot let myself grow comfortable in prayer.

At times, like the Pentax camera, all this work seemed to be almost anti-climactic. There wasn’t a great life-changing moment when I felt that everything was perfect. Rather, there were small moments of peace here and there that gave me great consolation. But it takes effort to reach those moments. And these moments are the moments that keep me striving towards God.

These are the moments that you can never fully capture.