a Christmas Reflection

A sunset (or a sunrise) shoot is a high risk gamble that requires throwing time and money into the pot. It almost requires that you block off time hours before and after just to shoot something that goes by a scant 10 minutes. Oh, there is this thing called the “Alpen Glow” which appears a full 30 or so minutes before sunrise or after the sunset. It is when the darkness breaks to hint of the glow of the rising sun or just before it quenches the last light of the setting sun. Often clouds, or the lack of it, makes or breaks the sunset. Too much and you may not see it at all or too little can make it a non-event.

December 16, 2007—a Sunday—had a cloudy afternoon that threatened to cover the sunset. It could also potentially make it the best sunset ever. Knowing that risk I threw my bet leaving at the last minute (from where I come from it takes a full hour to get to a good spot along the bay). Along the way, I mused at my motives. At the heart of it all, I saw these moments where the divine breaks the veil to hint of a higher glory. It is where creation declares the glory of God. I have always sought that except the burdens of life can easily sway moods and motives that the Creator gets replaced by the creature (or creation).

Thoughts of photo galleries, recognition and accolades floated through my mind that a prayer frittered through my consciousness hoping that this sunset become a moment where God has me there ready to click the shutter when he reveals his glory (“Sometimes I do get to places just when God's ready to have somebody click the shutter”—Ansel Adams).

Arriving at the moment just when the sun began turning yellow, I parked my car at the first convenient spot and dashed towards the seawall. There were quite a number of people there but enough comfortable space to insert myself among those basking in the setting sun. There was a break in the clouds and just above the horizon the ball of the sun was starting to peek. I picked out a space besides what appears to be two tourist or traveler types. The other choice was flanked on one side by what appears to be a camera club of sorts; they were armed to the teeth with white lenses. I decided I wanted this afternoon to be a moment of contemplation with the Light of the World and not an occasion for gear talk (“mine is bigger than yours…”). It was also a factor that my son co-opted the DSLR for himself and I had a film SLR with slide film loaded.

Quickly setting up the gear, I soon began shooting the setting sun. I chose the longest lens to zoom in the warm area immediately around the sun because it was still generally gray and cloudy around. In between shots, I would glance at my sides to maintain situational awareness and that I was not being targeted by pickpockets, would be beggars or other forms of lowlife in the area.

It was in one of those moments that I had eye contact with one of the two tourists sitting beside me. They were Asian—Chinese, Korean or maybe Japanese. I broke the ice and asked where they were from. They were Taiwanese young adults on vacation. We continued shooting fully engaged by the sunset as our comments revolved around the color of the sky and of the sun.

One of the men then stood up to see what I was doing. He spoke English well that it was easy conversing with him. He took note of my camera and our conversation shifted to brands. What did I think of Pentax K10D? Ah, my kind of question; also the question I hoped I would not deal with at that moment. I had a Pentax MZ-3 with me and he must have noted that. He had a Canon film SLR that ran out of battery just when the sun began to set. His only consolation was his friend was shooting with a little video camera.

We continued watching and shooting the setting sun. The gear talk made the man asked if I was a professional photographer. Yet somehow there was this sense of trust on his part that in the middle of the gear talk he would digress to ask where he could buy tourist stuff without ending up in local tourist traps or if it was safe to take cabs in the city. My simple answer to his question regarding my being a photographer was “yes,” but perhaps for the same deeper reason he turned to me for security issues, I had this sense that compelled me to tell the bigger picture. Indeed, there was this sense of peace and trust to open myself up to a total stranger. So I did—I quickly added that I was a protestant pastor on “parole” (my tongue in cheek reference to my sabbatical). He turned to his friend, said something in Chinese and turned to me to say that they are both campus ministry workers with a group related to Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). There was a pause while we stared at the setting sun. Somehow this moment of contemplation has been taken to another level.

He knew nothing of the Philippine church scene nor did I know
about Taiwan so most of our references did not make any connection. Staring into the sun allowed us to deflect the awkward sense of being of the same faith but having nothing in our experience to make our bond anything more than a fleeting abstraction. All we had in common at that moment was the sunset.

I commented on his English, he responded by mentioning that he spent a great deal of time in Vancouver, Canada. “Oh,” I commented that I knew people in Regent University (sic—I routinely confuse Regent University in Virginia Beach, USA and Regent College in Vancouver, Canada). He corrected me about the college/university deal and added that he studied under Ringma. “Charles?” I added. He answered in the affirmative with a lit face in wonderment realizing that I was on a first name basis with Charles Ringma. So I continued and asked if he knew Darrell W. Johnson and Gordon T. Smith as well. He did too, they were his professors.

Did I know them? Well, they were my mentors, pastors and close friends sometime in my life and the person I at the moment I happened to be corresponding with is Charles who—I commented—is seriously ill. I gave a brief description of his condition and followed was a moment of silence. Nothing was said, but I think that my new friend must have said a prayer. Nothing cognitive was zip zapping in my head, the sunset had me transfixed and all I could remember was that I sighed my prayer for Charles while shooting away.

The sun finally touched the horizon and gradually disappeared. And as if orchestrated, a sloop sailed by as if dancing for the camera at that moment. The whole deal about my son running off with my digital camera had me shoot more carefully and deliberately (Elite Chrome/slide film is exorbitantly more expensive) making me relish each exposure as it went by. Then it was over. The clouds thickened and in my reckoning I decided that there would be no satisfying Alpen Glow to shoot after.

I turned to my new found friend and brother in the faith, we said a passing goodbye knowing that in the Kingdom we belonged there would be a sure reunion. We both came drawn by a sunset and the resulting moment was marked by the serendipity of brotherhood, a contemplation into the brokenness of this world we are in as we grieved and interceded for the pain of a mutual friend, and an soft revelation of glory in the setting sun.

We were in the Presence of the Light of the World.

Photos taken with a Pentax MZ-3 + Kodak Elite Chrome 100
Sunset photo with a Vivitar TX 100-300/5
above photo with an FA 35-80/4-5.6