However it might be used or misused; the creators of snapchat know two things very well: images are powerful and friendship is powerful. The popularity of Snapchat (the smartphone app where people take and send pictures to friends that last just a few seconds) and other similar apps is based on these two foundational principles.
Images are powerful; ask any person involved in the industries of advertising and promotion. We are affected by what we see and the influence of images remains with us long after the image itself is gone. This is where we must not be naïve and be honest about the human condition. What we see affects us. We are not cameras. A camera can look on an image of beauty or of desolation, an image that either lifts up the human spirit or degrades it and not be affected. A camera is a machine. So often we approach images with the mistaken notion that we are like cameras – we can look on anything and not really be affected. This is not true. We are human beings and not machines. The dynamic of perception works differently within us. When we look on something, it no longer remains without, we receive it within through the act of perception and when within, it either builds us up or diminishes us. There is a power to images that should not be underestimated.
The “stuff” of snapchat is images that people send one to another and the impact of these images are even more persuasive, I believe, because they last just a few seconds. When you receive a “snap” (a picture) you know this; so for those few seconds you focus all your attention and concentration on that little screen. I, at least, know that I do. Literally, in a manner of seconds, I have received that image into my memory which is the core component of who I am.
Snapchat also knows the power and influence of friendship. Friends send one another these pictures and texts. Friends catch the reference, the joke and the meaning being conveyed by the picture. Sending a snap is an act of friendship, maybe a simple and often silly act but an act of friendship nonetheless. Acts of friendship build people up and reinforce bonds. One of my favorite “snap chat buddies” is Sophie. Sophie is six years old, she is the daughter of some dear friends and I have known her since the day she was born and I baptized her. When I receive a snap from Sophie’s mom it is usually a picture of Sophie with coloring on it or a picture of her doing what six year olds do. The last snap was actually a video of Sophie singing why she loves ice cream. I love every snap I get, they bring me joy and they strengthen my friendship with Sophie and her family. Acts of friendship are truly important in our lives.
On Wednesday of this past week we had in the weekday Mass readings the passage of our Lord giving his great prayer, the Our Father, to the disciples (Lk. 11:1-4). As I reflected on this reading I realized that the Our Father can be likened to a snap chat from Jesus.
It is an act of friendship. The disciples approach Jesus with their request. Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples. The very tenor of the request shows that it had been weighing on their minds for a while and, as a group, they decided to approach Jesus. Jesus responds and in giving the Our Father he is not just giving his disciples (both then and today) a bunch of words but rather inviting them into a living friendship with him and the Father. The Our Father is an invitation to live in friendship with God. Now, we can call God “Father” and we can know that we are never alone and that we are never abandoned. God is here with us and for us. The prayer is founded upon and immersed in the language of friendship and relationship!
Also, the Our Father is more an image given us than a series of words strung together. It has been said that when we pray the prayer of another person we enter into the very way that person sees the world. When we pray the Prayer of St. Francis (“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…) we are seeing the world as St. Francis sees it. When we pray a prayer written by St. Teresa of Avila we are seeing as St. Teresa sees the world. When we pray the Our Father … we are entering into the very understanding of Jesus and we are seeing the world as he sees the world! This is truly amazing and powerful! When we pray the Our Father we bring within ourselves, if even for just the fraction of a moment, the mind of Christ. Whenever disciples ask, Lord, teach us to pray… they are in essence asking, “Lord, teach us to see as you see.”
There is one important way though that the Our Father is not similar to snap chat. In snapchat, the image disappears. This is part of the appeal, I believe, of the app. The Our Father, on the other hand, does not disappear. Whenever we honestly pray this prayer given us by our Lord we bring it within our very selves and there is remains overtime helping to bind what needs to be bound and loose what needs to be loosed and set free! The Our Father does not disappear.
As disciples, we also approach our Lord and ask that he teach us how to pray. We need to continually learn the Our Father, we need to pray it and we need to live it! They are words given in friendship by our Lord and they are words that bring us into the very way he sees the world.