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Contemplative Photography #1

Contemplative Photography #1

A friend recently introduced me to the idea of “contemplative photography”–using this modern medium to encourage a spiritual discipline of seeking God. You can see the beginning of her journey here: http://truthmeetspearl.blogspot.co.uk/

I have realized that there is something significant about photography in my own life: I become alive, present, adventurous, aware, and engaged in a very unique way when I have a camera in my hand. What otherwise would assuredly be a situation where I am very passive and uninterested becomes a life-giving, interactive experience when I have a digital SLR in my hand. It’s a phenomenon that I want to explore more deeply: what is God highlighting about who I am, and who He is, in this spectacular revelation of character?

There are actually a few books written on the topic of Contemplative Photography; while most of them feature a heavily Zen Buddhist perspective, there are others that are more neutral, or even Christian, in their framing of this pursuit. I’ve begun reading The Little Book of Contemplative Photography, by Howard Zehr.

One early exercise it promotes is to spend 10 minutes looking at an image that you’ve already taken, to really mine the depths of what you’ve captured, to take the time to process it…apart from the photo lab or digital darkroom. There is a framework of three questions to respond to: I see, I feel, I think.

I made my first attempt at this exercise just yesterday, and thought I would share my unedited meditations with you.

Ruins at Gileston Beach

Ruins at Gileston Beach

I see > stair steps, from an unbloomed, scrawny plant up to a mini Christmas tree, the sky also moving from brightest to darker up the steps, with the introduction of some wispy clouds into the clarity, a few crags of shadows, but not many considering the texture of the stone wall, one other little plant on the far left of the frame, begging for attention yet hardly noticeable

I feel > the opportunity to climb, to get a better view and a more verdant life, aspiring to be more than some almost blooms and to get to the place of being completely out of the shadow, there is hope, but it is not a smooth simple path–it will likely be difficult especially for one without proper legs

I think > if I am the unbloomed plant, who is the mini Christmas tree? what is the relatively high wall of shadow sitting immediately in front of me, impeding even the start of my journey? Who else is similarly looking up in aspiration? Can we journey together, or are we in competition? The sky has more texture at the pinnacle of the stairs; what else might I be able to see from there?

 

I limited myself to 10 minutes of reflection, but perhaps I could’ve gone for more. I invite you to share your own reflections on this image, or others, in the comments below. We are inundated by so many photographs these days, that it does take a significant degree of discipline for us to slow down and sit with a single image for 10 minutes. But doing so allows us to uncover the depth of beauty and the signposts to Truth that may be embedded there.

I hope to post here future weekly reflections in my continuing journey of contemplative photography.

 

 
3 Comments

Posted by on July 12, 2013 in Life, Prayer

 

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Solitude…Together

I had a neat time of sitting in silence together with some friends the other day. We had decided that we wanted to hear from God, and that we would spend some time, sitting around the living room, in solitude and silence…together.

Sounds odd (on any number of levels) perhaps, but it was a sweet time and we did feel like the Lord was pleased to speak to us each individually.

Just today, I thought that it was time for me once again to just sit before the Lord and listen–to just be silent, and see what He might say. Not asking any questions, not carrying any burdens, just creating space in life for Him to speak and for me to hear.

Wow, was it tough.

Beyond the normal idea of sitting still and waiting, I think the difficulty I experienced was in part due to the fact that I wasn’t expecting it to be difficult. In a group setting, we had been able to experience silence and listening; I figured it would be that much easier when I was solo. After all, I can keep myself pretty quiet, but I have no control over others. If 6 of us together could engage in silence, surely as one person on my own it should be no problem.

But I actually found it substantially more difficult. I think part of it is that, with fewer people involved in sitting in silence, there were more people involved in doing things elsewhere. Doing things inevitably creates noise, and so I could hear sounds coming from other parts of the house, sounds that I couldn’t control, sounds brought about by the activities of others who weren’t engaging in the sitting in silence this time.

Apart from noise control, I think there was also a challenge because there was no community, no group involvement. There is something about gathering together, about committing to a purpose and engaging together–even in something as separate and individualistic as silence and listening. Experiencing solitude together sounds like a paradox, and yet, I found it to be incredibly significant.

Certainly there is a place in life for solo solitude; there are centuries of saints–not to mention the example of Jesus Christ Himself–to demonstrate that there is something appropriate about getting away alone. And so, I admit that part of my issue may simply have been a need for greater self-discipline, to hunker down despite the distant distractions and keep my mind attuned and my ears open.

However, beyond stretching my own abilities, I think my experience also highlighted the significance of group life; there are special opportunities and even resources available when one engages in a communal journey. There is the possibility for an atmosphere, and environment, that supports and encourages each other as we each listen and grow, as we’re each nourished and challenged. And after listening and hearing, there is also the chance to process, to take the conversation to another level by talking it through it with our companions.

I have often thought about the special opportunities available when gathered in groups; there are some things that you simply can’t do alone. You can’t sing four-part harmony by yourself. You can’t play full-court basketball by yourself. You can’t participate in a church communion service by yourself (I’ve tried). And so I often consider  what are the special activities that can be engaged in while people are together, things that can’t happen when one is alone.

I’m quite certain that “sitting in silence” has never popped up before. But now it will. I will continue to practice sitting and listening on my own. And I will also be looking out for opportunities to sit and listen with others, to engage in solitude…together.

 

 
4 Comments

Posted by on September 4, 2012 in Prayer

 

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