Camera phones and social media have combined to make instant sharing of images routine. Reflexively we capture both the minutiae and grandeur of our daily rounds – a billboard, a latte, a sunset, a puddle, a flower, special moments with loved ones, more than 320 million photos each day with the iPhone 5 according to a recent commercial. An inspiring new book by Christine Valters Paintner called Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice provides a transformative path for the digital age. Christine is the founder and abbess of the virtual Abbey of the Arts, where she offers online and in-person classes and other resources for contemplative living, with an emphasis on the expressive arts. From reading her blogs and newsletter and taking her free “monk in the world” e-course, I regarded Christine as a wise and compassionate teacher, and her new book more than lives up to this impression.
Eyes of the Heart is a rich and nourishing work; like a hearty soup or whole grain bread, it satisfies real hunger and is best when leisurely savored. The first two chapters introduce themes and practices that are carried through the rest. As someone who likes to write, I found it incredibly worthwhile to spend plenty of time here cultivating a visual awareness. This kind of seeing, as Christine presents it, is a deep work of the heart. A key practice is to begin “receiving” images rather than taking or making or shooting them. Such a shift of consciousness bears fruit not only with regard to photos but life in general.
“When we are receptive we let go of our agendas and expectations. We allow ourselves to see beyond preconceived ideas. Rather than going after what we want in life, or forcing, we cultivate contentment with what actually is. Similarly, instead of holding back and merely observing life or falling asleep to it, we stay awake and alert, participating fully in its messiness and we keep our eyes open for the holy presence in its midst. Photographing in this way can become an act of revelation.” (p. 30-31)
This is just one example of how fully and meaningfully she develops photography both as a metaphor for spiritual growth and a tool to nurture it, through the act of receiving images and then later pondering of those images, a practice of “visio divina.” Subsequent chapters address themes like color, light and shadow, and reflected images, with informative and reflective content on the theme, a meditation, several photographic activities, and questions for journaling. Each, if fully engaged, is like a mini-retreat for yourself, or as she notes in the introduction, small groups could use this book and meet at intervals to share images and experiences. I am eager for further photographic explorations and insights with this book.
These photos are a sampling from an exploration that was fun to do — 50 images of one object