October 17, 2018

Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart: Contemplative Photography (2)

Divine Light (2014)

Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart
Contemplative Photography, part two

With the help of  Christine Valters Paintner, author of Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, we are considering how photography can become a contemplative practice.

In her first chapter, Paintner introduces us to a long mystical tradition which has understood that our five physical senses have parallels in our inner being, five “mystical senses” that enable us to perceive and contemplate the spiritual world. She traces this back to Origen, who appealed to Proverbs 2:5 and the idea of a “divine faculty of perception,” as well as other scriptures that speak to hearing God’s voice, touching the incarnate Christ, tasting the goodness of God, and even smelling the savor of Christ.

She also reminds us of the long tradition of finding God in beauty. But she does not call us to be snobbish aesthetes. Instead Paintner encourages us to see beauty in the common things around us. “The purpose of art is not to send us to an alternative world but rather to return us, even as our vision has been renewed, to the realm of the ordinary.” She reflects upon the insight of Gregory Palamas, who taught that the Transfiguration of Christ did not signify a change in Christ, but an opening of the disciples’ eyes, so that they could see him in his true glory. “The journey into photography as a contemplative practice is a journey toward transfigured seeing, toward seeing the world as it really is.”

Carmelite William McNamara described contemplation as a “long loving look at the real.” It is long because it takes time and slowness to see the holy, shimmering presence beneath the surface of things. It is loving because the contemplative act is one that arises from a place of compassion. It is a look at the real, at the truth of things as they are, and not how we want them to be. This means that sometimes when we behold, we see suffering and we have to stay awake to that experience.

Contemplative seeing and beholding are conscious acts of becoming receptive and dropping as much as possible, our own ego desires and projections. It is only from this space of openness and wonder that we truly see the movement of God in the world.

Comments

  1. –> “She reflects upon the insight of Gregory Palamas, who taught that the Transfiguration of Christ did not signify a change in Christ, but an opening of the disciples’ eyes, so that they could see him in his true glory.”

    Mind blown! Love that!

  2. bright moonlight
    on my kitchen floor
    and nothing more

    • Susan Dumbrell says:

      blue blood moon eclipse
      but tears of blood veil my eyes
      Christ’s blood needed now

      ‘Super blood moon’ will be visible later tonight Australian time.
      It is making good press.
      Think I will stay up and watch it.
      A time for contemplation.

      http://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-01-31/blue-blood-moon-total-lunar-eclipse-over-australia/9318544

      Susan

      • Susan Dumbrell says:

        teary, crying moon
        cloud cover blocks your beauty
        we wait for dawn’s light

        • john barry says:

          I see the moon
          and the moon sees me
          God Bless the moon
          and God Bless me

          Susan, Robert F. Enjoy your poems, hard to write well like you two. . I plagiarized (fancy word for stole, I am pc) the poem it is not an original . Many people refer to my style of poetry as gibberish and childish, they forget to mention untalented. You two do it well and sometimes even I get it. I know there are many variations of Japanese poetry and all are hard to master especially for Westerns, that is my totally unprofessional opinion. I cannot express my thoughts in 10,000 plus syllables , usually never.
          However I did stay with the moon theme and recalled a poem from my early childhood, Good writing never ages. Thanks for your nice addition with your input .

  3. senecagriggs says:

    Wooden pews? They kill my back. Sadly for a lot of churches, they can’t afford [ assuming they like to change their seatings ] to buy the newer model, nicely padded, individual chair.

    Are their I-monkers who prefer the wooden pews?

    • Burro (Mule) says:

      Prefer no pews, but only the Russians do that here

    • Susan Dumbrell says:

      Some take their own cushions to sit on and knee rugs!
      Winters are cold.

    • The most vicious pews I’ve ever encountered are in a 200 year old Episcopal church in Philadelphia, St Mary’s. I was warned, bring a cushion! But I didn’t listen. Within a few minutes pains started shooting through my butt to my knees and back. Followed by an ominous numbness of the posterior. Those old time folks had a hard way of looking at things.

    • …I actually prefer wooden pews…

    • Dana Ames says:

      If they’re built right, they’re comfortable, esp if they are built cushioned/upholstered. I have more experience with comfortable wooden pews than uncomfortable ones. All the cushioning in the world won’t ameliorate the wrong angles, though.

      You do realize that there were no pews in churches until after the Reformation, when the sermon became the center of the gathering?

      Dana

      • senecagriggs says:

        Didn’t know that.

        DID KNOW that in Non USA Orthodox Churches, they have a long history of just standing for a couple hours. Whew.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Our wooden pews are quite comfortable. We saved the cushioning for the kneelers. About equal time is spent standing, sitting, and kneeling (except, or course, during Lent).

    • I like wooden pews in our Catholic Church… though I am more particular at the distance between the Pew seat and the pew in front of me… not into being cramped. I did not like the pews at the Ryman center in Nashville only because we sat in them for a loooonnng time….

  4. I do appreciate your persistence in putting the contemplative practice up for consideration. When I was young my dad would get home from work and we would yell, “Daddy’s home”, run to the door and grab a hold of his legs. Nothing much was said. We just held him. There was a flow of affection. That’s an apt description of contemplation for me. Just hold on to His leg.

    • Nice, Chris.

    • Very helpful description.

      • john barry says:

        I see the moon
        and the moon sees me
        God Bless the moon
        and God Bless me

        Susan, Robert F. Enjoy your poems, hard to write well like you two. . I plagiarized (fancy word for stole, I am pc) the poem it is not an original . Many people refer to my style of poetry as gibberish and childish, they forget to mention untalented. You two do it well and sometimes even I get it. I know there are many variations of Japanese poetry and all are hard to master especially for Westerns, that is my totally unprofessional opinion. I cannot express my thoughts in 10,000 plus syllables , usually never.
        However I did stay with the moon theme and recalled a poem from my early childhood, Good writing never ages. Thanks for your nice addition with your input .

        • Christiane says:

          for what it’s worth, J.B., I appreciate your unique style of self-expression . . . . I have long been one to enjoy and celebrate the creative eccentricities of others 🙂

    • In this hectic world I really enjoy contemplative practice (whether it be a silent retreat with some reading of a little of Cloud of Unknowing before emptying my mind or Eucharistic Adoration)… aside from the whole social media thing my house is always noisy from all the kids we’ve had over the years….silence is great on the rare occasions it happens.

  5. I enjoy photography but have only my L20 and best of all my smartyphone. I enjoy their spontaneity and limitations. I would find a sophisticated rig completely paralyzing.

    Paintner’s descriptions sound like the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, finding beauty in transience and imperfection. A deep and profound aesthetic concept.

  6. Buechner writes a lot about discovering God in the ordinary. We would love to experience the “supernatural” but I wonder if God would rather we look for Him in the natural, the common, ordinary, everyday stuff of our lives.

    • flatrocker says:

      Or rather, he would want us to see his hand in all things.
      Including the ordinary and the extra-ordinary.
      No partiality required.