“God says: ‘I was a hidden treasure and longed to be known, so I created the world.’”
(A quotation from the Haddith Qudsi, an ancient Islamic teaching)
Photography has always been very important in my life. I have just started exploring photography as a form of spirituality, with the help of three books: Spirituality in Photography by Philip Richter; The Little Book of Contemplative Photography by Howard Zehr; and Eyes of the Heart by Christine Valters Paintner.
I have long thought that photography is about revealing hidden treasures that perhaps few have noticed before, including myself. So much beauty lies in the colours and patterns, textures and forms of creatures and plants, raindrops and rocks, landscapes and skies – and, of course, people, who are ‘made in the image of God’ and so reflect truths about him. A photo can reveal and share something of the wonder of Creation and Humanity, as well as make me more aware of the impact human beings have on Creation, often in very negative and destructive ways. “God says: ‘I was a hidden treasure and longed to be known, so I created the world.’” I find photography can help me discover treasures and get to know God, which I want to explore deeper.
A photograph also helps me to remember and go on appreciating and reflecting long after the moment in time when I “received” the image. And it can reveal and document ways in which we are hurting God’s creation and other people. Many of my photos continue to inform me, bring pleasure, stimulate my interest and sense of awe as well as challenge or disturb me. And I find other people’s photos also do this for me.
Seeing – and photography – are about light. Light is not tangible – it has no substance; but it gives form to a reality and creates a picture. Sight is a wonderful gift. I am so blessed to be able to see, albeit with the help of spectacles – and a camera lens! Having a camera with me encourages me to be much more aware of the present moment and what is around me. But I don’t always look around with deep awareness, respect and awe, especially if I am rushing on or passing through.
I am hoping these books on photography and spirituality will help me look around more carefully and become more aware of God’s life and presence and creative activity within me and all I see. Here are some of the insights and ideas that I have already noted:
- Slow down and take time to look around with fresh eyes.
- Sacred seeing – discover holiness in this moment and place, as I ‘receive’ an image (rather than ‘take’ a photo or ‘shoot’ something).
- Look for aspects of “the holy” in what I see.
- Focus on the process of art-making rather than on the product – and so enter into the creative journey with God and discover him afresh in the process.
- Find moments of eternity, encounter the sacred, touch eternity.
- Cultivate an awakened/deeper kind of vision and awareness.
A quote from the film Waking Life: “This moment is holy, but we walk around like it’s not holy. We walk around like there are some holy moments – and there are all the other moments that are not holy.”
With all this in mind, I walked very slowly in the woods at Mt St Bernard’s Abbey this afternoon, looking all around me. Although there was weak sunshine, it was bitterly cold! I ended up with several photos, all of trees that appear dead and lifeless, but yet have beautiful textures, shapes and strength, with hidden signs of new life. Even the dead and rotting tree stump has a beauty in the patterns and textures – and is nurturing tiny spots of an orange fungus. It is slowly decaying and rotting back into the soil which in turn will feed new growth.
[My camera is a Panasonic Lumix FZ200. It is a “bridge” camera, halfway between an ordinary compact camera and a DSLR with separate lenses. It has a single, incorporated 28-600mm lens, which is therefore not as good a quality as the lenses on a DSLR camera, but is easy to use and carry around.]