What does this image make you think of? Words? Poetry? A feeling perhaps? For me this speaks of contentment and restoration…I find it so settling. What images settle you?
Space to breathe and rest is so important, yet it feels so difficult to find in these times…weekends or rest days have taken a very different shape!
Where have you seen glimmers of God today or this week? In the raindrops which quench the thirst of plants and flowers perhaps? Seeing an arid field begin to produce? A rainbow amidst the sun and rain…God’s reminder that God is faithful….
I’ve spent the last few days transcribing one interview in particular for my MA dissertation project which is exploring contemplative photography as a tool for missional prayer. We were off topic for a moment as we spoke about black and white photography and how it works by stripping everything back except that which the artist is seeking to reveal…I’m struck by how on topic that was in the face of our conversation around theological understandings of the Eucharist – which we were speaking about only days before lockdown occurred.
I’m aware of the complexities around theology and the Eucharist and the real difficulties many are experiencing at the moment due to not being able to receive the sacraments – there was a very interesting conversation this evening hosted by #OnFireMission which I found very thought-provoking.
In my conversation a few weeks back, I heard about an innovative way in which a congregation were encouraged to take the essence of the Eucharist back into their everyday lives – it was profound and powerful; what is the essence for you and how do you bring it into your everyday life this week?
We seem to have been adopted by a hedgehog! Maybe she has been here for some time but life has been slow enough for us to notice her…. #lifeslittlegifts #tinyjoys
I was captivated by another tree today – the Great Oak! The age, strength, wisdom, wrinkles and twists of life left me wondering what aspects of life this tree had stood to witness…what had passed it by…what had been noticed? And still she stands!
“Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it.”Barbara Brown Taylor: An Altar in the World
Inspired by the call for church to change, and by Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World, I have been pondering what an altar in the world might look like. This morning I saw a gorgeous robin stood on our patio table just surveying the space; it felt like beautifully hallowed ground! This morning has been somewhat cooler, but the other day I was sat in the garden praying, and the birdsongs took my attention – it was like they were providing the heavenly worship as I communed with God. It was one of those moments that I would love to put in a bottle and cherish.
This morning as I spoke with a parishioner on the phone, I asked her about how she was. She said that she was lamenting ‘church’ which for her is dedicated time to commune with God and fellow Christians. In the next breath she told me, ‘of course I have an altar at home,’ and went on to describe what that looked like, and how she used it. She was so animated when speaking about the space which for her was ‘holy ground’.
What does your altar look like? Is it a space in your home which you have dedicated to spending time with God, or somewhere you came across completely by accident? How do you use this space?
Last summer I was at a conference where the middle of the chapel had a huge square of sand. The sand was blessed, and we used it in various ways for each time of worship we shared in. At one point we were asked to take a jar of the ‘holy ground’ and spread it around…I found sand all over my suitcase when I got home, but there was something poignant about that holy ground seeping into everyday life. How does holy ground make its way into each part of our lives? How do we make sure all that we do takes place on holy ground?
This morning I was at BBC Radio Leicester with Rupal Rajani taking a look at the papers for the day. It was a real joy to do this. Amongst the news we were talking around the topic of wellbeing, something we are all becoming more aware of in our lives. Rupal asked me what contemplative photography was, and asked for an example; it struck me that I haven’t blogged about that, despite it being the focus of so much of what I do write about! It is something that I just got on and did, and have come to take for granted. Yet, it is something which has such a positive impact on my wellbeing, and something of an oasis in what is so often a hectic state of being.
It is a way of being in the world, or a way of noticing the world, which comes from a stance of stillness. The contemplative seeks to go deeper within themselves in order to see what is right in front of them – which they look at but rarely actually see.
It is a practice which is like meditation, but I would call it meditative prayer, as I am seeking to draw closer to God; Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. I begin by closing my eyes and focusing only on my breathing – I ask God that I might breathe in the breath of God, and I breathe out gratitude for this moment in time, firmly transfixed on exactly what I am doing right now. How often do we do that? How often are we only focused on one thing?
For me the intention is always to see through God’s lens or, more specifically perhaps, see glimmers of God in the place where I find myself and in the people who are nearby. I seek to capture images of God as Divine Light, here with us now.
It might be something about the way they are focused…
Or that Divine Light shining through…
It might be that my attention is taken by difference and diversity. Whatever I notice I trust that I have noticed that, from the attentive stance I began with, because God wants me to see something.
Within my curacy my ‘formal’ training largely takes place through supervision and the opportunity to notice. One of the most helpful questions my Training Incumbent asks, and I notice myself asking before her now, is ‘what do you notice?’ The answer should never be a single sentence, because if we are truly noticing, that will involve what we see (and I mean really see, rather than what we are looking at), what we hear, how we feel, how others around us react, what that says about how they feel and how that impacts on how we feel.
Where in society do we have this space to reflect though? Our heads are filled with so much noise as we race from one thing to the next, before getting home in time to fulfil all that people need us to there, going to sleep and getting up and continuing the loop the next day. An article in The Guardian this week reported on a study undertaken on European robins found that their behaviour was affected by human produced noise. The bird song, when interrupted, had missed information and caused the bird receiving the information to act more aggressively, or give up too easily. Both of those responses seem all too familiar to me when I feel under pressure.
Contemplative photography is a way of relieving that pressure one drop at a time, and also a way of preventing the pressure from building up again to the same degree. I use the method of:
- Still the heart
- Intentionally seeing through God’s lens
- Noticing how what I am seeing is making me feel and noticing anything that God is saying through that
- Contemplating or sitting with some of those ideas and feelings
- After ‘SINCing with God’ in this way, prayerfully returning into the world, slightly transformed by the experience
Sometimes I end up taking a photograph of what I have seen, sometimes I use a photograph previously taken, sometimes there is no photograph, and that is the real rub of this – it is not about taking photographs, but receiving photographs (as Christine Valters Paintner writes about in Eyes of the Heart) as they are revealed by God, our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer – after all, it is God’s lens that I am seeking to look through!
Signs of spring, and even the heat of summer, have been with us for the last few weeks now. I remembered walking in winter amongst sleeping trees and seemingly dead and gone plants, thinking about the life cycle. It is amazing therefore to walk amongst new life at this time of year and see beautiful bursts of colour and a flourishing of our natural creation.
It’s a beautiful reminder that we are not in control…
That the rich diversity of our natural world reflects something of the character of God…
Beauty is present in many different forms and in the most unexpected places…
God who creates such diversity must surely value difference and individuality…we are all uniquely made!
Why then do we insist on a fixed understanding of beauty?
Why are we so intent to convince others that there is only one way to see things, only one way to make sense of life?
Beauty depends not on the subject, but the seers being prepared to look and really notice; or glimpse the glory of God in something or someone – it’s always there, we just have to take time! Each will see something slightly different, and that diversity of seeing is also part of the glory of God! The only challenge is to embrace it, and to be open to the uniqueness of creation.
…Mother, providing for the needs of her young…
…Rock or solid ground on which to depend…
…A glimpse of light amongst a sea of shadows.
What images would you use to describe God?