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!