I received a book in the mail a few days ago that has brought me a good bit of excitement. It’s called Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice and was written by Christine Valters Paintner. I have long felt that there was a spiritual dimension to my photography. I have likened it in the past to a spiritual discipline. That is why I named my photography business Contemplative Images over twenty years ago. Photography has helped me see things in a way I had not prior to picking up a camera. In this new book Paintner gives a voice to my experience.
In the introduction the author writes, “Photography as a spiritual practice combines the active art of image-receiving with the contemplative nature and open-heartedness of prayer. It cultivates what I call sacred seeing or seeing with the ‘eyes of the heart’ (Ephesians 1:18). This kind of seeing is our ability to receive the world around us at a deeper level than surface realities.” Later she adds, “Photography as a spiritual practice can help us to cultivate an awakened vision so we begin to really see.”
I have often said that my nature photography is at times an act of worship. Paintner agrees with this. She says “Photography can be an act of silent worship. When we see the world with eyes of the heart, we can engage in an act of both reverence and self-expression. We can discover how the living Spirit is being revealed in the world.”
As I’ve been reading this book I have rejoiced that someone has been able to put into words what I have felt for so long. The experience has been like finding just the right greeting card that says exactly what you wanted to say to someone but could never have come up with the words yourself. If you own a camera and would be willing to explore how it might be used as a spiritual tool I highly recommend that you purchase and read this book. It is not a book that will teach you how to use a camera (my blogging partner, Rob Sheppard has written plenty of those and I urge you to buy them too), but it will help you to see the world in a different way and this will make you a better photographer in the end. Practicing the principles taught in Paintner’s book will not necessarily help you create award winning images but will instead lead to something far better–a closer connection with God and His Creation. In the end this book is as much about the contemplative life as it is photography. It is a book that has the potential to change your life in more ways than one. That’s saying a lot for a book that only cost me $11.86 on Amazon.com!
(The pictures I’ve used today are examples of my work I’ve come to call “macro therapy.”
Today is Pentecost Sunday. On this day Christians all around the world pause to remember how the Holy Spirit was bestowed upon the early disciples in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus had left the earth. It is a very exciting story recorded in the second chapter of the Book of Acts. In the first chapter of that same book the stage is set for that special day when Jesus told his followers “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (vs. 4-5) The part of this I want to emphasize today is the disciples’ call to wait.
For whatever reason, Jesus was not ready to bestow the Holy Spirit upon them prior to his ascension. For that they would have to wait a few days. It is amazing how often the Scriptures talk about waiting on God. It is quite clear that God does not operate on the same time table we do. We like things to happen fast but God seldom gets in a hurry. And because God does not get in a hurry we have to wait. Are you a good waiter? I’m not. I find waiting for anything I really want difficult. I’m more of a “I want what I want and I want it now” kind of guy. Such an attitude usually leads to a great deal of frustration.
I thought about that yesterday as I was photographing the baby robin you see in the pictures here. Ironically, I was reading a book about John James Audubon when I saw the bird through the window sitting on a wicker chair on the porch. The bird eventually flew into a nearby tree and I got to capture some images of it sitting there. Not long later I noticed that the baby robin had company. What I will assume was its mother began bringing it worms and berries to eat. I decided I’d try to capture the feeding with my camera too. Doing so became an exercise in patience and waiting. I kept wanting to rush the adult robin, wishing it would hurry up and come back. I found myself getting frustrated when it did not return as fast as I wanted it to.
The whole time I was fretting I was watching the baby bird through my telephoto lens. I noticed that when the adult robin left the little one sometimes seemed to wait patiently for her return and at other times appeared to get agitated when she did not come back right away. I also noticed that whether the bird waited patiently or got agitated the mother bird kept coming back with more food. Watching all this take place in front of me got me to thinking that when we do have to wait on God for something there are two ways we may do so. We can patiently wait on God to act, believing that His timing is best, or we can get all worked up and frustrated.
In the end God, like the mother robin, will provide for us what we need but how we wait in the meantime is up to us. If we know God is going to provide for us then we might as well learn to be patient and not stress out. It does no good to get all flustered. In fact, that only makes matters worse. If we are smart we will simply sit back and wait, putting our trust in both God and God’s timing.
I write all of this today probably more for my own sake than yours. There are some things going on in my life right now where I’m really struggling to be patient with God’s timing. My natural tendency is to get anxious and upset. While watching the baby robin yesterday I sensed God telling me “You might as well chill out. Getting upset isn’t going to change anything. Just be patient and I’ll come through for you when the time is right.” That’s not what I wanted to hear but was certainly what I needed to hear. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are others who need to hear that same message. If so, I hope this post proves helpful.
Right before leaving Pikeville a dear friend gave me a stone that had engraved upon it the words “New Beginnings.” This time in my life truly is a period of new beginnings. I made the move to Henderson, Kentucky, this past Tuesday. I started my new job at the First Christian Church of Henderson on Wednesday. This morning it was my privilege to share my first message with this congregation as their new pastor. Although new beginnings can be very stressful and scary, I am excited about where God has brought me and I look forward to what is ahead.
I’m glad that my new beginning has coincided with the season of spring. Spring in many ways represents a new beginning for the earth. I was reminded of that a few days ago as I took a walk in nearby John James Audubon State Park. The wildflowers bursting forth from the ground and the countless shades of green in the trees reminded me of the scripture where God declares that He makes “all things new.” (Rev. 21:5) This afternoon I saw a robin feeding its chicks. Once again there was the reminder, “I make all things new.” Wherever I seem to glance this time of the year this is the message that presents itself to me.I see behind both my own new beginning and the signs of new beginnings in nature a God of grace and mercy. I see a God who finds delight in offering us a new beginning every single day. In the third chapter of the Book of Lamentations we find these beautiful words: “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (vs. 22-23) How awesome it is that we get a chance to start over or begin again every day of our lives! It is even more awesome to know that the God of all Creation is with us on this journey and provides us with both His presence and love constantly.
When you wake up tomorrow, make sure to offer thanks to God for the gift of new beginnings. And then do it again the day after that. And the day after that…
(I took the three images shown here this past week at John James Audubon State Park in Henderson, KY.)
“This is what I seek…to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.” Psalm 27:4
It is not uncommon for those of us who are ministers to hear people say we should “practice what we preach.” After my trip to Cuyahoga Valley National Park last weekend I feel the need for someone to remind me to “practice what I blog.” I have often encouraged people at this site to slow down when they are outdoors and to be aware of their surroundings. I’ve even offered warnings about being so preoccupied with finding certain things that you fail to see a number of other treasures at hand. Since I write these kind of things you might expect me to practice what I preach. Why, even I expect that of myself. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.
When my friend and I entered the park on Friday I was anxious to photograph. Our first stop was Blue Hen Falls. It is only a short walk down to the falls and I was eager to get to the falls and begin photographing. I took scores of pictures right away of the waterfall, none of which were very good. The light was not ideal, nor were my creative juices flowing. I knew I would have another chance to come back to this particular waterfall but still began the journey back to the car disappointed. I’d come to photograph a waterfall and didn’t have much to show for it. Then, all at once, we began to see wildflowers all around us. There were beautiful white trilliums, bloodroot, lousewort, and a host of other species. I also noticed a number of fiddlehead ferns unfurling. None of these things were obvious; the forest floor was covered for the most part with leaves. But for those who truly had eyes to see there was much to enjoy and photograph. We ended up spending far more time in that area photographing flowers and ferns than we had taking pictures of Blue Hen Falls.
It bothers me that I failed to practice what I preach. I should have known better and I should have done better. What I fear even more, however, is that I may not be doing any better in the spiritual realm when it comes to seeing God. I’ve written numerous times that we must be careful about presupposing that God can only be found in certain places. Those who think God can be found only in a church or perhaps in the Bible are likely missing a lot of opportunities to experience God’s presence and glory. I am not one of those who believe God is found only in a church or in the Bible but that does not mean that I still do not miss the divine presence on numerous occasions. I have a feeling that just as I must do a better job of being aware of my surroundings when enjoying nature or photographing, I must also do a better job of opening my eyes to the plethora of ways God is capable of Himself known. There simply is no person, place or thing that God cannot use to reveal Himself. I preach that sort of thing all the time. May God help me now to practice what I preach and really pay attention. May God help you too…
(The trillium and fern image were taken the day written about above. The picture of Blue Hen Falls was taken the next day.)
I love America’s national parks! They truly are one of our country’s “best ideas.” This weekend I had the chance to visit one that I had not been to before, Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It is located between Akron and Cleveland, Ohio, and has only been a national park for thirteen years. It has the reputation of being a wonderful autumn location for photographers but I found early spring to also be a great time to visit.
The word “cuyahoga” means “crooked river.” A river that bears this name does, indeed, run through the park and lives up to its name. This unique name got me thinking about a sermon John Claypool preached many years ago about the biblical character, Jacob. Claypool makes the point that despite Jacob’s devious ways God still used him to further His plans for Israel. The primary point I remember from reading this sermon was Claypool’s insistence that God can “write straight with crooked lines.”
I believe that this is an important point and that any number of biblical characters could be pointed to as examples–Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, etc. Certainly a lot of non-biblical examples could also be cited. It’s just true; God has this amazing way of using imperfect people to accomplish His will for the world. I find that incredibly comforting because I am quite imperfect myself. I often wonder how God can use someone like me, someone with more faults than I could begin to count. At the same time, I know He does use me and that is both humbling and exciting. It is also indicative of just how awesome God is.
None of us are perfect; we all make mistakes. Bad decisions or sinful actions can lead to apparent disaster. But the Bible declares, “We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28) I’ve seen this happen in my own life and join John Claypool in assuring you that God can, indeed, write straight with crooked lines. Your life may seem to you as crooked as the Cuyahoga River in Ohio but God has the ability to bless and use you nonetheless. This seems to be His speciality and I, for one, am thankful it is.
(I took the three pictures shown here this weekend at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)
Today is my birthday. In case you’re wondering, I’m 57 years young. Even though I’m definitely getting older and feeling the effects of it, I still enjoy birthdays. Birthdays give me a chance to reflect on my life and how richly blessed I have been. On this day I give thanks for the wonderful parents and family God gave me. I give thanks for the teachers who helped educate me and for the churches that have played such an important role in my life. I also offer thanks for my wife and for the many wonderful friends I have been blessed with. Needless to say, I likewise give thanks for all the wonders of God’s Creation I have been blessed to witness, visit and photograph.
On this particular day I also give thanks for my body. Considering the shape I’m in perhaps I should rephrase that and say I am thankful for the human body. In Psalm 139 David says to God “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (vs. 13-14) In this blog I write often about the wonders of God’s Creation and focus primarily on what we normally refer to as “nature.” It would serve us well to remember from time to time that we, too, are part of that Creation and that our bodies–just like the rest of nature–is a marvelous gift of God and speaks volumes about who God is.
Several years ago Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand wrote a book called Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. In this book they talk about the marvels of the human body–cells, bones, skin, motion–and also draw spiritual lessons from the makeup of our bodies. I recommend this book, along with its companion volume, In His Image, to you. Although we may not think about it in such terms very often, the human body is part of God’s “Other Book.” We would all benefit from paying more attention to it. I suspect that doing so would lead us, like the Psalmist, to offer God praise.
(The three pictures shown here were taken yesterday. That’s me on the right at top with my dear friend, Bill Fortney. The middle image was taken in the Daniel Boone National Forest of Kentucky and the bottom image at Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Tennessee.)