The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the word “abstract” a number of different ways. Two of the definitions are: “considered apart from concrete existence or a specification thereof” and “not easily understood; abstruse.” The word “abstract” is also used to describe a type of photography. Abstract photos tend to be more creative or contemplative than straightforward. Some people like abstract images, others don’t. While visiting a quaint fishing village in Maine a couple of weeks ago I worked on some abstract images. I had a chance to do so again last night when I paid a visit to a nearby state park. I happen to like abstract images. To me there is something soulful about them, and I mean that literally. Abstract images often speak to or come from the soul.
Having had a chance to do some abstract photography recently has made me think about the various ways we see the world, ways we see Creation. A book both Rob and I have been reading lately is Richard Rohr’s The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. In this fascinating work Rohr suggests that there are three primary ways of seeing things. He identifies the first eye as “the eye of the flesh” which takes in thought and sight. The second eye is “the eye of reason,” which includes meditation or reflection. The third eye is “the eye of true understanding” or contemplation. Rohr goes on to define contemplation as “an exercise in keeping your heart and mind spaces open long enough for the mind to see other hidden material.”
Abstract photography seems to be served by the third eye. As I grow older (and hopefully wiser) I am seeing more and more the importance of a non-dualistic approach to life. Rohr believes too many people see things only dualistically. It’s either all or nothing, black or white, up or down, right or wrong, etc. We truly do need a third set of eyes for the world God has created is far more complex and multi-layered than any of us could ever imagine. There is always far more going on than we realize. We simply have to be humble and acknowledge that we don’t see everything or know it all.
In abstract pictures things do not always make sense; they cannot easily be explained. Still, they can be quite beautiful. Likewise, much in the world and in our lives do not make sense. That, however, does not mean that there is no beauty even in those “abstract” areas. Increasingly it is becoming apparent to me that I need to be open to seeing things from different viewpoints. I need to be willing to look through lenses that may not be comfortable at first. If God is all the Scriptures say He is, then it should not surprise us at all that we will need many different sets of eyes to behold His beauty, majesty and glory. There is a mysterious side to God that we cannot deny. For some reason, taking abstract photographs reminds me of this important truth on a regular basis.
(I took the top two images at Jenny Wiley State Park yesterday evening. The bottom picture was taken a couple of weeks ago at Lubec, Maine.)