Sep 26 2012

Seeing with the Heart

Eyes are critical for sight, but do we always truly see what is before us? Paul Baloche wrote a beautiful contemporary Christian song called Open the Eyes of My Heart:

“Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
“Open the eyes of my heart
“I want to see You
“I want to see You”

Sometimes seeing is not about just seeing what is in front of us with only our eyes. Sometimes we have to see with our heart. I believe that is definitely true, as Paul Baloche notes, because we cannot “see” God in any other way. As Jesus says in the Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  Psalm 119:18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” I really like the way The Message translates this passage, “Open my eyes so I can see what you show me of your miracle wonders.”

As a photographer, I cannot simply see the obvious things in front of me or all I will get is a simple snapshot record of the scene. Photographers have to dig deeper into their own hearts to find images that express something more than a scientific record of “I was there.” My grandfather used to call photos that people took of themselves in front of exotic locations “I was there and you weren’t” shots.

A good nature photograph should evoke something more than being able to show what is obviously there. It needs to dig deeper, and the photographer has to see from his or her heart, not just their mind/eyes. I think this can apply to how all of us see the nature around us. We can see it as simply something in front of our eyes, or we can see it from the heart and notice the special beauty God has embedded in the natural world. We can see it as the second Book of God, showing His creative hand in a most direct way. It is easy to see a pretty flower or a bee with our eyes, but when we see these elements of nature with our heart, too, life is revealed in new ways.

What does it mean to see eye to eye with someone? It literally means we are in agreement with that person. It comes from the idea that when you agree with another person, you can look them right in the eye and know you are seeing the same things at a much deeper level than simply seeing with just the mind/eyes. It definitely means seeing the other person heart to heart as well.

I believe we need to see nature from the heart, to see it eye to eye, heart to heart, because this both honors nature and the great Artist who designed and created it, God.

The first photo is of my beautiful wife, Vicky, the second, a wonderful little grasshopper nymph giving me the eye, and finally, an eye-to-eye connection with a black-crowned night heron.

— Rob

Sep 7 2011

My Obsession With Seeing

I have an obsession about seeing.  This is true for me both as a Christian and as a photographer.  As a Christian I long to see God.  I realize that I will never see God in all His fullness and glory this side of heaven but I also know that there is far more of Him to be seen than I have thus far experienced.  In the musical Godspell the song “Day By Day” begins with the words, “Day by day three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly and follow thee more nearly day by day.”  That is my prayer too.

As a nature photographer I also long to see the world around me more clearly. I’ve been doing nature photography long enough to know that I often miss much when I’m out shooting.  That’s why I usually pray before I go out to photograph.  I ask God to help me to see Him in His Creation and also to help me see more of the wonders in His Creation.  Andreas Feininger once wrote that “a camera is an instrument for intensified seeing.”   I truly believe that with God’s help my camera can help me see better.

In recent days I’ve continued to read Richard Rohr’s book, The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.  As the title suggests, he has a lot to say about seeing in this book.  Several things he’s said has caused me to pause and think.  For example, at one point he says “We see what we are ready to see, expect to see, and even desire to see.”  I suspect he is right about that and this has implications for both my spiritual and photographic vision.  I need to be “ready” to see more; “expect” to see more; and “desire” to see more.

In another chapter Rohr writes, “We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are.”   Who I am truly does affect how I see and experience both God and His Creation.   There are experiences from my past that may well limit how I see things.  Hopefully I can be conscious of how this affects my spiritual and photographic eye.  I am not, however, bound to my past.  I can, and likely shall, have new experiences that will enable me to see God and His Creation more clearly.  Some of these experiences I will have control over, others I will not.  The main thing is to always be open to learning and growing so that I can see better.

In yet another chapter Rohr says “Good religion…is always about seeing rightly.”  Here he quotes Jesus’ words found in Matthew 6:22, “The lamp of the body is the eye; if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light.”  I know that Rohr is right.  That, once again, is why I’m obsessed about seeing more clearly.  For me there is even a connection with seeing more clearly photographically and seeing more clearly spiritually.  I really do want to see more clearly but by now you’ve already figured that out.


(The three images above were taken last month during a trip to Breaks Interstate Park, a location about 30 miles from my home.)

Jul 3 2011

“The More You See The Less You Know”

Last night I had a chance to see U2 in concert at Nashville.  Being a huge U2 fan I thoroughly enjoyed the show.  In many ways, however,  a U2 concert is more an experience than a show.  There are many things I admire and appreciate about this band from Ireland.  In both their songs and the messages that appear on a huge screen throughout the concert they give you much to think about. 

At one point in last night’s concert the words “The more you see the less you know” appeared on the screen above me.  At first I thought I had misread the words but when I looked again I realized I had read them correctly.  My initial reaction was that I disagreed with this statement. I know far more than I would have otherwise due to all the things I have seen in my life.  But as I continued to give some thought to the saying it occurred to me that there was definitely some truth in this maxim. In fact I decided it was akin to another truth I came to grasp in my long journey through college, graduate school and post graduate school—the more you learn the more you discover what you do not know.

I think both sayings pertain to seeing Creation.  The more I learn about God’s wonderful Creation the more I discover how much I do not know.  Likewise, the more I see of His handiwork, it makes me aware of how much I don’t know.  In one way this is frustrating and humbling.  In another way it is exhilarating and a challenge for me to learn more. 

I am quite confident that God wants and expects for us to use the minds he has given us far more than we typically do.  I have heard experts say that the typical person only uses about 15% of his or her mental capacity.  We have the ability to understand, learn and experience far more than we presently do.  Not only is this true; I would argue that our failure to learn more is a sin.  In the “greatest commandment” Jesus said we are to love God with all of our mind, heart, soul and strength.  We cannot fully love God unless our minds are engaged. 

In God’s Creation there is so much to see and also much to learn.  Recently I’ve had a couple of experiences with raccoons.  A few days ago I got to photograph a baby raccoon that a wildlife rehabilitator friend is caring for.  Then three nights ago I heard a loud noise on the deck outside my bedroom and when I explored the cause discovered that a huge raccoon was treating himself to the birdseed in my feeder.  Seeing both of these creatures made me realize that I really don’t know a whole lot about raccoons.  Seeing them has also made me wish to learn more about these “masked bandits.”  So I guess the boys from Dublin are right; the more you see the less you know.  This only makes me want to see more and to learn more.  I think that’s the way God intended it.


Jun 29 2011

What Can We See Of The World?

Photography encourages me to slow down and really see the natural world around me. It is tempting to hike quickly down the trail, hoping to find that image that jumps out at you, when all along, there have been great shots all around you.

One frustration that photographers often have when doing this is that you may see a wonderful scene in front of you, but you cannot easily capture it with the camera. Cameras have severe limitations in seeing the world compared to what our eyes can see. When conditions include bright light and dark shadows, we often see much more than the limited range of the camera. This was definitely true when Chuck and I went to the redwoods a couple of weeks ago. It was all sunshine, which in dense woods like these, that means bright spots of light and lots of dark shadows. I was on the trail waiting for Chuck to shoot some rhododendrons in bloom and as I paused, I noticed the beautiful light on the ferns under the big trees in front of me. No digital or film camera can capture what our eyes can see in such conditions, however, the photo at the top of this blog does show something close.

How is that possible? With something called HDR or high dynamic range photography. By taking more than one exposure that would cover the range of brightness, I could bring those exposures into an HDR software program to combine the images, revealing what was really there rather than a restricted image based on what the camera could capture. Here is an example of what the unaided camera is restricted to.

Chuck and I were talking about that and how that seems similar to what we see of the world compared to what God sees. We are like the restricted camera, incapable at times of seeing the wonder of an ecosystem (we just don’t have the capability God has of seeing all of its connections and beauty in that), incapable at times of seeing the full possibilities of others (God’s love means He sees beyond their limitations and lets their possibilities bathe in his grace), and so on. HDR and regular photography may give us a metaphor for what is possible to be seen vs. what we usually see.

In Numbers 22:21-35, Balaam beats his donkey and discovers his vision is more limited than the donkey’s. He thinks the donkey is being obstinate, yet the donkey is actually seeing a messenger from the Lord that Balaam is incapable of seeing. Balaam has a restricted vision, while the donkey’s is enhanced HDR!

In 1 Kings 19- 9-18, Elijah hides out because he is afraid. He is convinced he is the only faithful one left and that he will be killed if he returns home. He has restricted vision. God lets Elijah know that a bigger vision would show that thousands of others are faithful. Elijah is not aware because of his limited capability of seeing, while God lets him know more is available.

Of course, we can never see everything that God can see. There is a level of perception and vision that we cannot even imagine. However, we can ask God at times to open our eyes, to give us HDR vision to better see the world He has created. If we think what we see is all there is to see, we will be like the limited view of the camera, and miss a lot of possibilities in the world around us.

That takes us back to the first thought — that sometimes the most beautiful things are around us, we just need to slow down and truly open our eyes. Sometimes we need to ask God for HDR possibilities of seeing!

— Rob

Nov 19 2010

What Do We See of Nature?

Seeing Creation 11-19-2This looks like a normal photograph of a small arch in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles. In the distance, you can see the Pacific Ocean.

But this is not a normal photo. It is a special type of image that uses a technology called HDR (high dynamic range). The problem with cameras is that they cannot see the range of detail that our eyes can see in bright light. HDR helps the photographer compensate for that lack of vision. You take several photos that capture the full range of tones and colors that are really in the world, then combine them in the computer to create a photo closer to what we actually see. Here are two photos showing what the camera originally saw in its limited way.

Seeing Creation 11-19-3

Seeing Creation 11-19-4

I got to thinking about this technology and what we see. Sometimes we are like the camera and don’t alway see what is really in front of us. I believe that God has created a wonderful, stunning world all around us. We can’t be constantly on high alert seeing all of His creation, but often we miss seeing the world completely and so take that creation for granted.

Or we see the world in very limited ways, such as only seeing profit in nature or feeling that we actually own God’s world. When I was younger, I often wondered about the Bible verse, Matthew 19:24 – “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” That worried me because if Jesus’ message is one of grace and forgiveness, how could it be that rich people cannot enter the kingdom of God? I think this might be a bit about how being rich can affect the way we see the world. If we only see the world as a means for us to profit, then it will be very difficult to connect with God.

It is also interesting that seeing is a big part of the creation story in Genesis. Genesis 1:12 – “And God saw that it was good.” That certainly implies that if we are not seeing the good of the world that God has created, then we have limitations to our seeing. We are then like the camera that cannot fully see what is around us. God sees that all is good, and through God’s vision, perhaps we are helped to see more just as HDR helps cameras see better. Proverbs 3:7 even provides an appropriate admonishment – “Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord.” Which in Old Testament terms, usually meant pay attention to God rather than only our own vision.

– Rob