Oct 23 2011

The Third Eye

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.)

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.)

Aug 28 2011

3 Ways to View the Sunset

Yesterday I received a box of books in the mail from Amazon.  Two of the books I purchased were by Richard Rohr.  I have never read anything by this author but recently I keep coming across his name in other books and magazines so I decided to buy a couple of his books.  One of the books I purchased is called The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See.  When I was looking through this book I noticed that  there was a chapter called “Three Ways to View the Sunset.”  I knew right away I had to read it.

In this chapter Rohr discusses a variety of ways a person can experience a sunset.  Some, he says, see the physical beauty and enjoy the event in itself.  Others, he says, also enjoy the physical beauty but go on to employ reason and view it through imagination, intuition and reason.  Still others are able to see the sunset with both these capacities but also remain “in awe before an underlying mystery, coherence, and spaciousness” that connect them with everything else. Rohr refers to this as the “third eye” which “is the full goal of all seeing and all knowing.”

In medieval times names were given to these three ways of seeing by Hugh of St. Victor and Richard of St. Victor.  “The first eye was the eye of the flesh (thought or sight), the second was the eye of reason (meditation or reflection), and the third eye was the eye of true understanding (contemplation).”   It should be obvious that what is being discussed here transcends just viewing God’s Creation.  It takes in far more.  Still, I think that there are, indeed, different levels of seeing Creation and that we should strive to incorporate all three levels in our experience.

Rohr writes at one point: “If people have ignored the first and the second eyes, their hold on the third eye is often temporary, shallow, and incapable of being shared with anybody else.  We need true mystics who see with all three sets of eyes, not eccentrics, fanatics, or rebels.  The true mystic is always both humble and compassionate, for she knows that she does not know.”  If we want to truly “see” Creation we will need to use all three ways of seeing.  First, we must make good use of our senses (something we don’t always do).  Second, we should take the time to learn about what we are seeing.  Third, if we are wise we will also go on to make ourselves open to the God who is in, behind and above Creation.  We will not just use our senses and mind to experience Creation, we will also engage the soul.

A hymn I have sung since childhood is “Open My Eyes That I May See” by Clara H. Scott.  Although the words transcend seeing Creation, I feel that when we find ourselves in nature we might be wise to sing: “Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me; place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.  Silently now I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see.  Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”  Doing so might very well make viewing sunsets, waterfalls, flowers, wildlife, or any other part of God’s Creation a truly marvelous occasion.  Doing so we may well see far more than we ever have before.


(Above I’ve included three sunset images I have taken.  The top one was photographed at Clingmans Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains NP.  The middle one was taken on the banks of the Mississippi River in western Kentucky.  The bottom image was taken at Hensley Settlement in Cumberland Gap NHP.)