In response to this summer’s series ‘let’s get creative with our prayers’ I have been wanting to share one simple contemplative tool:
get your photos off your hard drive.
We are told that we are becoming a society inundated by and obsessed with ‘the image’. Apparently we upload onto Facebook over three million of these images a day (one of them will be mine). We have developed technologies that enable us to blur, merge, refine, combine – so much so that we’re no longer sure whether what we are looking at is ‘real’. The availability and spread of mobile phone cameras has brought huge benefits in terms of citizen journalism from places far from our own geography and time. We are banking huge archives and collections of digital media for future generations of historians and archaeologists.
Yet are we in grave danger of our very looking and seeing becoming stale, mundane and disposable?
Earlier in the year Christine wrote about using a camera to heighten her noticing of her surroundings and to channel her attention of these details into her prayers, and whether we use our cameras in this intentionally contemplative way or not, we all have images that catch at us and that we return to. It might be of a person, a place, a colour. It might be a photograph taken a hundred years ago. It might be a photograph taken yesterday. It may not have been taken by you, or have anything to do with you personally. But whatever the image, it bears looking at time and again.
Print it out.
Big or small. It doesn’t matter. Frame it on a wall somewhere you will have to keep going past it. (If you can’t afford a frame or spare the wall space, stick in on the front of the fridge!) Or go small and make it a bookmark for whatever you are currently reading.
In the past year I have done both of these. The above image has been printed onto a large canvas on my living room wall. I face it as I come in my front door and see that it changes with the light of the day. Where my eye is drawn to each day changes too, and it is this that I am beginning to learn to heed. Intellectually I know that I respond to abstract art, the movement of shape, line and colour, and the freedom it brings to create my own associations. I know exactly the time and place that I received this image, but now that it is on the wall both the recollection of time and place and the intellectual analytical fascination recedes. If I am open, prayerful and intentional in my seeing it is what I find in this image today that can lead me to know something of myself, something of my relationship to God, and something of the character of God.
The image below has found its home in my bible, marking each morning’s verse for my Lectio Divina time with the Psalms. On the back of it I have written one of Christine’s prayers for preparation, but before praying that prayer I spend a short – or long – moment with the image on the other side.
In the changing light of each morning, in the shifting pains around my body, in the turmoil of the mind I am attempting to quiet, the image unveils a different gift to me each day. A corner, a colour, a particular line, or the direction of the movement; whatever it might be, it pulls at my attention. And if I still myself, I glimpse that what I am drawn to sets up an echo within me. It might be a joyful rush of gratitude; in which case I am naturally led on to a time of praise. It might be an overcoming upwelling of deep sorrow; in which case I try to allow my tears to be my prayers. It might be that a colour brings a particular person to mind; in which case my intercessions surround them.
Whatever my reaction, I am learning there is a twinned turning of it to God, a gesture of handing over.
And, by Grace, in this handing over I meet God on holy ground.
In this image I see God revealed.
This is a gift of Visio Divina – Holy Seeing – for this day alone.
Thanks be to God.
Kate Kennington Steer is a writer and photographer with a deep abiding passion for contemplative photography and spirituality. She writes about these things on her shot at ten paces blog. Currently she is also posting a daily iphone image on her Facebook page. Join in with gentle ambling conversations about contemplative photography by becoming a friend (https://www.facebook.com/kate.kenningtonsteer).