Seeing With New Eyes

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. –Marcel Proust


Photography is my hobby. Maybe a professional photographer would take issue with me for using the word “photography”.  I have no professional training. I haven’t taken any adult education classes, even though it’s on my want-to-do-that-one-of-these-days list. I did take a one-hour training session that was offered free when my husband, Joe, purchased our camera. But I don’t remember much. 😦

We bought a brand name camera with lots of bells and whistles and a higher-than-amateur-photographer price tag to take photos of our daughter playing high school sports.

Our thinking: she’s our only child and she’s only in high school sports one time.  We need to not screw up these special moments with a cheap camera. Joe also thought he might take up the hobby and I thought he could use one, so spending money on a pretty awesome camera was justifiable on two fronts.Desktop6

We loved the click-click-click feature of the camera (the official name escapes me). We were able to capture every volleyball or tennis serving stance that a player could have and lots of high-fives, action shots and team pictures.


We really enjoyed capturing these moments, but long story, short….Joe never took up the hobby, but I did (he’s into technology, so it’s okay). I took my camera (yes, it became my camera) when I went on monthly retreats to St. Benedict Center and on my country road drives.  I found myself needing the camera next to me on the front seat, stopping ever half-mile or so to capture another beautiful view. And now that we live on the edge of town with magnificent views, the camera has a permanent place by our back door; no shelf in the closet needed.

A slide show of photos from our backyard taken in January and February, 2016:

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Photography is a way to slow down and gaze deeply, noticing things missed in our rushed lives. -Christine Valters Painter, Eyes of the Heart

But back to the one-hour crash course in using a camera—both Joe and I could have taken the course after purchasing the camera. I can’t remember how long we had the camera before I eventually signed up for the course (more than 2 years and less than 5, that’s all I can narrow it down to), but eventually I did attend, albeit sans camera.

Yup, I went to a camera training session without said camera, in a typical hurry. Luckily, I was close to home, sped (of course) back to get it and ended up missing the first 10 minutes of the training. And being slightly embarrassed that I didn’t appear to be serious about my “new” camera.

Bottom line, I’m not sure I really want to take the time to learn about my camera. I say I do, but really it’s about enjoying finding just the right moments to capture. It’s more about what I’ve learned by NOT learning.  It’s about receiving.


“It takes time and slowness to see the holy, shimmering presence beneath the surface of things.” -Christine Valters Painter, Eyes of the Heart

This is what I have learned through photography: to slow down, to be more aware of details, to spend time doing things I enjoy, to be less goal-oriented and more process-oriented, to enjoy the beauty of simple things, to not be in a hurry, to take more time to appreciate the surprises of a new country road or the change of seasons. I have learned to see with new eyes. 

contemplative photographyIt’s taken me back to my youth as well. Ever since I witnessed Poloraids mysteriously develop in front of my eyes or when I managed to squeak out 25 exposures from 24-exposure Kodak Instamatic film (at a John Denver Concert), I’ve enjoyed the thrill of capturing moments through photos.

I remember doing career research in 9th grade. The three careers I researched were: teacher, photographer and reporter. Interestingly, my first career out of college was not in any of these areas; it was in advertising sales. I thought there was greater income potential, or at least that was what the research said, and I listened to the advice of others. But these interests never faded.

I am grateful I’ve journeyed back to the passions of my youth through hobbies (writing this blog and photography) and a nearly 20 year teaching career. I believe those passions were planted in my heart from the beginning. And my heart really knew it.

“…Our first kind of vision is what we see through the lens. The second kind of vision involves all of the thoughts and judgements we make as we compose an image…The third kind of vision moves us beyond these, so that the camera draws us into an experience of presence with this moment now, and it becomes a prayer.”-Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart

This picture-taking, photography hobby is not as much about the product, the photo I take, but the process. The sense of adventure and creativity bring a deep joy of celebrating and capturing a scene that will never quite be that same way again.  What started as photography for memory-documentation-purposes turned into something much more joyful and creative and, even, prayerful. Some call it “contemplative photography”. And one does not need a fancy camera to go there. My iPhone can do the trick.


“It cultivates what I call sacred seeing or seeing with the “eyes of the heart” (Ephesians 1:18)….This practice focuses us on receiving images, rather than taking or making images.-Christine Valters Painter, Eyes of the Heart

So I share some of my hobby, my prayer, from this past weekend: country roads between Lincoln and Schuyler, Nebraska, mainly in an area referred to as the “Bohemian Alps” and on retreat at St. Benedict Center. It’s a colorless season right now in Nebraska—no green or gold or red or violet, just various shades of brown, white, gray and black, and on a good day, the big, blue Nebraska sky.

A sampling of photos taken at St. Benedict Center during a contemplative prayer retreat last weekend:

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There is something so striking in a tree without leaves. Winter trees show what they are really made of. You see every branch and twig, twists and turns and gnarls, how it’s structured, how it carries its weight, hinting at the strength of its roots. Stark, clean, uncovered. The simplicity of a naked tree leaves me speechless. I lose track of time when a tree calls to be seen. (Also see The Same Two Trees)

Photos taken in Butler and Saunders County, the “Bohemian Alps” this February 2016:

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 “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see clearly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A new way of seeing what might have never been noticed-this is the gift of contemplative photography. It is when silence and solitude and creativity and nature collide into a oneness that can only be received, not pursued. Take your camera and hit a country road one of these days. I promise you’ll see differently. See more blog posts on Country Roads and Contemplative Photography.

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all.

— Thomas Merton , “Thoughts In Solitude”

Protectors of Creation: An Earth Day Challenge

Seeing the beauty of nature is the first step to taking action to protect it. Unless we can appreciate the oneness we have with creation, we will do very little to protect it.

“Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” –Pope Francis

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For Earth Day last year, SoulFully You readers were challenged to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled,  “Soul Collage® and the Environment”.  To view all Earth Day entries, including cards and responses from readers, and the research paper that Jessica submitted for her Environmental Politics class at Nebraska Wesleyan University, see Earth Day blog entries.

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For Earth day this year, I have been invited to write an article for the April 2016 SoulCollage® newsletter, SoulCollage® Community Update, reflecting on how creating with images of nature can impact and influence our sense of gratitude for God’s creation, our sense of belonging in and oneness with nature and, ultimately, how we respond to the call to conserve and save our earth’s resources.

I would love your insight and feedback! Please consider sharing your reaction to the SoulCollage® cards posted on this page by responding to any or all of the writing prompts.

  1. What is the effect of one (or more) cards on you?
  2. What does it say to you about God’s creation?
  3. Consider writing an “I am one who” statement or using a card to pray with or meditate on during this week. Does the meaning of the card change or deepen as you “read” it differently?
  4. How does this blog and/or the images inspire you to action?  Consider how you might conserve and save earth’s resources.
  5. What inner shifts or feelings arise when you contemplate your responses.
  6. Be creative.  Give yourself time to savor the images. Watch and listen for what bubbles up within.

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Share your writing in the comments, send through Facebook messages or email Also consider creating your own card and sharing how that process impacted you.

earth day card 4 just sit

“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.” Pope Francis, Laudato Si

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Parker Palmer for President: The only political post I will ever make

How do we “ward off the buffoonery and blathering, the racism and sexism and homophobia, the distortions and demonizing, the rhetorical cruelty, the cover-ups, the abysmal ignorance and flat-out lies that suck the marrow from our souls as the 2016 presidential marathon gains momentum”? -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”

Seriously, how do we??

I want to be an informed voter, to be aware of what’s happening in our country and to understand what the Presidential candidates hope to accomplish. But I just don’t know who or what to believe.

How can so many candidates believe they have the Absolute Truth and the One and Only Answer to all of our country’s problem? How can each of them be right and all the others be wrong? Why do hostility, distrust and self-righteousness have to be the status quo for election years?

As the media and candidates spin their stories, I sit and spin (remember those?) and I’m sit and spindizzy. It makes one want to “hole up for the duration”; to turn off the news and hide every Facebook post that is political. There are some candidates or issues that bring a visceral response—my stomach hurts, my heart beats faster, I get tempted to respond or post my own political comments (likely, equally as uninformed as the post that pissed me off).

So why do I put myself through it? Why did I stay up late to see that, ultimately, a coin toss could determine who would be the Democratic “winner” of the Iowa caucuses? Why do I engage in political conversations that cause discomfort?

I have never been very political.  I would prefer to steer away from political conversations, even with issues I agree. Too often I find myself being the devil’s advocate because, well, that side needs defending too, right? Or I get so wound up (the sit and spin effect) because I know it’s not really a listening-kind-of conversation, but a trying-to-convince-me-of-something conversation. Political conversations seem so hopeless and people become so divided.spinning out of controlAB.jpg

I don’t like disagreement. I don’t like conflict. I want everyone to get along. But I know that I contribute to this conflict as much as I want to avoid it. I have my opinions that I think are right just as much as the person who believes strongly in something different. But having a daughter with a Political Science major and a husband who loves 24/7 news does not allow me to escape the political scene.

Escape is not really a good option anyway: I want to be politically and socially aware, to be able to have an intelligent conversation and an opinion about the issues and candidates that impact our future.

“Though much of our political discourse is toxic, “politics” itself is not a dirty word. It’s the ancient and honorable effort to come together across our differences and create a community in which the weak as well as the strong flourish, love and power collaborate, and justice and mercy have their day.” -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”

Election years do feel toxic. It feels like there isn’t a lot of community that is created (except with people who are already like-minded). Community implies cooperation with those not necessarily like us, to “come together across our differences”.  But it feels like there isn’t a lot of listening. There is more holding to an opinion, standing our ground on what we think “makes America great” (even though we don’t know what that means and the candidates don’t tell us what they will do to get us there either).


“We need a revolution of tenderness.” –Pope Francis

We need “a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.” –Senator Bernie Sanders

The word that has resonated with me during these past few months is “revolution”.  It has come from the mouth of Pope Francis and from Senator Bernie Sanders. In both situations it is a call for desperate measures, a radical change in the way things are being done and the way we treat each other.

Pope emojiPlease do not mistake me for putting Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders, or any political candidate, in the same category.  Anyone who knows me knows Pope Francis wins any contest hands down (I have Pope emojis, case closed), but it’s the word “revolution” that has me thinking.  Perhaps we all have a sense when things aren’t working, when we need to try something different.

So what can we do to bring about a revolution of tenderness during this election year when it is all too easy to see what divides us, to dwell on the differences?

Parker Palmer, in his article Breathing New Life into “We the People”, makes some excellent suggestions for managing the political angst of an election year.

    1. Value our differences:Only through the creative conflict of ideas has the human race ever accomplished great things.
    2. Listen for the long haul: Holding your differences with others in a way that can sustain dialogue over time, giving everyone a chance to speak, listen, and learn.
    3. Listen for understanding: “The more you know about other people’s stories, the harder it is to dislike, distrust, or demonize them.”
    4. Honor diversity: “Not only visible diversity but the invisible forms of “otherness” (from political persuasions to sexual orientations) that exist among people who look alike.”
    5. Act with hospitality: We have the power to resist the culture of hostility that’s gutting American politics — to act daily in ways that foster a culture of hospitality…”

*all quotes above from Palmer article 

Palmer is a Quaker, but this all sounds very Benedictine.  St. Benedict, in his Rule, states “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.” (RSB: 53) Treating others as Christ takes intention.

So my goal for this election season is to be a little more Benedictine: to try a little tenderness; to be more hospitable, to be a little more tolerant of opinions different than my own.  To have more conversations where I simply listen; to be less judgmental; to try to understand why others believe or vote the way they do.  I am not an expert (on hardly anything, let alone politics) and I have a lot to learn. I have a lot to learn about treating others as Christ.

Having an attitude of tenderness and hospitality may be the only thing that can bring a revolution within, in this country or this world. As Palmer states, “Just as democracy can die a death of a thousand cuts, it can be given new life by a thousand acts of civility.”  I will do my part.


Card name: Diversity, It Takes All Kinds
Parker Palmer

More from Parker Palmer:  Chutzpah and Humility: Five Habits of the Heart for Democracy in America

….and a little more from Parker Palmer! I was tickled to hear from him on Facebook in response to this blog post.

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