Contemplative Photography · Country Roads · Creativity · Spiritual Journey

Seeing With New Eyes

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

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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”

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One thought on “Seeing With New Eyes

  1. Dear Jodi,

    This is a great post.

    Unfortunately, we had to cancel Fr. Dick Hauser’s retreat that was scheduled for this coming weekend. Lack of attendance. Thanks.

    Fr. Thomas

    Liked by 1 person

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