A number of years ago my best friend and I exchanged gifts. These gifts were a bit unusual, but they fit the circumstances of our lives at a certain time, more her life than mine. Still, there was upheaval in that moment for each of us, and these gifts fit perfectly.
I gave her an airline ticket to Boston so she could go on retreat at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, a monastic community of the Episcopal Church.
She gave me a six-week online course entitled Photography as a Contemplative Practice, offered by Abbey of the Arts.
I was faithful to the course for a short while. I have returned to the course a number of times since, though never completing it. I returned once again this day. There is no telling how far I will travel on this photographic pilgrimage, but for now I am on my way.
The author suggests that “photography is a deeply contemplative practice, and if approached with reverence and intention, it can help us to see the holy moments all around us”. There is a lot of contemplative time and exercises associated with this course, and that’s quite likely why I have not embraced this as completely as required.
Who is surprised to hear this? I imagine no one who knows me. Still, I’m ready to step into the contemplative moment.
Something that caught my attention years ago, and has remained in my mind, is the idea about the word “taking” photos. The author suggests we should receive, rather than take, the gifts around us and to be “present enough so that when the photographic moment arrives, we are able to receive it fully, with our whole hearts”.
I’m definitely quoting here, because I just don’t speak in this manner. I can, however, hear and understand the possibility.
All this to say, it’s the Fourth of July, and I’m mindful about the freedoms I enjoy and of the need to be reminded from time to time so as to never take for granted my privilege of freedom and my free-from tyranny.
I began this day as I generally do. Cappuccino, and the NY Times. Then I took a long over-due walk. Later, my Fitbit app sent encouragement to me by letting me know that I only had 2,225 more steps until my goal of 10,000 steps. I admit I’ve not seen that encouragement for a good while. Too much rain and a bit too much lethargy.
Faced with an empty rest of the day, I was reminded of Barbara Crafton’s words from an essay she wrote about living each day in such a way that if you were to look back on yesterday, you would not perceive it as a “wasted’ day, She cautioned that one does not get another chance of living the day that has passed.
I decided this day was a day to embark on a photographic pilgrimage
I set out on a walk around my home. I went no further than a circumference around my home of about 100 feet. I was looking for colors and shapes that form this day in my mind and heart.
Here’s what I received.
The American flag, and it’s colors.
Bells of liberty.
A reminder of “this fragile earth, our island home”.
Expectation and promise.
My pilgrimage time was filled with contemplation and revelation. And with quiet — just enough quiet for me. I even sat and swung for a time. Face-timed for a couple of minutes with my friend with whom I shared the gift-giving those few years ago.
Tomorrow I will do Day 2 of Week 1 of this photographic exploration.
A thought as dusk settles on this Independence Day. A good while back I clipped this image out of a newspaper, and used the Jeremiah passage for the 4th of July cards I made that year. Designed by Mordechai Rosenstein, it sought to honor one who perished in the 9/11 WTC attacks. The Hebrew translates to: “Seek the peace of the Nation… and pray then it to God, then through its peace will you have peace.” Jeremiah 29:7.
How can I use my gift of freedoms to ensure others also have this gift? Perhaps this photographic pilgrimage will point the way.