A few weeks ago a woman emailed me some questions about contemplative photography for a paper she was writing. They were wonderful questions and a delight to answer, so we struck up a correspondence, and yesterday she sent me a draft of her paper.
Given the way things seem to connect in my life, it should probably not have come as a surprise, therefore, that my reading this morning -- in Alan Jones' book, Soul Making, a book I've had on my shelf for roughly 20 years without reading (so curious: what finally compelled me to pick it up?) -- some totally pertinent remarks about images and contemplation. To wit:
"The more I follow the apophatic* way, the more I need to be nourished by images ... [which] point me in the direction I wish to go, but are not the way itself. The way is a contemplative one, which simply means looking at someone or something without absorbing them into our little world of ideas and values. Contemplation means seeing what is there and refusing to hallucinate so that we see only what we want to see. We then wait to receive what chooses to reveal itself (as in the Greek word for truth, aletheia, which literally means to uncover. The truth then, is that which reveals or uncovers itself). It means being attentive to whatever and whoever is there as truly other than ourselves. This is what is suggested by the word aesthetic, which strictly means seeing things in such a way that the viewer is changed by what he or she sees... Contemplation (like art) requires of us a willingness to be transformed." from Soul Making: The Desert Way of Spirituality by Alan Jones.
I love that Alan Jones, like Thomas Merton, was thinking about this subject long before I started blogging; long before digital cameras made it so easy for everyone to be a photographer. But finding that reading so serendipitously just this morning feels -- as have several other incidents lately, including this request and that wonderful surprise visit from Linda, my friend in the Philippines -- like a lovely affirmation of this path. It's been hard, given that the blog seems neither to grow or to make money (and, no, I refuse to put ads on this site), not to feel that perhaps I should be doing something else that might be more successful or more productive.
But this is what I love, and my attempts to find more remunerative employment have so far yielded little, so... I guess I'll stay on this path until something else presents itself, and trust that I will somehow continue to be supported. Fortunately the fortune cookie I got Wednesday also had a reassuring message: "New financial resources will soon become available to you."
... from my fortune cookie's lips to God's ears!
*apophatic prayer, as defined by Cynthia Bourgeault in her book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, is "prayer that does not make use of the faculties; in other words it bypasses our capacities for reason, imagination, visualization, emotion and memory... it makes use of faculties that are much more subtle than we're used to and which are normally blocked by our overreliance on our more usual mental and affective processing modes. These more subtle faculties of perception have traditionally been known in Christian tradition as the 'spiritual senses' ... learning to work with them is somewhat equivalent to learning to see in the dark."
PS: I notice, now that I'm posting it, that what this picture (which I took yesterday on my way home through the Skagit Valley) has to reveal is surely that all paths still lead to the same place... and how reassuring is THAT? Perhaps I need to stop hallucinating...