All That is Unseen

God puts beauty in places where no eye will see it, where no one will applaud it. Why does He make the depths of the sea beautiful? Why does He make the outer reaches of space beautiful? Because He can. Because He makes beauty for the sake of beauty and it gives Him pleasure. Because He is God.

One of the projects I did for Cedar Mill Bible Church this summer was their stage set to accompany their sermon series on the life of Abraham. I wanted to emphasize the section where God tells Abraham to look at the stars and to try to number them. Those stars would be his descendants. That was us. He saw us up there. Hubble telescope pictures are free images in the public domain. This one is called "The Birth of a Star:"


There is almost an innerspace quality to it. I can imagine that it is my birth picture, the gathering together of my soul that it might be placed into the body God knit together for me. David Hooten, artist-printer extraordinaire, helped me to fill the 40 foot stage with this image.

There are people who spend a lot of life bringing light into dark places. They share food and resources, they rescue hostages, they dare to go into the covered, the hidden.  But even in those places where no eye is meant to truly see, even there, they will tell you, there are embers of the beautiful.

Contemplative Photography: God in the Ordinary

A few years ago after a conference, some friends and I were quickly packing the car to return home. I carried the cooler through the garage. One of my friends came running into the garage from the street still holding the bags she had taken out.

"I wouldn't go out there," she said. "There are a couple of ah...a couple of um..."

"Unseemly characters?" I offered.

"That's putting it nicely."

I went out anyways.

There were two large men approaching, one black, one white. As soon as they saw me coming they walked toward me.

"Mama!" yelled the big black man. That made me smile.

"Oh Mama, how you doin'?" He stuck out his hand. I was still carrying the cooler so I offered my pinky. He took it and shook it heartily.

The white man said something I couldn't make out, and his friend said, "No man. It's ok. I know Mama and she loves me." Then he wrapped his arms around me, gave me a big hug and planted a huge kiss on my cheek.

"See?" he said. They began walking away, "You take care now, Mama."

It was so beautiful. I felt anointed. A (perhaps slightly inebriated) angelic kiss from someone who felt safe near me.

On Pentecost, the disciples leave the protection of their rooms. They go out into the streets, into the world filled with the Holy Spirit and the gifts He gives: faith, hope and love among many others. They go out. But God is already in the world. The feasts and fasts, the festivals of celebration and remembrance, the studying, God is in all those things. But He is also in the Ordinary, and it is in the ordinary where our faith is truly experienced. God inside me, is the same God that is outside me. When I go out with my eyes open, I get more of God. Such a good thing.

I've been working for some time on trying to load all the projects I have done with churches and retreat groups onto the Project page. I hope that people looking for resources will find a spark they can use. It has been remarkably slow going, but I have just finished a page for a contemplative photography project we did titled God in the Ordinary. You can find it here.

Other posts on contemplative photography:

Treasure Hunting

Going On a Treasure Hunt

Going on a Treasure Hunt

On a gray morning a few years ago, Todd and I went into downtown Portland on a breakfast date. We happened to take our cameras with us.

"Have you noticed the doors along this street?" Todd asked, staring out the restaurant window. After breakfast he was all about the doors and door frames. He was so delighted with his treasure. He took photos from every angle, laying on the ground to get some shots of interesting lintels and door knobs. At first, I was entertained just watching him.

The painted "Forgive" is on the right side of the stand and the yellow "Free" is on the left side of the base.

The painted "Forgive" is on the right side of the stand and the yellow "Free" is on the left side of the base.

After awhile I needed some other entertainment.  I took my lens cap off and prayed. So, Lord, do you have anything for me today? I'm listening. I turned around and it punched me in the stomach. Do you see it? Right there on a cold November street in downtown Portland: "Forgive" in white paint, and "Free" printed in yellow caps. It's the timing that  always amazes me. At that moment, this wasn't just an interesting oddity. This was there for me, and I was listening.

This photograph is not a money picture. It isn't well composed, it's flat, there is nothing arresting about it. I share it here because contemplative photography is most importantly about listening. It is about relationship. It is about being aware of God's Presence and meeting Him with my presence. Contemplative photography is a prayer. Sometimes these prayers will result in a beautiful photograph, but they will always result in a spiritual closeness. Improving your skills as a photographer is an enjoyable and worthy endeavor, but don't let any real or perceived lack of skill keep you from going on a God-seeking treasure hunt with your camera in your hand.

If you would like to use your camera as part of your devotional time this week, prayerfully look for the treasures the Lord has hidden for you. You do not need to limit yourself to quiet places, but you do need to be keenly aware of your surroundings so limit personal distractions if you can. Listen, but also allow yourself to experience wonder and to be delighted.

Treasure Hunting

My dear friend, Lydia Budai, is a gifted photographer. She makes her living capturing beauty in the world. Lydia also uses her camera to worship God. Many years ago she introduced me to contemplative photography. She describes it as hunting for treasure. She takes her camera and goes out into the world with her eyes wide open, looking for God. This is her prayer time. She isn't seeking a perfect photo during these excursions, she is seeking God. 

I asked her to put together a presentation for one of my classes. For this video she married some of her contemplative photos with a journal entry.

I am surrounded by the sacred. Sometimes a viewfinder can help me find it, can help me to sharpen my focus so that I can see it.