October 24, 2020

Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart: Contemplative Photography (4)

First Day of Spring 2018 (click for larger image)

Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart
Contemplative Photography, part four

After some time away, we return today to the insights of Christine Valters Paintner, author of Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, as she helps us learn how photography can become a contemplative practice, helping us “see” in different ways.

Chapter 3, “The Dance of Light and Shadow,” reminds us of the most basic element of photography — light and its interplay with shadows and darkness. “In photography,” she writes, “both light and shadow are required to make an image, and so the medium invites us to consider ways to integrate both of these gifts in our own lives and contemplations.”

And so Paintner is inviting in this chapter to consider the light that God has given us — the gifts, strengths, insights, and blessings that brighten our lives — as well as the “shadow side” that each of us has, which is often hidden from our awareness and difficult for us to acknowledge and appreciate.

Contemplating your shadow is a tender process. It has remained hidden to us for a reason, perhaps someone shamed us as a child for being too loud or someone judged us for being too expressive. Through the creative process we begin to invite back in all the rejected parts of ourselves. Rather than rejecting darkness as somehow evil, the shadow invites us to integrate it to come to a place of greater wholeness. We would do well to remember again how essential shadow is to the art of photography, in making a meaningful image, rather than one that is washed out by too much light.

In this regard, Paintner references the Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi. One article describes the concept like this:

Emerging in the 15th century as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all…

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

Today’s picture, though not technically an exploration of light and shadow, does deal with “both the glory and melancholy found in these marks of passing time.” On the first day of spring, one looks forward to a season of renewed warmth and fecundity. Yet spring constantly frustrates us with its inconstancy. The chill and blowing snow seem to mock us.

However, this is the “thisness” of life. Warmth and chill. Shadow and brightness. The seasonal cycles. The unexpected turn. The peace and restlessness in my heart — at the same time.

See it all. See it as it is. Capture it. Live into it.


  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    The equinox showed itself here at my home here in Aust with a vengeance. A chill in the air and dramatic winds shredding trees of leaves and boughs. My big tree near the house will have to be trimmed as it leans on my roof.
    The cool winds sent me scurrying for a sweater.
    Such a dramatic change, it was as if Nature turned a page and said it is Autumn (Fall).
    I look at my garden with different eyes as I see the seasons change. A season of growth and produce and flowers to be picked then the knowledge that soon I will seek the comfort of the warm fire and a cuddling cat wanting her comfort too.
    I had to do chores in the yard and felt the wind in my hair cutting it into parts.
    Dead rose leaves piled up against the step. Tomato plant said pick me soon. Luscious fruits.
    I enjoy the prospect of Winter just around the corner but regret the demise of hot sunny days.

    Of course I have a haiku. It would not be Susan if I didn’t.

    rose leaves rustle by
    winds of change batter the heart
    take me away too.

    God Bless us all. Susan

    • Lovely writing Susan. I too was looking at my garden with different eyes this morning – although here in the UK I’m of course seeing different changes to the ones you are seeing. Thank you for all your contributions. I do enjoy hearing from you. Your haiku with its winds of change battering the heart reminded me of lines from the Seamus Heaney’s lovely poem ‘Postscript’ about driving on the west coast of Ireland which ends…

      ‘Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
      More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
      A hurry through which known and strange things pass
      As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
      And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.’

  2. Christiane says

    “On the first day of spring, one looks forward to a season of renewed warmth and fecundity. Yet spring constantly frustrates us with its inconstancy. The chill and blowing snow seem to mock us.”


    • Susan Dumbrell says

      Very cute. However I imagine the frustration of not going about the daily chores could get to one!

      • Susan Dumbrell says

        I remember and have found again the Youtube Lucia 2017 The Night of Light which you recommended.
        Jonna Jinton.
        She must be one of your favourites and could gain great popularity in my little home.
        Thanks again. Susan

        • Christiane says

          Hi Susan,
          her blog is one of my ‘clear the mind and lower the blood pressure’ places . . . . a different change of pace, yes, if you love animals and enjoy the beauty of lakes and forests which she captures in her inspiring photos

          the blog has a ‘translator’ column located on the left side that has an ‘English’ option to click on 🙂