Every now and then a book comes along that can change your creative life. Its pages help you discover what is sacred, touches you deep in your soul, and yes, even brings you closer to God. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it’s worth re-reading such books, putting their wisdom into practice and sharing them with others.
The first book that did that for me (and still does) is Julia Cameron’s seminal book on creativity: The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. It changed my life when I first read it in 1994. Practicing its simple principles every day re-charged my creativity, or as Cameron might say, reconnected me to The Creator. Another book important to me is The Tools: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence and Creativity by Phil Stutz and Barry Michaels (2012). This book, based on five “tools” is a specific way to change behavior with reliance on a Higher Power--a challenging, often difficult, therapy program, which has become very popular in Hollywood. Both these books speak to a wide range of artistic pursuits, such as writing and performing and, in the politically correct way of things these days, steer clear of saying anything that might come close to being called “religious.” You know, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.”
Eyes of the Heart: Photography as A Christian Contemplative Practice is not only more specific in the art it emphasizes – photography – but makes no bones that it is based on Christian principles. But its Christianity is so all encompassing, so enthusiastic—so beautiful-- that anybody, even an agnostic—can find inspiration in its words and illustrations. I’ve read quite a bit of contemplative literature but no book has touched my inner monk like this one.
Born in the U.S., author Christine Valters Paintner, along with her husband, are now oblates (laypersons) in a Benedictine monastery in Galway, Ireland. Her extensive scholarly studies combined with her artistic pursuits to form her Eyes of the Heart” philosophy. She explains it in several chapters with titles like “The Symbolic Significance of Color” and “Seeing the Holy Everywhere” and fun, practical exercises that turn photography into acts of contemplation. Instead of compiling photographs of 50 flowers, make 50 photos of one dandelion so you can see all the wonders in one of God’s creations. Instead of taking a photo, learn to receive it. Instead of framing an object in a conventional way, experiment with all kinds of framing, as if creating portals to its different essences. Instead of looking at things, gaze at them, behold them—really see them.
Most of Paintner’s inspiration, in addition to the Bible, comes from the ancient contemplative traditions, such as the desert mothers and fathers, and monasteries, and spiritual luminaries such as Teresa of Avila and Rumi. A modern day mystic who saw photography as a contemplative practice is one of my heroes, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton (1915-1968). He wrote more than 70 books, including his most famous one, Seven Storey Mountain (1948), which ignited a world-wide interest in the contemplative life.
Paintner is impressive in the way she has one foot solidly planted in the past, and the other gleaming with the latest global technology. In addition to writing several books, she is also the abbess of an on-line monastery. At Abbey of the Arts: Transformative Living through Contemplative & Expressive Arts, you can sign up for her free online “Monk in the World” class. And become a member of The Holy Disorder of the Dancing Monks, a growing online community of people who love to combine contemplation with creativity.
Information: Christine Valters Paintner and Abbey of the Arts: [...]
review from Rapid RIvert Arts & Culture magazine, Asheville, NC