Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice Paperback – 30 May 2013
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Eyes of the Heart is more than a celebration of Gods presence in the world. It is itself an experience of receiving the Divine directly within. Paintners insights and exercises lead the reader to a personal, intimate encounter with divinity. In the process, she also illuminates our way to selfunderstanding and creative serenity. --Anthony F Chiffolo
About the Author
Christine Valters Paintner is the webbased Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery offering online courses on contemplative practice and creative expression. She holds a doctorate in Christian spirituality and is a Catholic Benedictine oblate. She is the author of Water, Wind, Earth, and Fire and The Artists Rule, and is a columnist for the Progressive Christian portal at Patheos.
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I have also seen it as a way of looking at old photographs in a new way.
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One of the key facets of Slow Church is the idea that creation operates as a gift economy: i.e., that all life is created and sustained by God. Our call as humans is to live gratefully within the broader economy of creation. Part of a life of gratitude is the living of a receptive life, in which we are wondrously attentive to the abundant gifts of God that surround us at any given moment.
The challenge to living such a life, however, is that we all too often are formed into the pattern of industrial Western culture that is moving ever faster, and in which attentiveness is rapidly becoming a lost art, as Maggie Jackson has chronicled in her recent and superb book Distracted. However, humanity is not lost, we are still capable of reversing this trend and re-training our attention. There are many arts, crafts and even hobbies (e.g., birdwatching, as Phil Kenneson has pointedly argued in a recent talk on Slow Church) that can train us to be more attentive. It is in this context, that I found Christine Valters Paintner's new book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice. I was familiar with Paintner's work, and had even reviewed her recent book on Lectio Divina.
I was therefore not surprised that Eyes of the Heart is a profoundly helpful resource in helping us to recover the lost art of attention, and will certainly be of interest to readers who are interested in photography (or those who might eventually become so; although with the smartphone explosion over the last few years, practically everyone has easy access to a decent camera, and is a photographer at some level). The first two chapters of the book - "Seeing With Eyes of the Heart" and "Practices and Tools to Cultivate Vision" - take a focus broader than photography and could easily be read by anyone whether she was a photographer or not. There is plenty to commend in these early chapters, including a section on Thomas Merton as one of the earliest thinkers to consider photography as a contemplative practice. However, the most captivating section here was the first one of Chapter Two: "'Receiving' Rather Than `Taking' Photos." This shift of language fits well with the sort of gift economy that I named at the outset of this review. Paintner says in this section:
"When we are receptive we let go of our agendas and expectations. ... [Instead] of `holding back,' and merely observing life or falling asleep to it, we stay awake and alert, participating fully in its messiness and we keep our eyes open for the holy presence in its midst. Photographing in this way can become an act of revelation. One of the gifts of the art, in general, and photography in particular is that the artist can offer others this vision of the graced ordinary moment" (31).
The remaining six chapters delve deeply into the particulars of photographic practice: from light and shadow, to composition, to color, to reflections, to self-portraits, to a broader concluding chapter on "Seeing the Holy Everywhere." Throughout, Paintner keenly guides the reader into deeper reflection on the meaning of photography within the broader scope of the Christian contemplative tradition. For those who would read it, and begin to experiment with putting Paintner's compelling thoughts into practice, will certainly find themselves slowing down and moving against the flow of industrial Western culture.
Eyes of the Heart is deep and insightful book, one can only hope that it will inspire a related series of books that explore a variety of arts, crafts and hobbies as contemplative practices!
Christine, besides being an author, is a Benedictine Oblate, writer, artist, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and teacher. She's also the on-line abbess for Abbey of the Arts ([...] an amazing site that you should know about, if you don't already. I'm a regular visitor to the site and participant in her "Invitation to Photography" spirituality exercises. She's going to guest blog here soon!
As a photographer, as soon as I heard about Eyes of the Heart I knew I wanted to read it. I was not disappointed. Christine is a wise writer and grand guide into the idea of combining contemplation and photography. I appreciate this as I've been doing what I call "praying with my camera" for years. In some ways, Christine's concept is similar to Sybil MacBeth's concept of "Praying in Color" -- an active, visual, and meditative form of intercessory prayer.
We find that the title comes from Ephesians 1:18 when Christine writes, "Photography as a spiritual practice combines the active art of image-receiving with the contemplative nature and open-heartedness of prayer. It cultivates what I call sacred seeing or seeing with `the eyes of the heart.'" Of course, this resonates with me - having written myself about learning to see deeply as a spiritual practice (Mind the Light) and the integration of body, mind, and soul to experience the Divine as we move through this world (Awaken Your Senses).
Eyes of the Heart is filled with thoughts helpful and inspiring. "For me, both art and spirituality are truly about tending to the moments of life: listening deeply, holding space, encountering the sacred, and touching eternity. For a few seconds I touch time beyond time and in that spacious presence my heart grows wider, my imagination frees, my breath catches, and I am held in awe and wonder. These are the moments that help to make life full of meaning." Indeed. Words such as that are an invitation to experience God breaking through - via the means of a simple tool that many of us have in phones even, a camera. It's a gadget that is often thought of just as that - a gadget - rather than a entry into eternity and spiritual experience. Christine's book helps us broaden our spiritual horizons whether through phone camera or professional DLSRs.
Make no mistake. This is no book solely for photographers. It is for anyone who desires a fresh way of connecting the visible daily life with the often unnoticed Divine presence in it all. It opens a new way of seeing God at work in and around us. We behold beauty, life, truth and love as we learn to notice - as we accept Christine's invitation to "see with the eyes of the heart."
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