Monday, April 29, 2013

Learning to Trust What Shimmers -- A Guest Post by Christine Valters Paintner

 Learning to Trust What Shimmers
Our habitual ways of perceiving the world, which help us navigate things like stopping at a red light or stop sign, also stand in the way of seeing the world in fresh and new ways.
In my book Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, I find inspiration in the ancient practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading.  In lectio, we read scripture and listen for what word or phrase is shimmering. This practice is always in service of contemplative vision in daily life.  Lectio invites us to slowly see more and more of the world as a sacred text, ripe with possibility for meaning.  We can expand our contemplative practice to include a kind of visio divina, or sacred seeing, where we gaze on a painting or photograph we love and look for something that shimmers – perhaps a symbol, a color, a brushstroke, the play of light and shadow.  And in that shimmering we know there is a gift for us, even if we don’t fully understand its meaning in the moment.
We can then expand our practice of sacred seeing even further to include what we see all around us in our daily lives.  What would it be like to move through our day, watching for what shimmers, waiting to receive these moments of revelation, and then savor them? 
A question I often receive from people cultivating the contemplative path is: How do I cultivate trust in what shimmers?  How do I know what I am drawn to is sacred? 
We are so used to moving through the world analyzing and judging, bringing our expectations to each encounter, planning for the next several steps ahead.  It can feel awkward to bring ourselves fully present and draw on intuition, wisdom, and experience, rather than logic and analysis, to see what is most true.  This heart-centered knowing comes through practice. 
The most essential way I learn to trust what shimmers, is to ask myself if this encounter increases my compassion.  Do I feel a sense of expansiveness toward myself and others?  When the holy shimmers before us, it is always in the service of greater love.
As I cultivate this practice of attending to the gifts the world has to offer me, to what shimmers, I am at the same time nurturing the opening of my own heart.  Our minds harden our defenses, but the heart softens and blooms forth slowly, so that we find ourselves looking with more compassion on those who annoy us, and perhaps later, those we actively dislike, and finally those we have previously ignored and not even allowed into our line of sight. When we discover ourselves surprised by love and grace, we come to trust what shimmers forth as gift.  We receive without needing to figure things out.  We begin to follow the thread of moment by moment revelation, not knowing where it leads, only embracing the call to see with eyes of the heart.
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, is the online Abbess at Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery and community for contemplative practice and creative expression.  She is the author of 7 books on art and monasticism, including her latest, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (Ave Maria Press). Christine currently lives out her commitment as a monk in the world with her husband in Galway, Ireland.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Notice the Glory

Notice the Glory
Abraham Joshua Heschel

To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live....

Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers wiser than all alphabets--clouds that die constantly for the sake of God's glory--we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature. 

Source: Quest for God

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Eyes of the Heart" -- A Review

Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a ChristianContemplative Practice, Christine Valters Paintner’s latest book, is moving, helpful, challenging and inspiring.  Which is not surprising, given Christine’s record of turning out such books (two of my favorites are The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom and Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction).

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.”

Sorin Books (2013)
152 pages, paper, $15.95

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hard Music

The hammers of the builders
of the house across the street

sometimes fall by accident inside
the same beat, as if the rhythm

of our separate work can
melt without our knowing

into something far sleeker
than our laboring lives

and I wonder if the carpenters
are happy in themselves when

they realize how they improvise,
how the nails bite the wood

to such natural jazz, the house
rising tall in grace because of hard

music, lifting up its chimneyed head
and shoulders to the sky.

"Hard Music" by Tom Chandler, from Toy Firing Squad. © Wind Publications, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now

From "The Writer's Almanac"

Photo by Brent

On Certain Days...

Certain Days

On certain days I am not in love
and my heart turns over

                       crowding the lungs for

                       driving blood in and out of
                       the skull improving my mind

                       working muscles to the bone

                       dashing resonance out of a roaring sea
                       at my nerve endings

Not much is needed


                       good sense


                       a noisy taking in and a
                       loud giving back

Then my heart like any properly turned
motor takes off in sparks dragging all that machinery
through the blazing day
                       like grass
                                           which our lord knows
                                             I am
"Certain Days" by Grace Paley, from Begin Again: Collected Poems. © Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now

From "The Writer's Almanac"

Monday, April 15, 2013

"The iris was the first to die,..."

Thanks for Remembering Us

The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they're not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.

The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can't
throw out a gift we've never owned.

"Thanks for Remembering Us" by Dana Gioia, from Daily Horoscope. © Graywolf Press, 1986. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)