Monday, April 29, 2013
Learning to Trust What Shimmers -- A Guest Post by Christine Valters Paintner
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.