Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (Review)

Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (Review) May 31, 2013

Almost a decade ago now, I started photographing a lot more.

I got a digital camera.

And like lots of other people, I enjoyed it. Photography became a much more serious hobby—better gear, better training, better images, more time. Several of these years were in South Africa, and the camera became how I interacted, my raison d’être. My lenses were how I saw the world.

As a Christian, this was sometimes problematic—I don’t want a piece of technology have an undue and capricious effect on my soul, including my interaction with others. So when I heard about Christine Valters Paintner’s Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, I was intrigued.

Valters Painter encourages us to see with the “eyes of the heart” mentioned in the book of Ephesians, to step into visio divina.

She draws upon a really wide group of infleences: Rohr, Trungpa Rinpoche, Merton, Rumi, Rilke, Benedict, Augustine, Lange, Jung, Buechner, Hildegard of Bingen, Muir, Emerson, O’Keefe, Teresa of Avila, and, of course,  the Bible.

Rather than “take” photographs, we are encouraged to receive them, thoughtfully noticing reflections, color, and what is within ourselves, what God is saying to us. We must consider not just what is beautiful, but what is real, what is good, and what is true.

Here are some favorite quotes:

Photography is a way to slow down and gaze deeply, noticing things missed in our rushed lives. (2)

Photography is a way of discovering in new ways the everyday places you inhabit. (2)

Photography as a spiritual practice can help us to cultivate an awakened vision so we begin to really see. (5)

The technology, speed, and busyness so prized by our Western culture foster a habit of blindness. (13, click here to tweet this)

It takes time and slowness to see the holy, shimmering presence beneath the surface of things. (17)

We make the effort to see beneath the surfaces. (31)

What strongly attracts or repels us gives us clues to hidden parts of ourselves. (45, click here to tweet this)

The camera can offer us one school of discernment, a place to become more conscious of the choices we make. (60)

Valters Paintner invites us to journey with her—each chapter has a mediation activity, photographic explorations for us, and reflection questions.

I’ve never seen a book quite like this, but it’s a worthwhile one to step into, for God to form us as deeper people as we receive images from him of this big, beautiful world.

What about you? What does photography do to your soul?


Browse Our Archives