A reflection included on pages 76-79 in Seeking the One Whom We Love: How RSCJs Pray
by Shirley Miller, RSCJ
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 . . . only one response can maintain us: gratefulness
for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right
to serve, to adore and to fulfill.
Photography has been a way of praying for me, “of witnessing the wonder,” most of my life. When I was a child, I used to borrow Dad’s Brownie camera and wander around the woods, listen for the birds, take photos of them or watch a lone leaf hanging from a branch or a flower growing out of broken cement. I was intrigued by what I could see through a lens. It was a contemplative calling to me long before I understood what that meant. A simple solitary walk in the woods became a life-long pilgrimage.
“In everyone’s life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sight of the eternal” (Heschel). The camera provides that opening for me, the lifting of the veil, the long view, the close up, the panorama. It helps me focus, stop, gaze and be wrapped in wonder, awe and gratitude. I hear better with a camera in hand. It calls me beyond where I am or more deeply into the moment. In Mary Oliver’s words, “Walk slowly; bow often.” It helps me see with the eyes of the heart, to enter more fully into the grace-filled-ness of creation, and to encounter the sacred everywhere.
Photography is a healing prayer for me. At times of discouragement, weariness or confusion, when I walk the beach or wander in a garden or on a mountainside or stop by the side of the road to watch the wind in the wheat fields or the light breaking through an abandoned farm house, I find deep peace – not just for that moment but whenever I look at the photo. I remember what I saw, what I felt, what I knew to be true.
The sacredness of creation overflows everywhere: the barren tree against the winter sky, the morning dew on the dandelion, the red cardinal resting on the snow, the eagle soaring high above the trees, the morning star in the black sky, the great blue heron standing erect at sea’s edge, or the dolphins dancing in the distance. “Bow often.”
The camera draws me into Scripture: finding sunglasses covered with barnacles, washed up on the shore, “Do not forget the things your eyes have seen nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your lives” (Deuteronomy 4:9). It is an invitation to remember what my eyes have seen, to be grateful that I have eyes to see and a heart to remember. It is an opportunity to pray for the person who lost the glasses and to reflect on what she might have seen. I remember. . . .
Two deer walking toward one another, crossing a stream and kissing in mid-stream in the light of a golden autumn afternoon. “Love and faithfulness shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss” (Psalm 85:10). I ask for the grace to reach out to others, beyond myself, across whatever chasms divide me from others. I remember. . . .
A perfect shell I found on the shore. When I picked it up, the hermit crab crawled out and began its dangerous walk back to the sea. He left the shell just for me. I knew more deeply at that moment the meaning of incarnation. “He emptied himself.” (Philippians 2:7). I remember . . . .
An extraordinary dawn – darkness and dawn, side by side – the crimson dawn slowly overtaking the dark sky, until the whole world was aflame, and the darkness disappeared. “The light shines in the darkness, a light that darkness could not overpower” (John 1:5). I remember . . . .
Finding a child’s abandoned red bucket, lying in the sand on its side at sunset. I felt one with that bucket. I, too, felt alone and empty and tired. I carried the image as I walked the beach. When I returned from my walk the red bucket had been transformed into golden sunlight, and I, too, felt transformed, renewed and I had a glimpse of what resurrection will be like. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth . . . I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:1, 5). I remember . . . .
A petrified tree on the shore along the seventeen-mile drive near Carmel. I stopped the car because it was such an extraordinary image of the crucified Christ. As I sat by the tree, a beautiful light began to stream from the face of Christ. “We with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the image that we reflect” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). I remember . . . .
The camera helps me understand the connectedness of all creation and my part in it. Every action of mine somehow mysteriously affects the entire universe; the heart of that universe, in Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s words, is the Heart of Christ. Jesus’ desire that all may be one, and Sophie’s* desire that we be one heart and one soul in the Heart of Jesus, are invitations to praise God for the wonders of the earth, for the love that binds us together and makes us one, and “to guard that something precious which has been given to us with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives among us” (2 Timothy 1:14).
Photography is a way for me to experience God’s immaculate conception of the world – all is holy, all is sacred, all is light shining from the face of Christ. My only response can be “gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, to fulfill.” I remember, and I believe.