As a Benedictine oblate, I am familiar with the instruction to listen with the ears of one’s heart. When I read the title of Christine Valters Piantner’s new book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, I was very curious.
I’ve taken photographs since receiving my first camera when I was six years old. Over the years, there have been many times that photographing moments in time have been a kind of prayer. In Christine’s new book, flesh is put on using photography as a spiritual practice.
Each chapter has both places to ponder and explore. I started the book during a Lenten retreat, and almost immediately ran into challenges when there was invitation in an early practice of receiving (in contrast to taking) one, and only one, picture each day. I admit that I was not disciplined enough to move beyond receiving only one photo daily of beautiful Tybee Island, Georgia. However, I was more mindful of receiving each picture I took, and reflective of which one would be my photo of the day. This is the kind of quotidian inspiration Christine’s book encourages–to be more mindful of Christ’s daily presence in our life, and to use our camera to encourage us to stop in time.
Since this is a practice of prayer, Christine emphasizes time and again that it is not about how beautiful a photo is or how artistically it is taken. It is prayer, and so all of our offerings are especially beloved and received by God.
While this book can be used as a whole to create a self-guided retreat for an individual or a group, the bonus is the resource it is for clergy and others who lead communities of faith. Within each chapter there is a treasure trove of jumping off points of individual exercises that can stand on their own.
Inspired by Eyes of our Heart, during Lent I led a group of girls in a photographic exploration of how they would describe their prayer practice through their hands, and did the same activity with a group of women the next evening. The photos in this blog are from those two contemplative events.
This is a book to be savored slowly rather than to be gulped. It is also a book to which one can return time after time and find a little jewel to move our day from the forgetful to the holy.
As we move into the season of summer when we are especially inspired to use our cameras to remember a moment of beauty and recreation, Eyes of the Heart would be a great companion to journey with us. My copy is on my Kindle, so it has been an easy traveling anam cara these past four months. I invite you to join me.