By Edward Goode
Day 1 of 5: Contemplative Photography
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
-Psalm 1 (NRSV)
Psalm 1 transformed my life and my relationship with God. The transformation wasn’t in the way that the Spirit spoke in the words, but in the images the words painted. During a very difficult period in my life, a friend encouraged me to start praying the Psalms.
“…like a tree planted by streams of water…”
As I prayed through those words, a picture I took a few years back came to my heart and mind. It was a picture of a tree that was growing out of the water at the edge of my favorite lake. I printed the picture, taped it into my journal, and prayed that I would begin to feel a similar sense of the overflowing and abundant presence of God. I wish I could say that this prayer was answered immediately, but it didn’t feel like a lot changed.
The next day, I read Psalm 2 and took a photo, then followed the same pattern for each of the remaining Psalms. This began what has become a central spiritual practice for me—contemplative photography.
I am rarely without a camera today—whether it is my “big camera” or my phone. Over the last six years since that first experience with Psalm 1, I have grown to see more of the world because of an intentional practice of seeing and “capturing” glimpses of the Divine in beauty, wonder, awe, sorrow, grief, wholeness, brokenness, joy, and pain. I have seen God in Legos, in chalk on a sidewalk, in the blank pages of a notebook, and in the hands of a couple saying their last goodbyes after 70+ years of marriage.
Over the next few days, I want to share some practices to help you in your own practice of contemplative photography. With so many of us taking and sharing pictures these days, it is truly a gift to be able to use this medium to share where you see God moving in the world and in your life.
So, to start: read Psalm 1 again. Read it and hold onto it throughout your day. Look for images that Psalm inspires in your life today. Do you see an image that conveys care and nurture? Do you see a path or a road that you don’t feel would be the best way to go? Do you see fruit (real or metaphorical) growing? Or do you see something that speaks of chaff blowing away? Try to capture something of this Psalm—it could be with your camera or could be simply the camera of your heart and mind.
Contemplative photography is about opening yourself to the wider experience of God around us and about how God can use that widening perspective to broaden how we interact with the world.