“Like an infant’s open-eyed wonder
And the insights of a wise grandmother,
You have given us ways of seeing, O God.
You have endowed us with sight like your own.
Let these be alive in us this day,
Let these be alive in us.”
-John Phillip Newell
Near the end of my sabbatical, I began to review the photographs I had taken to select the ones for sharing in the Renewing Joy! Exhibit that opens today in the Parish Hall. As you can imagine, there were a lot of pictures to ponder from the many wonderful places I was blessed to visit over the four months.
This picture surprised me! It was taken in mid-September, in the very early days of my time away. At the time, I was probably thinking only about how cute the child is with the bright pink flowers in her hair. But when I saw it again in late December, it spoke to me as the representative image for the entire sabbatical! I entitled it “Behold” as for me it captures both our human curiosity and wonder when we behold the mystery and complexity of Creation AND God’s perspective looking at us; beholding us with Love.
I spent almost every day while I was away outdoors–walking, breathing, taking in wide water views and small details on the Jersey shore, the North Sea in Northumbria UK, mid-coast California, Baltimore, MD; Iowa City, IA; Long Island Sound; Otter Lake in New Hampshire – specific places intentionally chosen for their connection to family and friends and to my own spiritual longings. It has been a time of seeing like a child and hopefully with some grandmotherly insights too! The photos are small reminders; glimpses really, of God’s love.
My work is inspired by the 20th c. mystic and monk, Thomas Merton. Merton understood the importance of being present, in a particular moment and place, as a way to feel God’s presence and love. Merton, while primarily a writer, began taking photographs toward the end of his life. Like Merton, I try to capture a specific moment, in a particular place, where Life and Love is revealed. The figures in this photo (and the others you can see in the exhibit through the end of February) represent “humanity” and are an invitation to imagine yourself curious like a child, discerning your way forward in the waters of life, picking through the rocky places life brings. The perspective is intentionally “from above” or “at a distance” as I imagine God sees us and loves us.
A wise colleague advised me that it will take a year, at least, to digest what I learned on sabbatical! I think that is correct and sage counsel. I look forward to sharing with you all in conversations, photos, sermons, and reflections over the coming months how we all are learning and growing together in Love. May we be alive with God’s gift of wonder in all that we see and do.
Your sister in Christ,