Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Photography and Deep Listening

I went to Rollins College last week to hear poet Billy Collins lead a discussion about poetry and photography. I expected to enjoy the evening while gaining some fresh, helpful insights about writing. What I didn't expect was to have panel member Anthony Brannon, a famed photography historian, make spiritual connections that resonate strongly in my spirit. In fact, they are still stirring around inside me.

The spiritual connection started for me when Billy Collins remarked at one point how pictures are about the past. Consequently, they have a nostalgic quality about them. Brannon responded by telling how Thomas Merton used photography as a contemplative practice. "Merton," he said, "took pictures to help him himself be alive to the present moment." Brannon also said that "photographs propose the future precisely because we don't understand everything in them." In effect, some photographs require us to sit with them, hold them, and ponder them. He also pointed out how the "truth of a photograph can change us."

At that point I was reminded of last week's reading for our centering prayer group. Thomas Keating in his book Mystery of Christ was reflecting on the three apostles witnessing of Christ's transfiguration. He wrote, "The practice of interior silence produces gradually what the voice in the vision produced instantly: the capacity to listen."

In the context of Brannon's remarks, it seems a photograph could work like a vision in helping us hear from God. This deep listening is what I want—to be alive to the present moment, to sit without understanding everything, and to be changed by the truth in the depths of my being. I'm in this for the long haul, and I'm grateful for my regular practice of centering. Yet it's encouraging to think how God works in unexpected ways, even in a conversation about poetry and photography.
--Anna Cotton

4 comments:

Paul Corrigan said...

Anna, I am grateful for this post. I like these connections between art and the present moment and God. Thank you for sharing.

Mark Wills said...

Thanks for sharing this, Anna. I am organizing my digital photos on my new computer, so this is a timely reflection.

RC said...

Anna, thank you for this insightful, reflective post. It contributes to our being aware and growing in awareness. I love the connection between the arts and contemplative living. Thank you for investing in sharing with us!

Daniel said...

Anna, thank you for sharing some of these insights. I'm fascinated by photography, and I always appreciate connections between the seemingly ordinary and the sacred. This beautiful sentence echoes my desire, too: "This deep listening is what I want—to be alive to the present moment, to sit without understanding everything, and to be changed by the truth in the depths of my being."

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