Christine Valters Paintner
You have undoubtedly had an experience similar to this: you are moving through a most ordinary day, when suddenly something shifts. Where there was drudgery and habit, suddenly you become aware of the way sunlight is spilling across the living room rug and your heart breaks open at the splendor of it all. Or you see a loved one in a new way and revel in their beauty. Or maybe it is as simple as savoring the steam rising from your morning coffee, like incense lifting the longings of your heart.
We move through our lives, often at such speed, that our perception of time becomes contorted. We begin to believe that life is about rushing as fast as we can, about getting as much done as possible. We are essentially skating across life’s surface, exhausted, and disoriented.
Contemplative practice calls us to change our perspective and awaken to a different reality, one that is governed by spaciousness, slowness, stillness, and presence. Contemplation invites us to tend the moments.
Moments are holy doorways where I am lifted out of time and I encounter the sacred in the most ordinary of acts. Moments invite me to pause and linger because there is a different sense of time experienced. Moments are those openings we experience, where time suddenly loses its linear march and seems to wrap us in an experience of the eternal.
Mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade says the word “moment” comes from the Latin root momentus, which means to move. We are moved when we touch the eternal and timeless which is available to us in each moment we are fully present.
My work in the world is to invite people into this kind of awareness, something that is available to each of us, we just need to cultivate skills and practices to tend the moments.
Art and spiritual practice are how you find this moment of eternity, or better yet, how you allow the moment to find you. We only need to make ourselves available to them, to receive them as the gifts that they are, rather than seek them out as something we are entitled to.
Call to mind a time when you were so present to the moment, to the sheer grace of things, maybe watching a child giggle with delight or your dog romp playfully in a field. And then perhaps, the thoughts broke in. The ones which seem to wield only criticism and dissatisfaction. Maybe you remember the items still languishing on your “to do” list back at home and you felt an anxious dread. Contemplative practice cultivates our awareness of this pattern, so that we might be able to change it. So that when moments come to visit us, we find ourselves savoring and basking in wonder rather than reaching for what is next.
Contemplative practice also cultivates our profound awareness of life as an unending stream of gifts, and from this arises the impulse to create. When we open ourselves to the sheer grace of things, we tap into a source of inspiration. We feel moved to create something out of that gratitude.
For me, photography and writing are the ways I feel most often moved to respond to the generosity of life. Try this next time you feel overcome by beauty – pause there as long as you can without moving to do something else or complete another task. And then, when there is a sense of fullness or completion, pick up a camera or a pen, and allow them to become the tools to honor what you have experienced and your expression of deep gratitude. Rather than “capturing” the encounter, let this be a prayer, so that slowly over time you might find yourself in an unending litany of praise.
Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, is the online Abbess at Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery and community for contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of 7 books on art and monasticism, including her latest, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (Ave Maria Press). Christine currently lives out her commitment as a monk in the world with her husband in Galway, Ireland.
Thank you Christine!
The publisher has provided a copy of Christine’s book, Eyes of the Heart, as a giveaway to one of you! Leave a comment by Wednesday, May 22, 9 pm (est) to be included in the drawing. Please leave info for contacting you.