Why Taking Photographs Is Part Of My Spiritual Walk

Photography in the digital age gets a bad rap.

Not all of it is undeserved.  Taking a selfie of yourself on vacation or with friends is innocent enough; spending hours on the makeup, lighting and poses to take a selfie of yourself in your living room every day borders on the narcissistic.  Photographing a moment or a memory is great; forgetting to eat dinner because you’re taking pictures of your food, or watching an in-person concert through a viewfinder, seems absurd.

I try not to fall into those traps, and usually don’t.  Yet here I am, a very amateur photographer.

It wasn’t always this way.  Once, when a high school teacher mistook me for someone taking a picture of the sunrise near the school, I recoiled from the very idea.  I already had enough dork cred to my name; I wasn’t the sort of beatnik wanderer who got up early to take pictures of the sunrise.  I took pictures mostly to commemorate events or make memories: at parties, at graduations, at holidays.

But now when I head out the door for my pre-dawn walk, or really when I go anywhere, my camera goes with me.  I take pictures, yes, of sunrises.  I creep off the trail to take pictures of flowers.  I’ve taken pictures of unsuspecting rabbits and possums and deer; I photographed a woolly worm and am still frustrated that my camera doesn’t have the ability to capture the depth and color of a harvest moon.  I don’t take these pictures for other people – though my loving mother and husband are the tolerant recipient of my many, many pictures.  Mostly, I take them for myself.

I am a “head person.”  By that, I mean I live in my head.  I’m always thinking or daydreaming or pondering or analyzing or wondering.  It’s just how I am, but by virtue of being that way I’m not always present in the moment or focused on what’s happening around me.  (My mother, when I was a child and used to be deep into books, would have to tell me the house was on fire to get my attention).  Taking photographs, however, forces me out of my head and into the moment.

God didn’t just create the world for our practical benefit; He created it for us to enjoy.  In Eden, surely His presence was enough; Adam and Eve had no particular need of anything.  And yet the Bible tells us that God created an entire world for their pleasure, trotting out animals just to see what Adam might name them.  On my walks or when I’m out and about, the world around me reminds me that God is so much more than I can fathom: majestic, yes, but also curious, and playful, and creative.  “Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done,” the psalmist writes, “the things you have planned for us” (Psalm 40:5). My photo-journeys remind me that God can be amused, that God allows a world in which things can look silly and cute and ferocious and simply strange.  Sunrises and sunsets are exquisitely beautiful, but how casual we become with them simply because we see them every day.

When I take my camera along, I develop a curious mindset.  I pay attention to things.  I seek out moving shapes in the woods.  I gawk at the sunrise.  I marvel at the way a leaf curls, or admire the way a wild little bunch of yellow flowers springs up from behind a stump.  And when I pause to take a picture, I let myself enjoy the moment.  And I think, often, of God.  My pre-dawn walks are my “God time,” and it seems natural that during that time I would spend the time to simply see what God has made, what He gave me today to enjoy.  To think about what this world says about its Creator.  And after the photograph is taken, I linger.  I notice other things: the scent of sour fallen apples and wet leaves, the sound of frogs, strange notes of new birdsong.

My pictures aren’t great.  I have no particular talent for photography.  But they’re only meant for me.  Sometimes I delete most of them, only saving one or two.  But each one is evidence of a pause in which I stood and thought about how amazing the world can be- and how much more amazing is the God behind it all.

Sometimes it’s good just to stop, and look, and enjoy.


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