Entering the Holy Flow

We received a lovely snowfall, a baptism of huge wet flakes that spiraled to earth and settled in mounds of glittering crystal. It began last night and ended as the sun rose, which is when I headed out in Phillip’s huge boots to listen to the world through my camera.

When I was eight, I received an old Kodak box camera from my grandfather. I think it required 110 film, and even then I preferred black and white images.

Love at first click, and forever enchanted, I said yes to a lifelong passion. It is one I never interrupted with formal classes or instruction (although those who view my photographs have often hinted such training might technically and artistically advance my use of the camera and images I create).

But that’s the thing with avocation (“a calling away”); it isn’t formal at all. It’s deeply intuitive, and sensual, and private. My camera and I have a relationship like any artist has with her tools: photography is one way I make love to the world, and who wants interruptions from “professionals” when she’s making love?

For me, time with my camera, like time in the garden, is a form of holy engagement. The world is always revealing, bearing, translating, and sharing communications from Spirit; I know this is true. Most of our lives, I think, are spent sending and receiving messages within a sadly constrained and diminished end of the language spectrum. We hold our lives, others, and the Sacred in such small and indifferent regard, as though love, life, and meaning could be neatly and summarily corralled only by words and behaviors of our own invention.

When we engage in art of any kind, we’re called away from false interactions. We shatter these ego-created boundaries, both the singular and collective, and let the world and Spirit speak to us and through us in other languages, those which our hearts have always understood and beyond the boundaries that separate us from self and other.

When I leave a film, or dance, or play, or art exhibit, and the first tendency of my companions is to analyze the feelings and responses washing over us, I leave them, too.

Everything doesn’t have to be put into my words, or yours. Everything doesn’t need to be evaluated, packaged, and labeled. We are still, always, at least in part, wild and in wilderness, and that is wonderful. And terrifying. And delightful.

When I set out with my camera, the world speaks in what is and isn’t language; it’s closer to music, and requires deep listening. Slowly, my learned language leaves me; the inchoate within finds resonance with dust, and wind, and angles of light. A kind of emotional and spiritual articulation emerges as I interact with the Sacred through my camera and enter the holy flow… The tree branches may begin the story, and then the birdsong continues until the river and clouds conclude a chapter in two voices. Patterns and rhythms, sometimes synchronized and at other times in syncopation (but always perfect), begin to create meaning, and I know I’m woven into this story as tightly, tenderly, and purposefully as hawk and stone.

When I am anxious, distracted, or rushing through my life and the world, I am utterly disconnected from these songs and stories all around me. But when my camera and I set out, my thoughts still and my spirit opens her doors and windows, and the Holy rushes in with messages about how we are loved and made to love.

I read a wonderful story this week about a woman named Vivian Maier, whose photographs were discovered posthumously. Thousands of photos were discovered by a young relator who—thankfully—recognized their value. These photographs were taken over the course of Vivian’s life, which was largely lived in the shadows of the wealthy families she served, caring for their children. I understand Vivian’s need to record and engage, and I understand her choice to leave the photos, once developed, in boxes. The finished photograph isn’t the point; the point is to make love to the world however and whenever we can.

http://motherjones.com/photoessays/2011/04/vivian-maier-chicago-street-photography/crying_boy

 

When I Heard the Learned Astronomer  ~ Walt Whitman

When I heard the learned astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,

When, I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

Till rising and gliding out I wandered off by myself,

In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,

Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.

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17 thoughts on “Entering the Holy Flow

  1. The Whitman that you quoted reminded me of a stanza from a French poem by Francis Jammes:

    On a baptisé les étoiles sans penser
    qu’elles n’avaient pas besoin de nom, et les nombres,
    qui prouvent que les belles comètes dans l’ombre
    passeront, ne les forceront pas à passer.

    [We’ve baptized the stars without thinking
    That they didn’t need a name, and numbers,
    Which prove that lovely comets will pass on
    Into the shadows, won’t make them pass on.]

    On the other hand, mathematics, the language in which astronomers say things, is a magical world filled with its own wordless wonders.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this poem by Jammes, Steve; it’s beautiful and he is new to me, so double-yay. I agree regarding math; I think we all find passions that pull us into the wordless and hear the thrumming of holy energy at unique and varied frequencies…

      • You’re welcome. I don’t know to what extent you read French, but here’s the full poem, just in case:

        Il va neiger dans quelques jours. Je me souviens
        de l’an dernier. Je me souviens de mes tristesses
        au coin du feu. Si l’on m’avait demandé : qu’est-ce ?
        j’aurais dit : laissez-moi tranquille. Ce n’est rien.

        J’ai bien réfléchi, l’année avant, dans ma chambre,
        pendant que la neige lourde tombait dehors.
        J’ai réfléchi pour rien. À présent comme alors
        je fume une pipe en bois avec un bout d’ambre.

        Ma vieille commode en chêne sent toujours bon.
        Mais moi j’étais bête parce que tant de choses
        ne pouvaient pas changer et que c’est une pose
        de vouloir chasser les choses que nous savons.

        Pourquoi donc pensons-nous et parlons-nous ? c’est drôle ;
        nos larmes et nos baisers, eux, ne parlent pas,
        et cependant nous les comprenons, et les pas
        d’un ami sont plus doux que de douces paroles.

        On a baptisé les étoiles sans penser
        qu’elles n’avaient pas besoin de nom, et les nombres,
        qui prouvent que les belles comètes dans l’ombre
        passeront, ne les forceront pas à passer.

        Et maintenant même, où sont mes vieilles tristesses
        de l’an dernier ? À peine si je m’en souviens.
        Je dirais : Laissez-moi tranquille, ce n’est rien,
        si dans ma chambre on venait me demander : qu’est-ce ?

  2. ‘When I set out with my camera, the world speaks in what is and isn’t language; it’s closer to music, and requires deep listening.’ Catherine, I couldn’t agree more. As always, you have put your spiritual finger on the crux of the matter. And avocation has grown to be so important to me – vocation is bounded by rules and guidelines, while avocation, the “love” of something, is unbounded passion and free for throwing one’s heart into that love. Thank you for a wonderful post.

  3. Dear One,

    I’m very grateful for all your essays. I try to keep comments brief, because I can’t think of enough different ways of saying “thank you for this brilliant essay.” “Wow. I feel like I’m sitting in philosophy class.” Or “I haven’t read non fiction so emotionally moving and so thought provoking since college.” So thank you. Again.

    Today I pause for different reasons.

    So much of the “story” of our friendship is wrapped up in a huge loving knot with your love of photography. During all the years you traveled to Alabama and then Georgia to visit your family, I remember waiting for your pictures to come back from the processor. You always came back with many captures of this wordless moments of your loving family.

    Included with the images of many family walks, sibling visits, back yard chats, and visits in the kitchen with your mom, and of meal time — included in these bundles of photos that weren’t necessarily of anyone or anything: there would always be pictures that made me stop. Things only Kitty could see– rivers, sky, trees, a smile, a forgotten object dropped on a rodeside. A hill.

    Flash forward years later, when you began to share your pictures of life on the “path,” your vision was by then so brilliantly focused on the spinning mystery that surrounded you. And all the pictures were filled with a deep awareness of how mystery inahbits the ordinary and vice versa.

    Autumn, summer, winter, spring: for years before you shared them here, your pictures sustained me during my first years in Florida when I was unhappy and missed home (the midwest) all day every day.

    I’d never have had the courage to switch to a digital camera in 2004 before I came here. When (if) people say nice things about pictures I take, I tell them, “Oh. If you only knew where my love of phography came from. She lives in Lake Mills WI and will be an artist you’ll know about and soon!”

    My father gave me my first camera when I was 6, You gave me the need to glory in an open heart when I use it.

    So thank you!!!

  4. One last thing!

    I read an article about Vivan Maier last year also! I saw only a dozen or so of her images on a Chicago blog. And more surprising is that this very private woman didn’t think of her gifts as being anything special! HA!

    Just goes to show you that genius like mystery hides in some of the least likely places!

  5. Thank you and love you; friends influence and gift each other’s art and lives so greatly; don’t they? Maybe that’s the chief reason we’re here: to make art together! I know you’re in my heart every time I take a photo, too…thanks for visiting and taking the time to share, Matt. It’s a testimony to my great Irish luck in having a friend like you!

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