Can photography be a form of prayer? Howard Zehr, author of The Little Book of Contemplative Photography, thinks so.
Photography can serve as a medium for reflection and meditation, and encourages mindfulness, he says. “By slowing down to reflect and meditate, by heightening our visual awareness and our imaginations, by cultivating receptivity and a more holistic way of knowing, we can renew ourselves while gaining new insights into ourselves, the creation, and the Creator.”
Some photographic subjects present themselves in an obvious way. An amazing sunrise practically screams, “Quick! Grab your camera.”
As do the brilliant fall colors in this park scene.
However, mindfulness is also about “being aware of and appreciating the ordinary, of being open to beauty and insights in the commonplace,” Zehr says.
For example, who knew that chives going to seed could be so pretty?
“We often overlook things that we experience as ordinary or everyday,” Zehr says. “We tend to make preconceived judgments about what is worth looking at or photographing, valuing the ‘picturesque’ or ‘spectacular’ and failing to recognize many of the visual possibilities around us.”
How about a coneflower blossom?
Throughout his little book, Zehr gives us exercises designed to increase our awareness of the visual richness of ordinary objects and scenes. One exercise: Set out to photograph without a specific subject in mind, remaining open to whatever seems to present itself.
Like a leaf that has floated to the ground.
A pair of acorns.
Or a single perfect rose.
“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place,” Zehr says. “I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”
Like bright red berries against a deep blue sky.
Or a starkly bare tree with a cloudy sky shortly before sunset serving as a backdrop.
“Ordinary things, when really seen, make extraordinary photos,” Zehr says. “Such photos seem to make themselves. They seem like presents that were given.”
I snapped this photo of icicles dripping from a twig on a bush next to my porch.
These fall leaves still flashed their brilliant colors as they peeked out from under a very early snowfall.
“One must always take photographs with the greatest respect for the subject and for oneself,” Zehr says.
Of course, one can’t help but respect this goose walking straight toward me in the park, who just begged to be noticed … and photographed.
“A contemplative approach to photography is an expression of wonder grounded in respect and humility,” he says. “As such, it calls us to live in right relationship with our Creator, the creation, and our fellow human beings.”
An attitude of wonder “requires that we look anew at the familiar, that we stop taking the world around us for granted,” he adds. “An attitude of wonder is essential if we are truly to experience the creation and the Creator.”
Several members of our church congregation have t-shirts with the following slogan: “God’s work, our hands.” I like to think of the habitat-building work my husband and I have done in our backyard as an example of this philosophy in action.
I adore the wildlife that shares our backyard space. Pete and I have done a number of things to make our yard more critter-friendly, from installing goodie-filled bird feeders to planting flowers loved by pollinators to letting our lawn go “wild.”
For several years, we’ve been luring a variety of feathered friends to our yard with sunflower seeds, suet and other assorted munchies. Of course, the squirrels never got the memo that all these enticing treats were for birds and not for them. I finally gave up trying to keep the squirrels out of our bird feeders. I mean, why? I could watch their antics for hours. They are SO much fun.
The birds are patient, waiting their turn until the squirrels have had their fill. One day as I watched the birds and squirrels during morning meditation, I counted at least a dozen different kinds of birds who visited our feeders, ranging from cardinals and bluejays to woodpeckers, doves and sparrows.
We’ve been adding pollinator-friendly perennial flowers and herbs little by little each year. Here, a butterfly and bee (you can see them both if you look close) feast on some blooming chives.
We’ve traded in a neatly manicured lawn for a wildflower meadow since we stopped using chemicals of any kind in our yard. Now the grass is interspersed with violets, white clover, dandelions and assorted small wildflowers that provide both nectar and pollen. This chipmunk seems to like our new lawn as much as the bees and butterflies do.
For several years we even had a fox living under our deck. She would have the cutest babies each spring.
I had become accustomed to sharing my lettuce, tomatoes and other “salad crops” with my furry backyard friends. However, the rabbits have for the most part stayed out of my flowers and veggie beds since I started sowing white clover for them. (Shhhh! Don’t tell the neighbors.) The clover also does a nice job of filling in bare patches in our lawn.
Small mammals may not be so glad to see this guy, but we think our resident hawk is magnificent! Pete likes to joke that we’ve provided a nice backyard deli for him by attracting all the other critters. I don’t like to think about that part. I just admire the hawk.
We proudly display this sign in our backyard. Anyone can create a welcoming haven for local wildlife, says the National Wildlife Federation. This is true whether you own 100 acres of land or live in a small apartment that only has room for a container garden.
To find out how you can make your green space of any size more wildlife friendly, and turn it into a certified wildlife habitat, go onto the National Wildlife Federation web site (link HERE).