Weekly Reflection – Seeing Life Through a Different Lens

01 March 2024

The other day the BBC News website posted photographs of a delightfully fiery sunrise over Bristol and the West Country. Those who had been on their way to work that morning had been treated to wonderfully glowing skies which coloured even the grimmest of inner cities glorious shades of pink and gold. Bristol Harbour, usually displaying the decaying remnants of marine industry and the identikit modern apartment blocks that have replaced it, had people stopping in their tracks simply to look at the spectacle. My initial thought, on reading this article, was that it was typical that the ever-present rain in Bristol had dried up as soon as I moved to the North. But what I found interesting about the reaction of those who had experienced the sunrise that morning was that they stopped, and stared, and pondered as if they had never seen such a sight before. There was, in that unexpected panorama arrayed before them, something deeper, something more meaningful than the usual grey vista on their daily commute.

I was reminded of the twentieth-century American Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton. Merton is best known for his prolific spiritual writings and poems, but he also had a keen interest in photography. It was in what would turn out to be the last few years of his life, as he lived in solitude in a hermitage in the grounds of his monastery, that he learnt how to contemplate the world through the lens of a camera. The camera, he once stated, ‘reminds me of things I have overlooked, and cooperates in the creation of new worlds.’ And so he photographed whatever happened to be nearby; unpromising things such as the gnarled roots of a tree or a solitary chair in the garden. And it was in those insignificant items that he saw the world truly revealed to him, as if in that instant everything had suddenly become crystal clear. In one of his poems he referred to this discovery of a new reality: ‘There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light … a hidden wholeness.’ Merton’s contemplative way of seeing through the camera lens meant that he was able to find the value and beauty in ordinary things and understand them to be infused with the very presence of God.

We may not have had any spectacular sunrises this week that might have stopped you in your tracks, but why not take a leaf out of Thomas Merton’s book, take a little time to stop and ponder, and begin to look at the world more contemplatively? At the very least it’s a good distraction from the hustle and bustle of our busy daily lives. And who knows: you might, like Merton, find that the world around you shines with the light of God!

In Christ,
Canon Kathryn

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