Today rain fell mistily all day, and the skies stayed gray. Earlier in the week, though, there was a mix of sun and rain, resulting in more light-filled raindrops to be found. Our leaves are just starting to turn colorful, but on the dry days, other colorful things held the light.
Last Saturday I introduced my Windwatchers group to contemplative photography, telling the story of how just over two years ago several strands came together and I found myself with this new prayer practice.
Not long before, my parents had given me a small, good digital camera, one that was easy to carry with me and that gave me excellent close-ups despite my limited technical photography knowledge. I had just finished developing this website, in the process learning how to post photos, and was aware that it had a blog feature. That Sunday we had learned that our young co-pastor had stage 4 cancer, and many people had been posting photos of candles on Facebook for her.
It was a gray, drizzly week, in keeping with the sorrow many of us were feeling. I came home from an outing and noticed the raindrops on the leaves of the rose near my back door. They were beading up and full of light. It struck me as a wonderful symbol of hope in the midst of grief, much as the photos of candles were intended. I fetched my camera and recorded a number of images.
As I looked through them on the computer, the nudge came to commit to a new prayer practice, looking for sparks of light, literal or metaphorical, each day, and then to share those in a blog on my website. I began doing so, finding that taking the camera out with me, walking with an attentive receptivity and a soft focus, opened my awareness to many sparks of light and beauty that I would otherwise have gone right past. Over time the practice has evolved to posting to the blog once or twice a week, often after an opportunity for a mindful walk or time in nature. As the weather turns cold, sometimes the "walk" is a stroll through old photos, noticing something that I hadn't before.
Saturday was a drizzly morning, much like that September day two years ago. I sent my group out with cameras and umbrellas to see what they would see. I also had time to do a little wandering and noticing and found many raindrops catching the light. Regathering, we had a good session, sharing what we noticed about what caught our eye and how it spoke to our souls.
Every fall my congregation takes an annual retreat, spending the weekend at Camp Friedenswald in Michigan. Every year Steve Shantz introduces the children to the Survival Game, every year there's a talent show full of gifts of music and friendly chuckles, every year (if the weather cooperates) there's singing and a campfire at the Hollow. And every year -- if the weather cooperates -- I make a pilgrimage around to the spring on the other side of the lake.
It's a lovely hike through the woods, around to the spot where clear water comes bubbling up into a small sandy basin, less than a foot across, and then flows away towards the lake, turning the rocks a rusty color due to the high iron content in the water.
The camp has upgraded the steps down to the spring and added a bridge across the stream. Last Saturday afternoon several of us sat and chatted there, basking in the unusually warm weather and watching the spring bubble, and the sunlight scribbling mysterious messages on the water. We played too, making boats out of nutshells and sending them downstream, where they all promptly ran aground on mats of fallen leaves. There's a lot of water flowing though, so perhaps one day they'll make it to the lake and float off to unknown adventures.
This weekend was Assembly Mennonite's annual retreat at Camp Friedenswald. John and I went up early, enjoying the drive through the countryside at sunrise, and getting to the fen before the sun had risen over the hill. Neither words nor photos can communicate the wonder of watching the play of light and mist over the wetlands, with trees and grasses slowly coming into view and then lit into fall colors, reflected in the water.
Other leaves caught the sunlight later in the day -- by the lake shore, sumac with tamarac, and a fiery fern. I sat on a pier and watched the nearly transparent minnows drifting in the lake, and then realized what I was mostly seeing was their shadows on the sandy lake bottom.
From Rabindranath Tagore, an esteemed Bengali poet and musician:
For many years, at great cost, I traveled through many countries, saw the high mountains, the oceans. The only things I did not see were the sparkling dewdrops in the grass just outside my door.
I don't think he would have missed them this morning. Though it is true that l would have missed most of these if I hadn't headed out the door and had the time to notice what was around me as I walked.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"