Can a Photograph be a Prayer?

 

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Can a photograph be a prayer?

During a recent retreat program this year, I briefly mentioned the prayer form known as Visio Divina, which means Divine Seeing. In the Catholic Church, we use visuals for just about everything to remind us and bring us into prayer with God. Crucifixes, statues, images, and paintings all fall into the category. Most of what is in the Church (images) have a theological, spiritual or ecclesiastical meaning. So what about those items in our everyday lives.

During the retreat, we looked at everyday items and discussed their relevance to our mission as Catholics. A water bottle, a journal, even a life jacket all can be handled and seen where God has created something which has purpose and meaning in our lives. I wonder if you notice everyday items in your life?

For myself, a photograph is something of value; often holding a spiritual significance. When we decide to take a photograph of someone or something, there is usually a meaning behind it. Perhaps we want to revisit that moment or situation? Maybe we want to share it with another, to bring this joy to another who cannot be there at the same time.

Imagine you were going to a desert island and you could bring three images with you? What would they be? Who would be in those images? Which images can you study and notice more than is there on first glance? We often see this in paintings, as we pry out or interpret the meaning of the artist. While we are looking at the image, we are also seeing the soul of the artist in some way; even if the artist did not intend it.

Perhaps this week we can look at some photographs and meditate on them. What are we seeing? Someone or something we love, or perhaps less so? What emotions does the photograph evoke? Love, desire, sacrifice, rejection, perhaps sadness. Take a moment and consider it. When you have come in contact with your feelings, then ask what God might be saying to me in this image, and in my reflecting on the image? Is God calling to me? What is that call?

I am attaching an image which to many might seem meaningless. It was taken at Valyermo in the high desert, California. Not that is really relevant to its meaning.

As yourself a few questions about this image. What do the stones represent? Why are some out of focus? What did the photographer have in mind, when you might have passed by these everyday items?

Then perhaps, you can ask yourself the question. Can a photograph be a prayer?  Do I have any photographs which I might consider to be a prayer?

 

Copyright 2019 Reflection and Photography Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

 

 

 

What’s your favorite story from Scripture?

What’s your favorite story from Scripture?
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Many of us have favorite stories from Scripture.  At least, I do.  One of my favorites is the story of David and Goliath found in the First Book of Samuel.  Clearly, I’m not the only one who savors this story as it is referenced again and again in situations in which there’s one side who is powerful and one who is weak.

Perhaps you know the story well but let me summarize it.  It tells of the confrontation between the grizzled, fearsome, Philistine warrior, Goliath, and the unscarred, inexperienced and perhaps even naïve, yet strangely confident young David. The context is the war between the army of the Philistines and the army of Israel led by King Saul.  Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, calls out any warrior of Saul’s army that is brave enough to face him.  The stakes are winner takes all.  Saul, the King of Israel despairs at the challenge because he has no one of Goliath’s caliber.  He faces losing the war by default.

Up steps young David, inexperienced in war, untried in arms, but filled with faith in God’s protection.  Saul is grateful to David for stepping up to the challenge but tries to dissuade him from going out to meet Goliath.  Saul is sure David will be killed.  But Saul finally agrees to let David represent Israel because there is no one else and David is unafraid and filled with trust in God. The result of the encounter is familiar to us all.  A smooth stone picked up from the riverbed, David’s sling, and a well-placed hit on the forehead of Goliath.  Stunned, Goliath falls.  David walks up to him, takes Goliath’s sword and decapitates him.  A bloody ending it’s true, but a triumph for Israel.

While this story of David has heroic proportions and most of us don’t feel much like heroes most of the time, it can still give us hope in our own life.  Though the fate of a nation rarely depends on us, most of us do have real struggles and often seemingly unsurmountable difficulties in our lives.  Let’s face it, often we just don’t know what to do in response to the challenges we face.  Sometimes it can be our inability to please or even understand what’s going on in members of our family.  Or, it could be in dealing with a particularly difficult situation or person at work.  Or, it could be figuring out how to deal with prickly political or social situations.  We can even feel helpless in responding to world issues such as hunger, social injustice, racial prejudice, and violence.  There are so many situations in our lives that are far beyond our capabilities.  We don’t know how to respond and sometimes doubt our ability even to survive.

At the very core of young David’s ability to deal with the much stronger Goliath is his complete trust in God.  Surely, if David had not had that trust, he would have hesitated to step forward.  And, even if he were able to step up, it would have been very likely that his aim would have been less sure.  Clearly, his calm and confidence and thus, his success was the result of his utter trust in God.  His unimagined victory gives us courage.

Every time I think about this ancient story about David and Goliath, I wonder about my own trust in God.  Do I trust that God is with me, even in the confusing and challenging situations in my life? Does David show the way?  Is it a way that makes sense to me, here and now?  How can I strengthen my conviction that God is with me?

Copyright 2019 Reflection by Michael Higgins, CP
Copyright 2019 Photograph by Michael J. Cunningham OFS

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God’s Voicemail

When we hear those infamous words “the call,” those of my generation think about it as something restricted to saints or vocations for the religious life. We view the words as something sacred, yet something unattainable for us mere mortals. It is left to those special ones chosen by Christ to do the “important” work here on earth.
We could not be more mistaken. God has chosen each one of us, and our unique contribution to do his work. In the Confirmation program at Saint Eulalia’s much of the program is based around the word “chosen.” Each of us is made in His image. The image of God. With that as a starting point, it could not be any other way.

“I have chosen you to be with me.”. “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” (paraphrase of John 15:16 and Mark 3:13)

So when we hear “the call” we, first of all, have to break this down to a more practical level. We don’t get just one call in our lives. There may be calls that are louder than others, which seem impossible to refuse (like my move to California recently for example), but there are many more calls which are reminders of how God wants us to live out our lives.

Perhaps I can reflect on the calls which have been vital in my life. The ones which really changed everything?

If there are many calls, then perhaps the most critical point is for me to listen more attentively so I might hear them. So instead of waiting for a lightning strike that is going to knock me to the ground to get our attention, I should instead be listening for small, still voice in the heart where God is with me all the time.
St. John Paul II always talked of small steps, of micro-conversions during each day, each one moving us in an almost indiscernible way to be closer to God. Each one of these steps moves us closer to God, as we help our neighbor, resolve an ancient dispute or love the unloved.

So the call may not be massive life event (although sometimes it can be) but can be smaller calls during each day. And the call to Holiness is a silent but continuous call which is as present as the air we breathe. Let me look for the small calls, God’s voicemails if you like, to see where I am being called today.

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THE CALL

All calls are not equal.
The fire alarm invites us all to leave the building,
Calling us to safety and anxiety.
While the call for supper invites us to share,
With loved ones in spiritual and bodily nourishment.
Of all calls, the ones imbibed with love should never be screened out.

Because the source validates the message.
And should be acted upon.

Copyright 2019 Reflection, Poem and Photograph by Michael J. Cunningham OFS

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Joy Reaches Down to My Soul

Recently, while attending my own weekend retreat with my parish, I found Dr. Michael Cunningham’s conference on “God in the Everyday” inspired me to go back and read one of my journal entries while on the Camino de Santiago de Campostella in Spain. It certainly was easy to find God in those every days…

I wrote:
Day Four and I find myself wishing to remember the sounds of the Camino. The clicking of the Pilgrim’s shells we were all given when we started out at Saria. We attach them to our backpacks, and they clink as we walk. The crunch of feet on the ground and the gentle greetings exchanged as we pass by each other, “Ola, Buen Camino”, everyone knows this simple blessing.

The gentle breeze through the trees as we walk along, the sound of the birds. Sometimes there is running water. The sights are equally beautiful and noteworthy. Flowers like roses and hydrangeas—larger than I’ve ever seen. The geraniums growing in pots on the quaint buildings along the way. Many ruins as well, where nature is reclaiming the land.

The ancient Celtic village pre-Roman times circa 400 B.C.E. Each tells of stories and echoes from the past. The blackberries growing along the sides of the roads. The steady stride of Pilgrims. The quiet conversations at cafes along the way, other groups calling out greetings to us. For days we’ve been crossing paths with a family from South Africa. They happily call out to us, “America” with large smiles on their faces as we take our rest. My husband waves right back with a “Hi, South Africa”.
In these gifted moments of encounter, I am filled with the sense of joy reaching down to my soul to realize our oneness. Everything belongs—everyone belongs, just below the surface and it is discovered along the Camino.
How we get disconnected when we all go home to our own place. Our “corner of the ring.” Yet, here it is most definitely “Peace on Earth” at least after day four and I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise.
Lord, I feel your presence on this journey.  You are here. You are in the sun shining through the trees, along the paths, in the Pilgrims, large and small, open and closed. Touch us all with your love! Prepare the soil of our hearts to receive you in whatever way you choose to gift us—even in the blackberries.

Thank you for the gift of the quiet moments and the loud moments—you are there!

The Camino stretches out before us like a river moving us closer to you with every step. I praise you, Lord God, for your presence and your love.

And so, I invite you to ponder:
What are the sounds and sights in your day which remind you of God’s presence?
How have you encountered God in those you’ve met today?

Before we began walking each day, my husband and I used this prayer. Now, we continue to say it every day as we move along the Camino of life.

Prayer:
Guardian of my soul,
guide me on my way today.
Keep me safe from harm.
Deepen my relationship with you,
your earth and all your family.
Strengthen your love within me that I may be a presence of your peace
in our world. Amen

Joyce Rupp; Life Lessons from the Camino.

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From the Camino, image by Jean Bowler

Copyright 2019 Reflection by Jean Bowler
Copyright 2019 Photography by Jean Bowler

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What are you thinking about the Church these days???

What are you thinking about the Church these days???
The other day I was reading Scripture as I try to do everyday.  The Book of Scripture I was reading was the First Book of Maccabees.  I realize that this particular Book in Scripture isn’t one of the most familiar Books of the Old Testament but I was surprised at how the story of the Maccabee family brought me to think about something much more current.

As you may recall, the Book of Maccabees tells the story of the rebellion of the Jewish people against the Seleucid Empire in the second century before the birth of Christ.  The Seleucids, a Hellenistic dynasty, inherited their Empire from the conquests of Alexander the Great.  By 167 B.C. they had not just oppressed the people of Israel but finally outlawed all Jewish religious practice.  That final act of oppression led to the rebellion led by the Maccabee family.  Judah Maccabee was the leader of the revolt which began as a guerilla war against the much stronger Seleucid occupying army.  After a series of guerilla actions that took place over a seven year period, the Seleucids had to withdraw and turn the government of Judea over to the Maccabees.  The Seleucids weren’t able to withstand the Maccabean attacks because they were also being challenged by the Romans in other parts of their Empire.

But what struck me about this story of this time in the history of Israel was how the Maccabeans went about restoring the practice of the faith of Israel.  We are told that as soon as their rebellion against the Seleucid empire was successful, the Maccabees restored the Temple and traditional worship, built a new altar and made their burnt offerings and sacrifices of praise.  For the Maccabees the Temple was the place where God dwelt and deserved reverence.  The restored Temple gave the whole nation its center of identity.  Restoring the Temple filled them with joy and gladness so much so that they celebrated the restoration every year after that.

In the time of Jesus it seems that the reverence and place of honor that the Maccabeans gave to the Temple had already eroded to a much more mundane and utilitarian attitude.  We hear stories in the Gospels about the way the chief priests, scribes and leaders of the people looked upon the Temple.  They seemed more concerned about using the Temple as a place of commerce and even used the people’s worship to buy and sell “offerings.”  The sense of the sacred is so obviously absent that Jesus becomes angry and drives the merchants and money-changers from the Temple courtyard.  Their response to Jesus’ outrage wasn’t shame, but rather self-righteousness and a desire to destroy Jesus.

The contrast between these two attitudes toward the Temple got me thinking about my own attitudes toward the Church.  For us the Church is the place where God dwells.  Of course, the Church is more than a building or even a set of buildings.  It is the body of Christ.  And, we all are constituent parts of it.  So, together with Christ we are the place where God dwells.  We are sacred.  We are the place where men and women meet God.  Restoring the Temple brought joy and gladness to the Maccabees.
Does being the place where God dwells fill me with joy and gladness?

Especially now as the Church is so often being attacked by so many.  Do I still look to the Church to find God?

Or, do I sometimes look away or feel ashamed?

O God, please give me eyes to see you in our midst!

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Copyright 2019 Reflection Michael Higgins C.P.
Copyright 2019 Artwork Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

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Time to Say Something, Do Something

Time to Say Something, Do Something

Much has been said for many years since the death of Martin Luther King. Some individuals are called to do great things in their lives. I recall the timing of his death as memorable, as I did when Jack Kennedy was killed. This might not be surprising for you all as American citizens, but bear in mind I was in growing up in England when this happened.
The same spark he lit in people for justice and love with fairness resonated with me my teen years. Someone standing up for what is right and willing to be disobedient to ensure everyone understood he would not stand for it.

Who does this remind you of in scripture?

Yes, Jesus Christ was a rebel in his own time. He would not stand for the double standards of the Pharisees; the moneychangers in the Temple and those willing to stone the adulteress. He stood up for the downtrodden, but also put down those stood in judgment of others without compassion, understanding, love and justice.

We always have the opportunity to reflect on how difficult it is to actually operate as a Christian in our divided world. The sacrifice of Dr. King illustrates how far some are willing to go to ensure the voice of equality is not just heard, but exercised.
It makes me consider if I am really sticking up for the disenfranchised and others who need help? Am I doing enough to make a Christian voice heard in a wilderness of divisiveness which envelopes much of the conversation today?
Dr. King reminds us all of the greatest love of all. The willingness to lay down your life for a friend. (John 15:13) In Dr. King’s case, he also did it for many who perhaps were not his friend at the time.

Martin Luther King … A reminder of Hope

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The face is now silent,
Yet calls us to break from the stone,
To speak and act for justice and love.

Copyright 2019 Reflection, Poem and Photography Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

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DO MY ASSUMPTIONS FREE ME OR BIND ME?

DO MY ASSUMPTIONS FREE ME OR BIND ME?

For many years I was privileged to have Fr. Thomas More Newbold, C.P., as my spiritual director.  He was a very wise and kind man and I loved him dearly.  A comment he made to me during one of our conversations I still remember to this day.  He said to me, “Mike, you are a highly intuitive person and you rightly trust your intuitions about people and situations.  The trouble is, sometimes you’re right!”  That was his gentle way of telling me that sometimes I’m quite wrong…so be careful about assuming too much about people or things based on your intuitions!  It was a very important and helpful insight for me.
Have you ever made an assumption or jumped to a conclusion about a situation or person only to learn later that your assumption wasn’t right?  If you haven’t done this, I want to meet you for you are very unique!
When one of my nieces was a senior in high school, she was in the process of selecting a college.  During one of our conversations about her college plans, she confided in me that she was afraid that she was going to disappoint her parents.  I asked why.  She said that her parents wanted her to choose a college that had a strong soccer program since she was such a fine soccer player.  Throughout high school she had played soccer and it was a big part of her life.  But, she told me, she wasn’t so sure she wanted to play soccer in college.  But, she didn’t want to disappoint her parents.
As we talked I suggested to her that the main reason her parents were so enthusiastic about soccer was their belief that she wanted to continue to play when she went to college.  I assured her that they would support her in whatever decision she made about soccer, and that it was highly unlikely they would be disappointed in any way.  So, she took the risk and told her parents what she really wanted.  And, of course her parents were fine with it.

Do you find that surprising?

Assumptions that aren’t accurate can really blind us to possibilities.  Remember the account in the Gospel of Luke in which the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in life after death, approached Jesus with what they believed was proof positive that such a notion as life after death was impossible.  They assumed that if such a life existed it would have the same limitations our current life has.  Jesus refused to accept their assumptions and opened a whole new vision for them.
Sometimes I wonder what possibilities we don’t see because we are limited by the assumptions we make.  In the Gospel stories Jesus always encourages us not to be limited to our ordinary assumptions.
How blinded am I to possibilities because of the assumptions I make about people or situations?
How open am I to considering points of views different to my own?

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MADE BY HAND

Sitting quietly in the apartment,
the need for life-giving water is never considered,
Just assumed.

In harmony, seemingly, with nature.
The dam holds the needs of thousands,
Bottled up, collecting the gift of life,
One drop at a time.

Our need for living water being insatiable,
As love should be.

Copyright 2019 Reflection by Michael Higgins C.P.
Copyright 2019 Poem and Photography by Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

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