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Book Bag: Eyes Of The Heart Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

23 April 2018

There's an old joke we never tire of hearing about asking the right question. "May I smoke in church?" asks the parishioner of the priest. "No, it's an insult to the Almighty," came the reply. "May I pray when I smoke?" asks a second parishioner. "Of course, my son!"

Mixing religion with photography is a bit like that and we studiously avoid it. But sometimes it's OK to pray when you smoke.

Christine Valters Paintner's Eyes of the Heart is one of those times.

"My maternal grandparents owned a chain of photography stores called Fitts Photo & Hobby Shop in Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampsire, and so I have owned a camera for as long as I can remember," she introduces herself.

Her theological underpinnings are no less impressive with a doctorate in Christian Spirituality from the highly-respected Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. And the text is peppered with quotes from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, St. Augustine, St. Theophan the Recluse, Hildegard of Bingen, Teresa of Avila, Mechthild of Magdeburg and Thomas Merton.

Henry Miller, Rumi, Christina Rossetti, Edward Weston, Alice Walker, Helen Keller, John Muir, Georgia O'Keefe, William Wordsworth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dorothea Lange, Annie Dillard and Mary Oliver also make an appearance.

Just typing that list ought to qualify us for an honor degree somewhere.

But before you get the idea this is some sort of textbook, we have to point out that it was derived from an online class version of the material. It's been beta tested.

Paintner is the online abbess for Abbey of the Arts. She's also a Benedictine Oblate who lives in Vienna, Austria, with her husband.

So, what do you think? Can you pray while you take photographs?

Wait, you've already got it all wrong. The metaphor of hunting down images to shoot and capture is one of the first things she'd like you to think otherwise about. Consider "receiving images," she suggests.

And if you take that first step with her, you'll enjoy a nice, contemplative walk on solid spiritual ground through a wonderland of photography reinforced with meditations and explorations that involve thinking about what you photograph and photographic exercises.

Our recent Two Rocks was inspired by an early exercise:

Choose an object from your everyday life. It could be anything that you engage with daily but that often falls under your radar of real attention. Allow yourself fifteen minutes with your camera, begin with a soft gaze, and then become curious about this object and see if you can make fifty images of it.

This approach won't be a surprise to veterans behind the lens but it can certainly open the eyes of everyone from beginners to enthusiasts. And, indeed, show enthusiasts especially what they are missing.

We realize the word "God" may be a stumbling block for many. But it would be a shame if that deprived anyone of Paintner's thoughtful approach to making images. So we humbling suggest you read "Life" for "God" when you come across it. It's what Baruch Spinoza did and he influenced Goethe (among many other artists), after all.

And, who knows, while making you a better photographer, it may also make you a better person.

Eyes of the Heart by Christine Valters Paintner, published by Sorin Books, 143 pages, $16.95 (or $14.14 at

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