- Monday, 13 September 2010 12:45
I love photography. There is something attractive in looking at old and new, color and black-and-white photographs. And every photograph tells a story because each picture is the result of a friendship with reality. In photography I see a quality of the beautiful that is drawn out the subject: there is an innate sense of the sensual that leads me to an act of contemplation; it also leads me to a deeper sense of my own humanity and to God; the same can be said of music and taking in an art show of the renaissance period (as I did last week at the Yale Art Gallery). I think back to my friend Kevin Locke who had a wonderful eye for the beautiful as well as my friend Brother Mark Kammerer, a Benedictine monk of St Louis Abbey in St Louis, MO, who himself is an excellent photographer who discerns the beautiful in images. Kevin and Brother Mark see life with a keen eye for grace’s activity.
You’ll get a better sense of what I am talking about if you watch the Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly
article called the “Photographer Monk
,” which highlights the good work of Abbot Barnabas Senecal. For him, the photographer engages in a practice of monastic mindfulness that finds him being aware of God’s presence today, with me and with the world as Saint Benedict tells us to do. He’s spiritually, fraternally and intellectually nourished by taking and gazing upon pictures because they are tools to communicate, but gifts for seeing the daily activity of God and man and woman. For him, and certainly for me, photography helps us to see something God wants us to see anew. What does Christ want me to see in thus-and-such image?
There’s also an extended interview with Father Abbot Barnabas here
The great thing about this story is that it reminds us of the need for beauty in our lives. Something Father Michael Morris at Dunwoodie Seminary always reminded me of. Plus, Abbot Barnabas keeps a live the tradition of monks doing art and advancing cultural sensibility. Where would we be without our monastic artists?
This story about the abbot made me think of the last talk the Pope gave to artists in 2009. At that time Benedict reminded us that an artist has a vocation (ministry?) to know and to engage infinity: the true, the beautiful, and the good; the artist’s vocation is about an engagement with reality that scientists don’t have because art shows us humanity’s desire for its ultimate destiny. The artist, unlike any other vocation save for the priesthood, shows the life of the soul and its that reaches out, grasps and desires to understand. My experience and perhaps yours too, is that an artist lives in friendship with his or her artwork. It is not mere blood-sweat-and-toil but a genuine flourishing of communion. Likewise, the artist is contemplative in his or her search for God and happiness and shows us the horizons –if there are any limits of the search– in their medium. For the Pope, and I hope for us, there is a belief that an artist lives a vocation given by God. Hence, the making of art is not a career opportunity for money, power and fame, it is not about a person’s escape into an irrational, deceitful, superficial realm but art “fills us with new hope, gives us the courage to live to the full the unique gift of life.”
Abbot Barnabas’ brief interview doesn’t talk about transcendent power of beauty in art, but I think he would agree that nothing replaces beauty’s search for the infinite in our lives and the transformative power it has for heart and mind, faith and reason of humanity. My intuition is that the abbot’s sensibility tends toward the harmony between being truly human and the reality of the beautiful is made concrete in snapping a photo for the sake of whole person and not just for the sake of being creative.
Let me draw this reflection to a close by appealing to the Pope’s closing closing remarks to the artists when he said something important that I think bears repeating about art because the abbot also intimated it, and it is useful for our lectio:
… it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God. Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, the fundamental themes that give life its meaning, can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality. This close proximity, this harmony between the journey of faith and the artist’s path is attested by countless artworks that are based upon the personalities, the stories, the symbols of that immense deposit of “figures” –in the broad sense– namely the Bible, the Sacred Scriptures. The great biblical narratives, themes, images and parables have inspired innumerable masterpieces in every sector of the arts, just as they have spoken to the hearts of believers in every generation through the works of craftsmanship and folk art, that are no less eloquent and evocative.
The College is getting the more and more recognized as a place to live the Rule of Saint Benedict in the formation of the whole person. Recently, Benedictine College dedicated its new nursing center in honor of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and they’ve broken ground for a new academic building. May Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica intercede for the monks and laity at BC!