In the 9th century, Celtic Christian theologian John Scotus Eriugena made a fascinating statement. Like other Celtic mystics - and like the earlier Desert Fathers and Mothers - he spoke of TWO scriptures: the Bible and the world of Nature. The latter is of course known first and foremost through the five senses.
However Eriugena made special mention of the VISUALLY-perceived aspects of the natural world as being especially effective in communicating the Word of God to us. Accordingly, he says that "The divine knowledge cannot be restored in us except by the letters of scripture and the SIGHT of creatures." He goes on to admonish us to "Know the FORMS and BEAUTY of sensible things, . . . and SEE there the Word of God . . . [For] God himself is the being of all things."
What struck me today as I re-read this passage is the fact that the photography I spend so much time perfecting is therefore a sacred art. And so are all of the images our culture continually directs at us: images of beautiful people, beautiful food, beautiful home interiors, and - yes - beautiful landscapes. Since, according to Eriugena, these images are sacred, it is important therefore that we spend quality time with each one - to see what the divine Word may be speaking to us from within it - before we move on to the next image, and then the next.
I also found Eriugena's words refreshing in the context of an academic liberal arts world where (except for the study of art), gazing at human beauty is often considered in purely negative terms as objectifying and degrading. How did we ever come to this state of affairs? It is the ATTITUDE behind the looking, and not the looking itself, that is either sacred or profane.
Thank you, John, for helping restore to my mind, heart, soul, emotions and body the sacred dimension of an awe-filled, loving gaze - the one which seeks to listen to the Divine Word speaking continually through all things!
Photos: Snowy peaks along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park (CO); A Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep ram feeding in the Big Thompson Canyon, CO; Ball Cactus flowers at Vedauwoo, WY; Vibrant lime-green Cottonwoods and ruddy cliffs west of Loveland, CO All four photos were taken on May 12-13, 2016
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.