Today I am privileged to host Christine Valtners Paintner, PhD. She is on a virtual book tour, promoting her latest: Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice. Christine is a brilliant, kind, generous, and full-of-wisdom-woman with whom I’ve had the privilege of drinking tea…and even collaborating (more on that at the end of the post). I’d invite you to pour yourself a cup of tea (or coffee, or…) and imagine her sitting by your side. Hear her voice and her heart.
Cultivating eyes of the heart is about seeing in a more spacious and expansive way, and recognizing how we often move through life with limited vision. It is a biblical perspective, where the heart is seen as the organ of transformation and integration. It is the place from which intelligence, intuition, experiential knowing, and deep wisdom emerge.
Most days we move through life seeing from our minds. Those tricky organs of thought, which love to categorize and analyze, love to plan and lay things out. Our minds look for what they expect to see, rather than what is really there.
In my work with photography, I have discovered the camera to be an important tool in reclaiming a different way of seeing: one marked by soulfulness and compassion, one which sees things as gifts to be received rather than products to be taken. Contemplative seeing means slowing ourselves down and savoring each moment, knowing there is something holy being revealed right here and now.
As women, we perhaps need to reclaim this sacred way of seeing even more vitally. We need to reclaim the gaze of the eyes of the heart, rather than the one we have internalized – the objectifying gaze upon our bodies which sees us as valuable only in terms of dress size or physical perfection. We discover these critical voices which live inside of our minds and echo the world around us. Ronna wrote a beautiful post about Eve’s grief over the ways we perpetuate this on ourselves (Eve Screams “No!”) that has stayed with me.
I see my work in encouraging contemplative practice, and specifically these days with photography, as a way of reclaiming this kind of graced vision for ourselves. I describe it as “beholding” which means to gaze lovingly upon a person or place without expectation, without judgment, without waiting to see what we will get. What if we could learn to behold ourselves?
In the mystical path, St Teresa describes the inner journey toward God as movement through a sequence of concentric chambers of a castle, and when we come to the most interior room, we see the soul as a brilliant diamond, and we can hardly bear this beauty. This is the shimmering truth that comes with seeing ourselves through eyes of the heart.
In one of the chapters of my book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, the invitation is to work with mirrors and reflections. Mirrors in medieval times were considered to be symbols for the soul, and when polished they reflect back the One who created all things and then exclaimed “that’s sogood.” Cameras use mirrors to reflect light and create an image. What is your own relationship to mirrors? Might you consider a practice of befriending your mirror image and beholding yourself? Learning to see yourself with eyes of the heart, with compassion, with insight into the diamond shimmering within?
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, is the online Abbess at Abbey of the Arts, a virtual monastery and community for contemplative practice and creative expression. She is the author of 7 books on art and monasticism, including her latest, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice (Ave Maria Press). Christine currently lives out her commitment as a monk in the world with her husband in Galway, Ireland.
She has graciously provided me a copy of her book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, in order to give it away! And I’d love to! Just email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll do a drawing, get in touch with (hopefully) you, and mail it off to you within just a few days!
As mentioned above, Christine and I (along with Trish Bruxvoort Colligan and Dana Reynolds) co-created a 12-week online retreat called Threshold: The Wild Heart of Longing. I’m horribly and unapologetically biased, but believe me, this is gorgeous stuff. Take the time to read more and then steep yourself in this rich, deep, and overflowing-with-feminine-wisdom course.
“Learn to see yourself with eyes of the heart, with compassion, with insight into the diamond shimmering within…” May it be so.