Tearing Off A Piece of Life

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Breakfast at Grandpa’s, Dania Beach Fl
April 27, 2013

Recently–and I wish I had made sure I got the source–I read a wonderful description about the difference between the photographer as artist and the hack like me.  The hack like me uses a camera to tear off a piece of life to have a look at it.  The photographer as artist sees a story that has not yet been told.  I love that distinction.  Isn’t that the work of all art, regardless of medium?  Pushing further, for those of us who have the luxury of ‘discretionary time’ (that is, time to do things that don’t have to do with basic survival)–isn’t that some of what we are given the chance to do?

Much of what I have written here falls under the general category of hack.  Maybe sometimes I’ve inched beyond hacking just a few millimeters, but only barely.  I feel like a dilettante at life too.  For several weeks now, I’ve been having an intense conversation with a fellow priest  about church and the viability of our current ways of doing ministry.  I continue to do a version of the  the Spiritual Exercises, working out of a very practical book called The Ignatian Adventure very early each morning.  There’s my walking, and a silly medal I now have to show for the fact that at least when I walked the half-marathon, I reached a destination, obtained a very specific result.  That medal is more than a piece of life I can look at.  There’s a story that couldn’t be told before my hip replacement that now is unfolding.

Many years ago, when I was learning to sail, one of my instructors told me about looking for breezes.  It seemed absurd until she pointed out how you follow a breeze on the surface of water. Really seasoned sailors can gather amazing amounts of information from just a few ripples, a small patch of movement. Now, whenever I am out on the water, I try to watch carefully, always astounded by how much I can see of the invisible.

I’ve been in active ministry since 2002, when I was hired as Christian Ed Director at All Saints.  I’ve taken lots and lots of pictures, I’ve torn out many slices to come back and look at, sometimes with shame, occasionally with wonder.  I am not sure I have a clue yet, how to look at any of the work as an artist would, able to see a story that has not yet been told.  With the encouragement of my priest friend who has me digging awfully deep these days, I am beginning to look at making an Ignatian 30-day silent retreat, probably sometime this fall or winter.  Up early this morning, grinding coffee with silly Duke getting under my feet and Daisy watching jealously, I figured out how I would take my grinder and things I need to brew my morning coffee.  I’ve started putting out feelers at several Jesuit retreat centers including Eastern Point, where I did my last 8-day retreat in 2012.    It is becoming  a very real possibility, very quickly.

A 30-day Ignatian retreat is not something to take on lightly.  It is an intense, highly disciplined approach to discernment.  I think I was imagining taking my coffee with me because there is such comfort in a good cup of coffee for me. I understand, in a very cerebral and detached way right now, that this isn’t about taking a picture like a hack does. I won’t simply be taking pictures of things that are cute, or curious, or confounding.  Maybe there will be transcendent moments of artistry–seeing in a flash, the story that was there all along that just needed some words to be told with.  Nope.  Finally, this is about going beyond taking pictures or even watching for the breeze .  This is about being willing to choose a point of sail where the breeze (or the wind, or maybe even a gale) fills the sails so the keel of my little boat is at an angle where I have to hike out as far as I am capable, refusing to capsize and insisting I can ride the wind and the waves.

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