the Art of Practice by Carey Pace

(Note: I logged into my blog this morning and saw a draft post at the top of the list. Originally written in mid December of 2017. I have no idea why I never hit publish on this that appears to have been finished. Alas, today I send it formally out into the world.)



A few days ago, I was on facebook in between shuttling kids from here to there during this hectically busy time of year. It was one of those “just need to mentally chill out for a bit” moments and I mindlessly scrolled to fill a void of time.  An unexpected article title caught my eye and piqued my interest. It was a link to a video interview with Ed Sheeran. My typical literary experiences, even on fb, don’t include pop-culture references. Indulging in this link was a bit out of character for me.


Now you must know, I’m not really an Ed Sheeran fan. I suppose you could say I’m simply ambivalent. My musical tastes tend to lie elsewhere. I don’t dislike him but I don’t seek out listening either. Other than recognizing his hit songs, the only things I knew about him were that he used to be a teacher (I think?) and has worked his way into the music industry with the quality of his musicianship (as opposed to being chosen for his appearance and groomed into making songs that sell). Honestly, before I saw that video I don’t believe I’d have successfully chosen him out of lineup.



The linked title was something like “When Ed Sheeran Used to Sing Bad, ” “Ed Sheeran Wasn’t Always a Great Singer,” or something equally as click-bait. My context with Ed was that he’s just a regular “real” musician and a regular “real” person. The curious part of me succumbed and I opened the interview to hear this less than perfect singer. He sat on a couch with what appears to be a British late-night talk show of sorts. The subject of how badly he used to sing came up and Sheeran says this:


“When people go, ‘Ahhh, you’re so talented! You were born with natural talent!’ And I’m like, ‘ehhhh Nope!’  …  “When people say artists are born with talent -- you’re not. You have to really learn and really practice.”


I know he couldn’t hear me through the screen but in my heart, I was cheering a hearty “YES!!!” It turns out this interview is hardly news. He gave it exactly three years ago in 2014! But in the most unlikely of places, I found myself listening to wisdom about what it takes to be an artist and to bring forth beauty into this world.


Here we have someone who is obviously skilled in this area he’s chosen as his profession. But he’s choosing to highlight two things. First, his success wasn’t due to some inexplicable blessing placed upon him that the rest of us didn’t get. It’s not a ‘talent’ bestowed, yes or no, like being born with red hair. He’s worked hard.  Real hard. He’s worked hard to LEARN his craft inside and out and to GET BETTER.


Second, he’s giving hope. Just because you aren’t a master in your artistic area of interest at this fleeting moment in time, doesn’t mean you won’t get there. Keep working. Keep trying. Keep learning. Keep PRACTICING. How many masterpieces have never been created because the artist stopped one song, one painting, one photograph short?


Sometimes I wonder if we, as a culture, have lost the Art of Practice. In the days of apprenticeship, one would dedicate themselves to becoming an expert.  We recently introduced my brother-in-law to the classic that is “The Princess Bride.” I’m reminded of the scene when Inigo Montoya tells the Dread Pirate Roberts his life story and how his father was murdered. In the duel with his father’s killer, he falls. With sincerity and fervency, Inigo says “when I was strong enough, I dedicated my life to the study of fencing. So the next time we meet, I will not fail.”  



A dedication. This took time. Much time. These days our world is rushed. On top of that, a true commitment is rare. We pick up new interests like shells at the beach, filling our pockets until they become burdensome. We are like ten year olds frustrated at the kitchen table because our first attempt at decorating a shirt with puffy paint doesn’t look as good as our mom’s does, when she’s got thirty extra years of experience.



As the year draws to a close, many of us start to look back on our artistic growth over the last months. It could be tempting to get discouraged. It could be tempting to think that if only I get this new lens (or whatever this season’s hot ticket item may be – I’ve been around long enough now to realize it’s always something new you simply must have – hello, master marketers!), then, THEN I will be like everyone else, making the pictures everyone else is making. It’s not ME failing. It could be tempting to indulge thoughts that if you had this gear, or her backdrop or location, or his freedom with a lack of kids or family, THEN you’d be a success.



Many of us enter this land of photography because of the words and encouragement of others. We have cameras and we use them. Folks like our pictures.  They may notice the quality of the images because you’ve got a DSLR. They may notice the different perspective you bring with how your frame the images and tell you they want you to take pictures of their family like that. You have that raw talent, see? Before you know it, you’re immersed.  But all the while, Imposter Syndrome is eating you from the inside and you wonder when you’ll be found out. For it isn’t you with the talent. It’s just that good camera. You are replaceable.


Don’t fall for it!



Call it for what it is. Dedicate yourself to the STUDY of photography. Keep learning. Every day. No matter where you are in the journey. Practice. Practice. And then practice some more. Pick that camera up today. And again this evening. Pick it up tomorrow morning. And the night after. Push your boundaries. Seek feedback from wise fellow artists of multiple disciplines.  Know your weak spots and choose to do things that hone those skills. Put yourself in positions that push you artistically. Set up accountability. Practice when it’s fun. But keep practicing, working HARD, even when it isn’t fun. When it becomes challenging. Trudging. Difficult.


Because on the other side, if we do not give up, our masterpiece is waiting to be created.



Ed Sheeran interviewed on The Jonathan Ross Show.


 Wonder, Lost, Whimsy, and Rest: Photography as Reverie by Carey Pace

Last weekend I had the opportunity to present a talk at "Virginia-moot": a gathering of artists and those who appreciate art in context of their faith in Christ.  The following was the text of my talk.

Wonder, Lost, Whimsy, and Rest


I’d like to begin by asking you to take a look at this ambiguous drawing for thirty seconds and write down what you think it could be. Think of as many ideas as you can for what this drawing could represent, no matter how silly or simple.

Now, look at this second drawing and think again.


How many did you get?


Section 1: WONDER

These drawings are called Droodles. This type of simple sketch is considered a “benchmark for judging mental flexibility” by the experts who study those things. (Who doesn’t want plenty of mental flexibility?)

This experiment I just gave to you was set up at a New York City museum and adultsjust like you were asked this very same thing. (Keep in mind, these were the type of folks who voluntarily chose to spend their day visiting a museum!) A startling 75% of adults could not come up with more than three ideas. 

What’s fascinating, however, is that if I were to ask a young child to do this exercise, they would generate nearly endless answers with crazy possibilities.  

For example with the two images I just showed to you, this one was, “A piece of sushi, two French fries and ketchup, a flashing light, somebody that’s really, really mad, an emergency button, two popcorn picker-uppers with popcorn that has been colored red.” Or for the spiky line drawing, “a spider doing a handstand, stick that has like a windmill, a scarecrow, somebody walking up a hill with a bad hair-day, and everything is invisible except that you cannot see anything except these tiny dots, a boy without any arms or legs.” 

Success with this experiment requires your brain to be able to quickly convert a few shapes into realms of possibilities. This is a test of “divergent thinking.” You are looking at an object that doesn’t necessarily have any meaning in and of itself and YOU are the one to give it lots of possibilities.

So why is it that on the whole, kids are great at Droodles and adults’ minds generally draw a blank? 

As grown-ups, when we see something, anything, we are trying to DEFINE it. We analyze it, classify it, categorize it, and place it in our mental library on our mental bookshelves by genre, author, date. We need it to fit into a box, and that box needs to have a “home” in our mental household. ( You know the phrase, “a place for everything, everything in its place.”)

We are conditioned to perform this mental process at all times. But children aren’t yet confined by this mental routine. They don’t have these rigid mental categories for what they encounter in the world.

Antoine De Saint-Exupery said in The Little Prince that “all grown-ups were once children… but only few of them remember it.”

This is the key. We have to forget we’re a grown up. We have to think like a kid.  Scientifically, this is forcing our brain to find a different neural network outside of the well defined ruts those electrical impulses usually use. Research shows that when you allow yourself to think like a kid, you open yourself up to a childlike wonder, and with that wonder comes an entirely new world of ideas. 

Thinking like a child reawakens our capacity for the imaginative and the original. This wonder is what gives rise to our natural curiosity and ability to discover creative solutions to the problems around us every day. This wonder impacts not only our personal lives but our professional lives as well. 

In Matthew 18 Christ said, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Fyodor Dostoyevsky is quoted to say “the soul is healed by being with children.”

Could it be that in merely being around children, we can be reminded of and our course directed towards this WONDER so easily cast aside by becoming a “ good grown-up?”


When was the last time you were lost?  Can you recall it? 

My GPS has given me the freedom to attempt to go anywhere. I have traveled places I NEVER would have dared on my own without that little safety device. My GPS is to me like the safety harness on a zip-line. I am brave enough to go somewhere BY MYSELF because I know that no matter what I do or what wrong turn I make, she can recalculate and get me home. It’s like Anxiety Girl Insurance. 

It has been exactly two years since we moved to Virginia, and only in the last few months have I begun to drive places in Martinsville without using my GPS. My husband hates it and talks about it like old men talk ugly about the government or technology, begrudging and distrustful. He believe it hinders my ability to learn the place, because I rely on it to think for me instead of really mentally making the geographical connections for how a town is put together. I’ve rolled my eyes, blown him off, and talked sweetly to my GPS so she wouldn’t get her feelings hurt. I NEED her. 

But honestly, he’s very right. Should it have taken two years? No. It should not. But because I didn’t HAVE to learn the roads, I didn’t. I didn’t NEED to learn how the roads carved the terrain because someone else was responsible for finding the way. I didn’t need to experience getting lost. 

When we were hiking in Sedona, Arizona several years ago, we took a wrong turn. It was towards the end of the day and at some point my husband realized we should have hit the trailhead by then. 

 Bear Mountain Hike in Sedona

I’d read about the specifics of the dessert terrain. I could have described it to you in words. But there is nothing, really, that takes the place of experience. You can’t know, really know, what is like to be in this place where everywhere you look looks exactly the same, with few distinguishing landmarks, like a wrapping background on a webpage, seamlessly transitioning as you scroll around. A place so parched that if you have to pee, there’s little place to hide and then when you finally do find a spot to go, it dries up right there before your eyes. An almost monochromatic place existing only in various shades of beige or brown-green. Even their green there isn't the like rich, vibrant, nuanced shades that we have here in our Blue Ridge mountains. But don’t misunderstand me: I found the desert to be remarkable and beautiful, perhaps even more so for the stark differences from anything I’d ever known. 

But the desert is merciless. I’d never known a place so bone-dry. I’d never faced head-on the reality of my human requirement for water. Smack in the middle of vast wilderness in every sense of the word, with no cell service, no maps beyond the hiking trail guide, and no one who even knew we were gone or where’d set out. Having seen not one speck of water the entire day, (including your sweat because it evaporated instantly), and feeling the temperature rapidly cool by the minute invoked in me a sense of panic I don’t know I’d ever felt before.  I recall choosing not to give in to the hysteria I wanted to feel, pondering whether we’d be spending the night alone with the rattlesnakes, scorpions, javelinas, and coyotes. 

In 2005 I had the opportunity to accompany my husband on a work trip to Europe. While he worked during the days, I was on my own to explore. I walked from wherever we were staying in this town or that and tried to take everything I was seeing in. Thistrip opened my eyes to the bigness of this world. At one point of the trip, we traveled to the small German town of Weil am Rhein right at the place where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet. Shawn had warned me that the folks in Weil am Rhein didn’t speak English, but I hadn’t believed him. The arrogant American in me assumed that everyone there at least knew a little English. We’d manage just fine. 

But Shawn was right. For days I communicated with no one besides him when he got in late at night from work meetings and dinners. That kind of isolation amidst people is so unusual. Basel, Switzerland was only 15 minutes away and the company Shawn was visiting arranged a personal tour for me. A taxi picked me up from our hotel early one morning. The driver spoke to me in English and I will never forget for as long as I live the feeling of relief that surged over me like a sudden rainstorm at hearing someone speak the familiar words I knew. 

But it was short-lived. He knew an English phrase or two, but he didn't’ actually speak English. Such a tease. He also didn't’ know where to take me. I’d only heard Shawn mention a spot in passing and tried to repeat it correctly. The driver took me there and I prayed that my tour guide would show up. After a twenty minute wait, she did. She was lovely, spoke perfect English, and took me all over Basel. It was amazing experience.

At the end of the day and tour, we found our way to more crowded parts of the city. I had told her that rather than a taxi, I would take the bus back to Weil am Rhein to save money. I’m not sure what happened, really, but suddenly she abandoned me. It happened so fast. It must have been past the time of whatever she was scheduled to be with me, we were in the city, and I suppose she assumed I knew what to do. We looked at a large map board, she found a stop, quickly stated the name, and then POOF, she was gone. 

It literally felt like one of those scenes in a movie where the person is turning in a circle looking for something, but the camera is panning around them in the opposite direction. I didn't know what to DO and my only contact that could speak to me in this world of everything foreign had literally vanished. 

This was in 2005. I had no smart phone. I had no CELL PHONE. I had no GPS. I had no way to figure out where I even was. I had no way to ask for help even if I had known what to ask for. I was halfway across the world in a country and culture I didn’t know. I held a paper bus-route map of the city in my hands, and I knew the name of the Bus Stop that would return me to Weil am Rhein. Unfriendly looking hurried people brushed by me left and right. I had never felt so alone in all my life. 

I was tired, scared, and realized I’d relied too heavily on Shawn to navigate during the entire trip. This time I was on my own. 

Somehow, I found my way to that bus stop. I didn’t think I’d ever forget that name, but I have. When I got on the bus, I did something wrong and the bus driver was very angry with me. Somehow I quelled that and found a seat. And then I prayed and prayed that this bus would indeed take me back to Weil Am Rhein.

It was a long ride back. By the time the bus stopped at a stop where I could literally see our hotel, it was dark outside. I’d spoken to no one. I got off that bus, walked across the street, and found our room among the hallways. I’d made it. And I did it all by myself. 

It is interesting in that in getting yourself lost, you can actually find yourself. 

I DID it. Me. Nobody helped me. Nobody bailed me out. I got myself out of that pickle on my own. (And God’s guidance and help, too, of course). This experience put a bravery in me I hadn't known before. (It also put in me an awareness of and compassion for those who are in a place not their own that I had not previously known, either).  It shaped me, or more accurately, it wore off my rough edges so I could see the beauty and capacity held within me all the time. 

Lidor Wyssocky is a fine art photographer who recently shared an essay on TheCreativityPost about getting lost and the power of the unknown.  [READ IT HERE: http://www.creativitypost.com/create/get_lost]

“It is so difficult to get lost nowadays. And why shouldn't it be? We are on the grid 24/7. There was never a time in history when you could know your exact location in the universe at any given moment. We know exactly which train to take and when. We know which road to take to avoid traffic jams. When we go abroad, we use Google's Street View to find the street in which our hotel is located so we could know exactly how it looks weeks before taking off.

Is it possible that we are losing the ability to get lost in more than just the geographical sense? Is it possible that by knowing exactly where we are all the time, we are losing something more precious like our ability to be surprised?”

As someone who has a love affair with my GPS, who has been known to research using Google Street view, and yet was so profoundly shaped by my experience of being lost in the middle of a thriving European city, his words pierced me.  That experience of being lost in a foreign city is as vivid and real to me these 12 years later than if it had happened last week. 

Wyssocky goes on to say “The unknown plays a major role in creativity. Curiosity is the key to even the most basic learning experience, let alone to creativity. So, how can we be curious when everything is known, planned, and expected? To be curious means to give into the unknown -- to embrace it.”

How are we, as a culture and as individuals, embracing the unknown in our lives? How often do we feel genuinely surprised? What do you do on a daily basis that welcomes the unknown in? What are you doing in tiny, small, perhaps imperceptible ways that elbows out any hope of the unknown? What are we losing by asking such certainty into our lives at all times? What about ourselves do we never learn because we’ve not been put into that corner, enduring the sensation of feeling lost?

“Any act of creativity is a detour. Any act of creativity relies on our ability to go somewhere unexpected, sometimes physically and sometimes mentally. Getting lost is an essential part of the game. “ Lidor Wyssocky


Dr. KH Kim is a professor of Creativity and Innovation at the College of William & Mary. (How amazing would it be to work for the department of Creativity and Innovation!?) In a recent essay also shared at TheCreativityPost, she wrote, “The good news is that children are born curious. The bad news is curiosity is a delicate thing. It requires safety and surety, but it also requires patience and an appetite for seemingly useless whimsy.”  [READ IT HERE: http://www.creativitypost.com/education/want_to_foster_creativity_in_children_science_says_nurture_curiosity

Let me read that again. “it requires patience and an appetite for seemingly useless whimsy.” 


Our culture does not encourage nor reward “idle” time. Those who wile away their time in frivolous pursuits are regarded poorly. We groom our children to be responsible and efficient with their time from an early age. Maximize, maximize, maximize. “We want you to be a successful grown-up!” We judge what is and is not worthwhile for our, and others’, time. But recall that last phrase from Dr. Kim: an APPETITE for seemingly useless whimsy.

During my second pregnancy, I happily anticipated how the birth was going to go. I’d done this nursing thing the first time, with much guidance at the hospital, but this time I wasn’t going to need help! I got this. I’m a pro now. Children are born with an instinct to nurse so my prior experience would have me ready. It’s a matter of technique, and I knew what to do. 

Then Cora was born. We’ve since said it was as if she was born with a chip on her shoulder, simultaneously needing me to live and mad at the world that she did. After her delivery, she wouldn’t nurse. She had no desire to. She just wouldn’t suck. After some time, I gave up, completely and utterly baffled, frustrated beyond believed, humbled and humiliated. I called for professional assistance. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go. What baby doesn’t suck? 

I could make this tiny newborn life do many, many things. I could take her any number of places. I could wrap her up to keep her warm or undress her to cool her off. I could put her feet by her ears. I could lie her on her belly. But try as I may, there was nothing I could do that would change her APPETITE to nurse. She, and she alone, was in control of her desire. 

Sometimes I have wondered if I should have gone into the education field because I’ve always enjoyed teaching children about things and empowering them to believe that there is nothing that is beyond their grasp. But as I’ve volunteered in my kids’ classrooms, I’ve been struck by one roadblock that I don’t know how teachers overcome. I could teach you all day long whatever this topic is we need to learn, but I don’t have a clue what to do with children who don’t have a DESIRE to learn. I simply don’t know what to do with that. 

How fragile curiosity must be! Appetite is defined as a natural desire to satisfy a bodily NEED. How is it that somewhere along the way, a child is born curious but has his APPETITE for seemingly useless whimsy diminished? A natural desire that must be satisfied no longer generates pangs. What happens when that child grows up to be an adult?

Derek Beres recently wrote an essay for the knowledge forum Big Think about how busyness, in particular filling our minds and time with device usage, is killing our ability to think creatively.  In it he says, “Engaging creatively requires hitting the reset button, which means carving space in your day for lying around, meditating, or staring off into nothing. This is impossible when every free moment—at work, in line, at a red light—you’re reaching for your phone. Your brain’s attentional system becomes accustomed to constant stimulation; you grow antsy and irritable when you don’t have that input. You’re addicted to busyness..”  [READ IT HERE:  http://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/creativity-and-distraction]

I think he’s right about what happens in our brains, but I would argue that the issue isn’t our phones, or social media (not that they don’t remarkably have this effect. They do.). Our culture’s addiction to BUSYNESS has been an issue for a long time. I have said for years that the reason I have amazing pictures of my children playing is because WE PLAY. We’ve carved out MARGIN so that there is time to just be, to just play, to go where the wind blows us. 

I don’t mean to imply we are perfect or do this perfectly. It is such a tightrope act. I value the piano lessons, the team sports, I value fitness, I value being intentional, not lackadaisical, with our time. Good things come from that. But it must be tempered. Beres goes on to say “spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness and you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work.”  Social media is such an easy scapegoat but the American Keep Up with the Joneses lifestyle has been living in a state of constant frenetic shallowness for a long time. This is a direct result of the Maximization mindset.

The Japanese have a word: Nombiri. It means “don’t rush, go slow, take it easy.” We MUST give ourselves the grace to indulge Nombiri, in nonproductive down time. Not reading that marks books off a to-read list. Not a hobby that knocks a line item off your bucket list. Not exercise that allows you to compete in some race. We need purely wasted time that is anything but.  Because this is what refreshes and refuels our souls and opens our God-given minds to creativity!

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”  - Antoine de Saint-Exupery from The Little Prince

We will never be at a point of CONTEMPLATING the cathedral if we’re always focused on ticking items off the list. When you make a lifestyle change in how you eat, you find that your tastes change. Your tongue is reawakened to the natural sugars in foods. You begin to detect spices or flavors that had become too dulled out before. You no longer crave the junk foods you once did. Just as our food appetites are a fluid thing that can change, we must ensure that we are setting ourselves up to keep feeding that appetite, that desire to satisfy our bodily need, for seemingly useless whimsy, so that rocks may one day become cathedrals. 


It was in becoming a parent 24 hours a day, seven days a week that my introvert needs for dedicated time alone became readily apparent to both my husband and me. I had looked forward to the day that my kids would both attend school all day long five days a week, so I’d have hours and hours of introvert time on a regular basis. I thought this would solve all the problems. 

But it didn’t. 

It didn't because it wasn’t just the absence of people that I needed to refuel me. 

It has taken me a long time to get to the point of realizing just how vital this non-productive, daydreaming, meandering, inefficient, creativity thought path wandering time is for my soul. 

For a long time I would wonder why I still felt the strong need for “time off” after my kids were in school. I felt immense guilt for still needing those weekends here or there when my husband took the kids to his parents and I had two full days to do whatever the heck I wanted. I had hours of alone time every single week day. What was wrong with me!?  Why was I so broken?

But it’s because I need time to be unbusy. It isn’t the time ALONE, per se, but the time when I can dedicate focus to PLAY, towards running down mental rabbit trails with abandon, without expectation. No watching the clock, no time limits, no boundaries, no guilt. 

I am alone most days, but that time is to be productive. My career is homemaking which means managing the responsibilities of 3-4 humans. I am to do the cleaning, the housework, the office needs, the cooking, the shopping, the chauffeuring to this and that activity or event. There is so much to be done and so few hours to accomplish it. There’s just not a lot of wiggle room. I find that I spend most days feeling guilty and torn. Either I spent my time doing all the work of the home well while ignoring the creative call of my heart. Or I spent too much time working on trying to edit my photos so they can be shared, or writing, or some other creative endeavor that feeds my heart and completely neglected my ‘job’ of Housewife… or Occasionally I end up so overwhelmed, mentally paralyzed, that I do neither of those. 

What I have learned is that I’m never thriving in any of these scenarios. I must carve out time that is not only alone, as in the absence of people,  but time when my mind has permission to freely roam wherever the wind may blow it that day, without the attached guilt that the time wasn't maximized, should have been utilized better, or was completely wasted.  That is when my introvert tank gets filled back up, and that is when I whet my appetite for seemingly useless whimsy, and that is when my creativity is truly fully alive.

If we want to awaken our innate appetite for curiosity and whimsy, we must give ourselves the grace for this time. The Germans have a word for this: Sturmfrei. It means the freedom of being alone in your home, in the absence of the watchful eyes of parents or authority, and having the ability to do what you want.

We must lay down our burdens and rest in the necessity of downtime. We must retrain our minds that idle time, rest time, is NOT wasted time. We must stop looking for measured, tangible results from every moment of our lives. 

For when we set aside margin for this time of wakeful restedness, when we lay aside the guilt for unmerited expenditures of time, that is when creativity is awakened. That is when the innate joy of being a follower of Christ shines bright. It is then when we succumb to a state of WONDER. 

Charles Spurgeon said “Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength. It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.” 


From John 1 in The Message Bible.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;    
the darkness couldn’t put it out.


Photography, at its essence, is all about light. You cannot have a photograph without light. There are so many other components of photography, composition being one of them, that are very important, but none of those things matter without the light as the foundation stone of it all. 

One of my favorite quotes says that “when I stopped photographing THINGS and started photographing how the light falls on those things, everything changed.” 

When I started to study light, and see all the different types, I was totally captivated. I’ve always loved the beauty in this world, and I knew there was something that made some photographs “more” than others (even though I couldn’t put my finger on it.) Finally learning the different types of light and how they yield a varied beauty on top of this world’s natural beauty sent me over the edge for photography. 

Everyone knows that in theory pretty light will enhance a beautiful landscape. But what was so exciting to me was how I could take a picture of a common, nondescript object (Say, a soccer ball) in the right light and make it feel magical all in how I used the light. It was the LIGHT that made the impression and held the power.

This power of making magic with ordinary things gave me a gratitude for the simple things in this world. It made me slow down. It gave me a reason to stop and notice. It gave me a reason to explore. It was as if I was always the pirate, on a treasure hunt, searching for the hidden X marks the spot. What a sense of triumph when you found it!

It was LIGHT that changed everything. 

It’s an attitude of approaching each day as a new exploration, alert to notice and absorb the fine details constantly surrounding us. Giving myself permission to take a detour or the long way home. Looking left, right, from above or from below. Dare I say it, getting lost!

So how does all this talk about whimsy, creativity, curiosity, and getting lost have anything to do with photography? 

If Christ is the Light of this world, if the images created through photography are all dependent on Light, if the images are really more about how the light bathes and touches the objects held within this world where the heavens and the mountains declare the glory of God above, then are these images not thereby showing the power and might of Christ?

Mark Twain said that ‘to get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.”  By taking the time to FIND and SEE these moments of awestruck beauty amidst our given lives that often feel anything but, and then by taking the time to SHARE them with others, we are completing the cycle. We are cultivating Beauty in a hopeless world. That beauty offers HOPE to a world that so desperately needs the hope that belief in Christ alone gives. 

Sally Clarkson tells of the first time she read Anne of Green Gables as a child in her latest book, The Life-giving Home [FIND IT HERE: http://amzn.to/2eIx3tl]. She said it “marked my first awareness of the way the words in a book, words used to sketch an imaginative world, could reawaken me to the mystery of my own. As an adult the word I would give that reality is wonder. Wonder reveals the world as the miracle it is because it intensely focuses our eyes on what is before us.” 

Sally views this cultivation of wonder in terms of literary exposure. As someone who loves words, I do not disagree. However, I suggest this effect is equally as apropos for visual imagery of the real world that is given to us via photography. 

Sally cites research that indicates language “shapes our consciousness. The words that are used to describe the world around us shape and dictate WHAT we actually see. Language is teaching you what to pay attention to, how to perceive it, and what value to place on it.” 

Again, while I don’t disagree with Sally, I think the art form of photography, more so than any other visual art form, also teaches us what to pay attention to, how to perceive it, and what value to place on it in this actual, literal world. 

Susan Sontag said something about photography that is in much the same vein. “Photography is not an art form at all but a medium like language in which works of art are made.”  “In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar, and even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.” 

It has been remarkable to me how many lives have been impacted by my own discovery of Light and the appreciation for how it highlights and illuminates the beauty hiding in plain sight in this world. My family sees the light with me. They will come find me to rescue me from chores when they know I’ll love the light. When my children take photos themselves, while they don’t know how to manipulate the camera settings completely just yet, they ARE creative in how they compose the images. Details are important too them. They don’t take just one kind of image. Beyond my own family, folks in my little world see the light, too. How many times someone has shared an image to me on Facebook with a little comment of “This made me think of you.”!! It may be the use of shadow to tell the story, or a reflection from a puddle, or perhaps just a detail shot of the hand of a baby learning to feed herself. How many times has someone written me a message to say, “last night we were outside and the light made me think of you.” Because I have learned light and shared with the world the images that made my heart ache, other’s have caught the disease, like a virus passing from one soul to the next.

Have you ever seen one of those little mental experiments where you’re shown a video and asked to count how many times something happens, like how many times the girl in the orange shirt jumps or catches a ball, and you end up missing the larger than life sized chicken that walks through the screen or the gorilla hanging out in a window in the background? We can so easily slip into such laser focus as we move about the daily tasks of living, (in that dreaded state of busyness), that we never notice the amazing things going on in the background of this beautiful world that God has given to us as a gift to enjoy. 

We must shift our attention. We must consider this world, whether it be out in nature or the walls inside our homes, as CREATION, made and given to us as a gift by our Heavenly Father.  We have become jaded, spoiled rotten little aristocrats demanding that our every whim and fancy be satisfied at once. We cannot handle idleness or a loss of direction.

Section 6: In Conclusion

Steve Guthrie said in his Hutchmoot talk last fall that “Art that is rich invites us to become participants.” Images cannot mean anything to us in the absence of context. Photographs invoke memories. An image of the Grand Canyon cannot speak to you in the same way if you’ve never seen it first hand. An image of a waterfall is all the more poignant when you’ve stood next to a waterfall and felt its spray in your face. An image of a single curl having fallen out of a ponytail invokes emotion when you’ve pulled that curl back into a ponytail time and time again. They invite us to remember little moments of Light in our world. 

At the end of my first Hutchmoot, Kelly Keller shared how the feasts in Narnia were seen as an act of war to the White Witch because it revealed the truth about her authority. The White Witch felt threatened by their celebration and by their indulgence in something she’d not given or sanctioned. 

These days, this world feels so very dark. It sometimes feels like it’s turning inside out. Everything we knew to be true seems to be coming undone. We are becoming numb to tragedy. We are turning our eyes from more harrowing news.  Those we thought we’d always call friend have turned their backs on us. Or we have turned out backs on them. Battle lines are being drawn like a grid of tictactoe a three year old scratches into sand. Over reactionary, uber sensitive, hyper paranoid. We may be left wondering where is the light? 

But I say, saying no to the complacency Satan wishes to invoke in us is also an act of war. Allowing yourself to stop and notice the beauty in both the small and not so small things, giving yourself permission to spend our most precious commodity of TIME in a way that gives grace to our appetites for seemingly useless whimsy, declares our stance to the armies waiting to steal our joy that we will fight for curiosity, creativity, and beauty. 

Sarah Clarkson wrote a piece several years ago about her mission as a writer and seeking God’s guidance. He brought a painting to her mind of a blind girl sitting in a field with rainbows behind her that she could not see. But there is a small child next to the blind girl who is describing all of it to her in the absence of her eyes.  Sarah’s call was to “Write the Rainbow. Tell this broken world of things they cannot see. “

That is breathtakingly beautiful. But for me, as a visual artist, I shoot the rainbow. I’m telling this broken world of the things they CAN see but have lost their way to notice.  I use photography as a way to keep my appetite for wonder, curiosity, and whimsy thriving. And I challenge you to do the same. 

“Like a wood fire in a room, photographs — especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the vanished past — are incitements to reverie.” Susan Sontag 

There’s a rarely used English adjective of solivagant. It means rambling alone, marked by solitary wandering, to escape the world.  I wish to give myself the grace to be solivagant, pulling back for solitary musing, meandering without a set path or destination, and escaping the world’s trappings of busyness. I wish to relax into refreshing times of Sturmfrei without agenda to fill my Wonder tank back up.  I wish to embody nombiri and a spirit of ease.

May we use the power of Light and the power of the devices in our hands to incite others to reverie and declare war of Satan, his discontent, boredom, distraction and fear. May the Light that only comes from Christ emanate out through our curiosity and appreciation of beauty. 

Coffee, Conviction, and Taking Your Time by Carey Pace

I know better. I know better. I know better.

The whole morning was ‘off.’ I slept too late. I took the dogs out too late. I had to wait forever for the puppy to poop. I woke the kids late. I got The Lady in the shower late. I started cooking breakfast late. They started eating breakfast late. Then I spent their entire breakfast time looking for the cup of coffee that I’d poured before putting The Lady in the shower. I couldn’t find it anywhere. 

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