whole: Sunday 4

Let us sit in this moment

of God’s creating.

Rest in its uniqueness;

savor its potential.

It is pregnant

with new possibilities

waiting to be born,

God’s secrets not yet heard,

God’s dreams not yet seen,

God’s visions not yet realised.

Let us sit and look and listen.

Breathe in the fragrance 

of its unfolding.

Stand in awe at its beauty.

Rejoice in its complex patterns.

Let us sit and imagine

new ideas waiting

for creative expression.

And join God in the creating.

(‘Rest in the Moment’, The Gift of Wonder, Christine-Aroney-Sine (123))



In The Life of Moses Gregory of Nyssa wrote that darkness is ‘perceived to be contrary to religion’, yet the more a contemplative mind practices contemplation (what Gregory calls ‘apprehend[ing] reality’) the less one comes to know of God, because:

[one] sees more clearly that God cannot be contemplated. For leaving behind everything that is observed, not only what sense comprehends but also what the intelligence thinks it sees, it keeps on penetrating deeper until by the intelligence’s yearning for understanding it gains access to the invisible and the incomprehensible and there it sees God.  This is the true knowledge of what is sought; this is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness. 

Gregory concludes that when Moses ‘approached the dark cloud where God was’, he could declare that he had seen God in the darkness because ‘he had then come to know that what is divine is beyond all knowledge and comprehension’.  Gregory calls this the 

‘luminous darkness’.

In the luminous darkness I am known.  

In the luminous darkness I can know.

In the luminous darkness I am seen. 

In the luminous darkness I can see.

Religion passes out of the ken of Reason only where the eye of Reason has reached its own Horizon; and that Faith is then but its continuation: even as the Day softens away into the sweet Twilight, and Twilight, hushed and breathless, steals into Darkness.  It is Night, sacred Night!  The upraised Eye views only the starry Heaven which manifests itself alone: and the outward Beholding is fixed on the sparks twinkling in the aweful [sic] depth, though Suns of other Worlds, only to preserve the Soul steady and collected in its pure Act of inward Adoration to the great I AM. (from Biographica Literaria, Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

This is the grace of beholding the Holy: the luminous darkness brings me the opportunity of beholding the Holy in whatever ordinary moment I am in.  As Samuel Wells comments, 


this moment, this place, this person – is the site of encounter, the resting place, the angle of repose, the occasion for genuine worship.’ (A Nazareth Manifesto, (140)(original emphasis))

It is here, in all these occasions of luminous darkness, where I am called to give voice to astonishment (Annie Dillard, see Sunday 3). It is here, beholding the Holy –  face to face – in this luminous darkness – now- where I can know again that ‘here am I today/My task is to live’ (Liturgy of Wholeness, see Sunday 1).

“I saw that he saw” 

~ Jehuda Zwi

Your eyes, O my beloved

Were the eyes of a hind,

With pupils of long rainbows

As when storms of God are gone – 

Bee-like the centuries stored there

The honey of God’s nights,

Last sparks of Sinai’s fires – 

O you transparent doors

To the inner realms,

Over which so much desert sand lies,

So many miles of torment to reach Him – 

O you lifeless eyes

Whose power of prophecy has fallen

Into the golden astonishments of the Lord,

Of which we know only the dreams.

‘Your eyes, O my beloved’ 

Nelly Sachs (tr. by Ruth and Matthew Mead)

this luminous dark. (iPhone image)

whole: day 21

We must reverse our lenses.

Too often we have allowed them 

to lead us into a dark past.

Looking through the right

end, we see how that dawn

had the brightness of flowers.

It is the future is dark

because one by one

we are removing these paintings

from our exhibition.  We walk

between blank walls, scrawled

over with the graffiti

of a species that has turned its gaze

back in, not to discover 

its incipient wings, but the slime

rather and the quagmire from which

it believes itself to have emerged.

from’ A.D.’, R.S. Thomas

My family are pretty familiar with my moans and groans when I am working with my Canon 7D camera, as I try to work out how to overcome technical difficulties when faced with my own limitations of craft-knowledge and of health.  I often voice a version of Wittgenstein’s frustration when he exclaimed: “How hard I find it to see what is right in front of my eyes!” 

How hard I find it to see 

what is right in front of my eyes

Seeingdarkly and knowingdarkly are part toolkit, part process, part deliberate limiting factors for a contemplative photographer.  They are the tools by which I look for God in the middle of my everyday life.  They are also the reasons why I miss comprehending God’s presence in the middle of my everyday life.  The darkly Spirit of God-in-me calls me to co-create with God, in the great task of completing, wholing, God.  Being inadequately attuned to the darkly Spirit of God is what limits my creativity.

Incarnational seeing through the way of darkly might be understood as being related to the via negativa, or negative theology, which understands God by the ways in which God is absent rather than present.   Yet what my own experience of seeingdarkly and knowingdarkly suggests, is that God-with-me in my everyday world is more often glimpsed, by Grace, as ‘incipient wings’, to use R.S.Thomas’s image from ‘A.D.’ (above).  Whether or not I manage to ‘succesfully’ make an image, the GodSpark wholes me through the actions of co-creating: my eyes are wholed – healed – the more I look through the Spirit’s darkly lenses.

What has become clearer to me now is that photography was probably always being driven by a search for belonging. What I was so desperately trying to see through photography, was my oneness with Life. 

… For a long time I had assumed, naturally enough, that photography was about the making of images. However I now see how my concern with the end product, (the pleasure and excitement involved in producing a good print), had the capacity to obscure my appreciation of the fact that, for me at least, a deeper pleasure was to be found in the looking; in the way in which the camera drew me into contemplation. 

… The camera acted as a conduit, opening a way of being which is regardless of time. It’s almost as if, through the lens, “I” merge with a fourth dimension, which is, actually, nothing other than self-forgetfulness … It is, as the photographer Annie Leibovitz has observed: “The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much.”

 … Absorbed at source, being and doing are one. Whatever role photography has played in my life in the past, it is now being dissolved in the radiant source-being which we all are. This I know; more than this I am content not to know. 

Zoe White (2019)


not hiding but forgetting. (iPhone image)

whole: day 20

Then is it true that you also need us?…

… Look: I am 

giving it to you, this fragment; but how,

In your completeness, could you need it?

from ‘then is it true’, Helen Tookey

Spirit may not always bring my seeingdarkly into the light; sometimes Spirit encourages me to see even more darkly into the Mystery who is God.

This is part of the mystery: 

I complete God.

This is just one of the paradoxes of the Incarnation, the fact of God-being-with-us.  God’s presence in me seeks to join with God’s presence in other people, things and places.  Spirit urges me to seek to know more of who God is, by knowing how God is with the person in front of me.  In them I can come face to face with God.

Such a staggering thought!  And it puts the casual, and less than careful, ways in which I treat some people into an awe-ful perspective.  God’s incarnational Spirit in me, is what John O’Donohue calls a ‘deep strain of God’s caring’:

We carry in us a deep strain of God’s caring.  Our love for our friends and family, our concern for the world and for the earth, our compassion for the pain and desperation of others are not simply the product of an “unselfish gene” within us, they issue from the strain of God in us that prizes above everything else the kindness, the compassion, and the beauty that love brings.  Anywhere: in prayer, family, front line, brothel or prison, anywhere care comes alive, God is present.

care & accumulated certainty

‘Anywhere … God is present’: God’s Spirit is not a fixed thing or quantity.  Another mind-bending realisation of the implication of God-with-us meaning God-in-me-now, is that God invites us to complete God by participating in the continual making of the universe – which is already completely God.  I am called to be a co-creator with God.  God is a generative God.  God’s whole just increases as I co-create with Spirit, because God is infinite abundance.  I help complete God’s whole at the very moment that God’s whole increases!  This is what Abraham Joshua Heschel refers to (below) as ‘the outgrowth of accumulated certainty of the abundant, never-ebbing presence of the divine’.

This ‘outgrowth’ means all that ever has been, remains enmeshed as part of the expanding whole.  That includes all my losses, my griefs, my lostness, my broken relationships.  They are wholed – healed.  How? Like this:

I continue to whole God, through co-creating more of God into being-with-us, by communing with God’s Spirit ever-present in me.

Our awareness of God is a syntax of the silence in which our souls mingle with the divine, in which the ineffable in us communes with the ineffable beyond us.

It is the afterglow of years in which soul and sky are silent together, the outgrowth of accumulated certainty of the abundant, never-ebbing presence of the divine.

All we ought to do is let the insight be and to listen to the soul’s recessed certainty of its being a parentheses in the immense script of God’s eternal speech.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

ineffable syntax of silence. (iPhone image)

whole: day 19

There is an elemental love in the universe

by which name we know each other

and encourage ourselves to live.

There is a silver river that connects everything

from which some part of us never leaves.

There is a mercy making its way

up through the ocean of the earth

to the shores of our feet.

There is a music so sweet it is almost unbearable

that is composed between the ear

and the heart which reminds us.

There is a part of us that

says it is never too late to be reborn

on the inbreath each morning.

Stephen Levine

I spend a lot of time listening to my own breathing, practising mindful techniques to help manage anxiety and seizures, yet I rarely stop to consider: 

What is the sound of a breath?

I mean this in a philosophical, theological and poetic sense.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel noted, ‘the stillness is full of demands, awaiting a soul to breathe in the mystery that all things exhale in their craving for communion’.  I am fascinated by projects like Lumisonic where scientists, using new technologies, are working with deaf children to help them ‘hear’ sound by seeing it.

What does the sound of my breath look like?

Every time I breathe, there is a communion, a wholeness, if only for that milisecond, I am at one with what I am breathing in.  For that moment of sound and sight, of seeing and hearing, I am one with the earth beneath my feet, and all that lives upon the earth in that moment.  

When I stop to think that every time I breathe I breathe in God, my mind spins, boggled by wonder at the mystery of the interconnectedness of the incarnate God.

breathe in God

Hearing myself breathe might be a good way to bring together what I am knowingdarkly of the ‘little’ book of scripture and what I am seeingdarkly of the ‘big’ book of creation, to use the terms of the ninth-century Irish poet John Scotus Eriugena:

Eriugena invites us to listen to the two books in stereo.  He encourages us to listen to the strains of the human heart in scripture and to discern within them the sound of God and to listen to the murmurings and thunders of creation and to know within them the music of God’s being.  To listen to the one without the other is to only half listen.  To listen to scripture without creation is to lose the cosmic vastness of the song.  To listen to creation without scripture is to [lose] the personal intimacy of the voice … In the Celtic world, both texts are read in the company of Christ.

(Philip Newell, cited by Christine Aroney-Sine, The Gift of Wonder (95))

Hearing myself breathe with the ‘ears of my heart’ is the way I need to learn to listen to the intimate cosmos, within and without.

I’ve long stopped listening to the voice inside my chest that I once thought was God, but turned out to be an amalgam go every negative thing anyone has ever said to me, forged into a pithy little knife: You are not worthy.  I know that isn’t true … God would never say such things to his children. 

To hear people explain to me how my body and my desires fall just outside God’s love is to be deafened to the quiet yet persistent voice within that says: You are a triumph.

… when we refocus our spirituality, our faith, our God in the small victories of survival, we take small but confident steps toward healing: look at how I’ve survived!

… when we call out, we call in  … we embody on terra firma the answer we look for in the sky … we are the guiding light, the answer to our physical and spiritual liberation.  And when our voices are united, they rise up in a thunderous chorus: let my people go!

(Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, ‘My Queerness is a Compass’, Book of Queer Prophets curated by Ruth Hunt (45-8) original emphases)

the mystery that all things exhale. Canon 7D. f6.3. 1/800. ISO 3200.

Whole: day 18

Every breath is a resurrection.

Gregory Orr (from “Concerning the Book that is the Body of the Beloved”)

I am known by God.  

I am being known by God.  

I am knowing me with God.  

I am knowing God with God.

Seeingdarkly and knowingdarkly is not a one way street.  It is a feedback loop specifically designed by Grace. God is with me, Emmanuel, present in my present. Present in my mind and understanding; present in my body and all the ways I can interact with the physical world; present in my heart.  God is knowing my heart into a closer relationship with the Living Love.  

This is an active desire of God: God desires to know more of me knowing God.  Yes, God knows me already, all of what I am and do is already held within God’s being.  Yet that does not mean my future personality and actions are already known in the sense of being prescribed.  I am becoming the woman God loves as Kate, the whole Kate.  

Yet I suspect that all the ins and outs of the adventure of intimacy that the Holy invites us to undertake is not already known by God.  I suspect God can be surprised by whatever God and I might do together.  I hear God chuckle when we ‘throw paint around’ together in a haphazard fashion, as colours mingle, as water drips, as brushes swirl, as walls and floors and ceilings are splattered alongside my canvas-full of ‘happy accidents’.  God enjoys this.  God enjoys me.

To use a different metaphor, the Tao Te Ching says:

“Shape clay into a vessel. 

It is the space within that makes it useful.”

All that I am is the vessel, and God knows how I am made, for God made me.  Yet the ‘empty’ space inside the wonky pot called Kate is full of gas molecules, also made by God, that can be joined together in an infinite variety of ways, each chain suggesting a slightly different ‘use’ or action for the whole Kate.  God may know the theory of molecular physics but God is on a journey of knowing with me to see how the these particular particles react within me at this present moment of my here and my now. 

God joins me in seeingdarkly and knowingdarkly, not because darkly is a second best option, but because darkly is where my heart and the Holy heart combine to surprise each other.

Don’t express yourself too wildly, says the world, nor with passion. Do not show the depths of your feelings, or someone will cut you down to size. They will mock you and call you inflamed and irrational, out of control. But I say, let your wonderful, explosive heart show! 

Let your truth fizz and bang and make bystanders ooh and aah in awe of your expressive joy. Do not hold all of it in to fester and mutate into cold, cynical, clinical waste. Roar with your mind and your knowing places. Sing with your real voice and use all the words available, leave no note unsung. Be you and let rip the cords of your heart and the beauty of your song. Let your vulnerable passion soar, even if it sails over every head. 

Keren Dibbens Wyatt, The Honeycomb Hermit

darkly is not second best. (iPhone image)

whole: day 17

God loves flesh and blood, no matter what kind of shape it is in.  Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, there comes a time when it is vitally important to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, “Here I am.  This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped.  I live here.  This is my soul’s address.”  After you have taken a good look around, you may decide there is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered.  Bodies take real beatings.  That they heal from most things is an underrated miracle.  That they give birth is beyond reckoning.

When I do this I generally decide that it is time to do a better job of wearing my skin with gratitude instead of loathing. No matter what I think of my body, I can still offer it to God to go on being useful to the world in ways both sublime and ridiculous.  At the very least, I can practice a little reverence right there in front of the mirror, taking some small credit for standing there unguarded for once.  This is no small thing, in a culture so confused about the body that most Americans cannot separate the physical from the sexual.

(An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor (38))

underrated miracles

Every single cell of me is known to God, is loved by God.

That is no easy statement to make, for I struggle with a poor body image, and have done for years.  Yet I am learning (extremely slowly!) that hating my body is firstly, ungrateful.  For all my illness and disability, I can still feel, see, hear, touch and talk most of the time.  I may be permanently exhausted, but I can sometimes read, I can sometimes pray, I can sometimes draw.  For all the tremors and seizures, I can sometimes sit still.  All these are riches in themselves, and bring infinite abundance to me, wherever my body takes me.

Secondly, hating my body goes against pretty much everything I believe about God!  If I believe I am known and loved by God, I believe God is with me – wherever, whenever.  If I believe God is with me, I also believe that God is with everyone else, with everything else.  In fact If God is everywhere, with everyone and everything, then that includes God being in every subatomic particle of my matter.  This body of mine partially embodies God.

The mystery and wonder of such a statement is mind blowing.  I wonder whether I can really begin to learn to embody holiness in such a way that I treat my own body with more self-compassion, and every other body with reverence and care?  For as Thomas Merton reminds me:

If we believe in the Incarnation of the Son of God, there should be no one on earth in whom we are not prepared to see, in mystery, the presence of Christ.

(‘The General Dance’, New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton (296))

It looks like the sky is coming apart and together at the same time*

And the body is holding its losses like a fist. And a fleshy hope

is opening to an unprecedented vastness. And whatever we think

we are leaving behind will keep insisting. And the things we desire

will elude us. And our efforts will pose as failure. And we will not recognize

how far we’ve come. And we will solve one problem and create another.

And we will feel broken. And we will not be broken. And the silence

will be deafening. And we will love destructively. And no one

will appear to be listening. And there will be too many doors

to choose from. And we will keep saying, “I don’t know how to do this.”

And we will be more capable than we ever imagined.

Maya Stein

The poet writes: * I have borrowed this line from my friend Karen. It appeared as a caption to a photo she posted on Instagram.

It looks like the sky is coming apart and together at the same time*


a fist & a fleshy hope. Canon 7D. f2.8. 1/100. ISO 640.

whole: day 16

If God is right there in the midst of our struggle, then our aim is to stay there.  We are to remain in the cell, to stay on the road, not to forego the journey or forget the darkness.  It is all too easy for us to overlook the importance of struggle, preferring instead to secure peace and rest, or presuming to reach the stage of love prematurely.  It is always easier to allow things to pass by, to go on without examination and effort.  Yet, struggling means living.  It is a way of fully living life and not merely observing it.  It takes much time and a great effort to unite the disparate, disjointed, and divided parts of the self into an integrated whole.  During this time and in this effort, the virtue of struggle was one of the non-negotiables in the spiritual way of the desert.  The Desert Mothers and Fathers speak to us with authority, because they are in fact our fellow travellers.  They never claim to have arrived, they never indicate having completed the journey.

from In the Heart of the Desert, John Chryssavgis

struggling means living

‘Struggling means living’, is a phrase of peculiar comfort to me.  I experience much of my life as struggle, no matter how many times a day I try to pray for a more accepting spirit.  Yet perhaps that is the point. If I arrive too easily at acceptance, perhaps I do so by imposing a false way of thinking. Why do I presume that peace and rest is always the ‘good’ answer to any problem? 

The question John Chryssavgis asks is a profound one.  If I really do believe that God is in all ‘this’ with me, then why wouldn’t I want to stay where God is, rather than rushing away to peace?  What if God can use my struggles as the opportunity for me to know more of God?  

If the Living Light is in the midst of my mess, can I learn to be still enough to sit in the middle of it on the off chance I might hear of God, rather than squirming uncomfortably and complaining noisily how everything needs to change, immediately?

For what the Whole is trying to help me to do is to live; and to live fully, fulfilled, no matter what situations or circumstances I find myself in.  There is no life to be found away from the Whole, away from the Holy.

No matter how or where I am, God is with me, present, because that is the nature of God, and because I am known by God.  In The Luminous Web Barbara Brown Taylor writes of the need for a radical cultural, social, theological, mind shift if we are to live interconnectedly, to live in growing awareness of the presence of God, to live holistically:

The new science requires a radical change in how we conceive the world.  It is no longer possible to see it as a collection of autonomous parts, as Newton did, existing separately while interacting.  The deeper revelation is one of undivided wholeness, in which the observer is not separable from what is observed.  Or, in Heisenberg’s words, “the common division of the world into subject and object, inner world and outer world, body and soul is no longer adequate.”

Is this physics or theology, science or religion?  At the very least, it is poetry.  As far back as the thirteenth century, the Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi wrote, “You think because you understand one you must also understand two, because one and one make two.  But you must also understand and.

(The Luminous Web, Barbara Brown Taylor (51) original emphases)

God and me makes … ?

You break the scales.

You strain at the seams of our understanding.

That the heavens you have made can house you,

is too much to fathom.

When we know our place as less than nothing, 

dust on the scales, or vapours rising, 

gone by noon.

We wonder then, the reason for anything.

We look at the moon, 

the whirling solar systems,

the measurements we’ve learned,

and earth too small for a pin’s head.

We wonder then, 

how small a thing must be,

before your attention’s diverted.

And yet you came, 

in obscurity, in such vulnerability,

and utter nothingness,

that power became a thing small and hidden, 

to cross barriers.

And even in death, you would find a means still

to be with us,

that the heart might hold in the smallest seed, 

the one who established the heavens.

Yes, you have broken all the scales,

and torn to shreds the seams,

that there are no laws or means 

to explain you.

And yet, we all soften,

no words needed,

as one beholding a child at the breast,

the symbiotic mystery of mother and son.

The Christ Child who laid down his crown

to cross light years,

and yet travel less than a hands-breadth distance, 

from a Father whose not drawn his eyes from us.


Ana Lisa de Jong

Living Tree Poetry

December 2019

still. (on the off chance). Canon 7D. f8. 1/125. ISO 400.

whole: Sunday 3

I understand now that I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world.  I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, “For the same reason I laugh so often – because I’m paying attention.”

Glennon Doyle Melton



Rereading the Gospel narratives of the birth of Jesus in preparation for writing this series, I was struck anew by Elizabeth’s story (John the Baptist’s mother).  Elizabeth feels a profound social, physical and spiritual ’disgrace’ because she is not a parent; she feels excluded from her community and isolated from her God.  The subsequent miracle of John’s conception, despite Elizabeth’s age and circumstances, takes her on a new journey of intimacy into God.  

Yet rather than deliberately seeking acceptance from her neighbours, she goes into seclusion.  Elizabeth chooses to prioritise paying attention to her emotional and spiritual wellbeing, as part of her practical preparations before giving birth, over a false sense of communal and social belonging.  She chooses silence.  Elizabeth wants to know God in the same way she is known by God.

For her husband Zechariah, however, the opposite happens, he is struck dumb, unable to fulfil his social and spiritual function as a Temple Priest for the length of the pregnancy.  Even when he was in the Holy of Holies, one of the chosen few to enter there, Zechariah did not recognise the Holy when it was revealed to him.  When he emerged, mute, the congregation chose to interpret his dumbness as a result of seeing ‘a vision’, perhaps they thought he was silent because he was so ‘spiritual’.   Initially Zecharaiah was terrified and overwhelmed to receive a visit from an angel full of prophetic announcements.  However, he soon wanted to ‘know’ more: to know the details, to ask questions, to regain control of the story, to understand how the angel’s word might be trusted.  He stopped listening to the Holy.  He showed that whilst he may have had ‘ears to hear’, he had not heard.

how will I know this is so?

Zechariah’s cry, ‘How will I know that this is so?’ (Luke 1.18) is an utterly understandable human response.  And yet I have a feeling it is not the response of someone who has any sense of God actively being present in his own life at that moment.  For all his priestly duties and status, Zechariah is not prepared to accept God’s word.  He is not prepared to wait and see what happens, which are characteristics of the way of knowingdarkly.  

By wanting a different sort of knowing – more visible, more clear cut, more rational, proof of who God is and what God says God will do – Zechariah cuts himself off from the comfort of any sort of heart-knowing.  By wanting a different sort of knowing, Zecharaiah self-sabotages any prospect he has of expressing a sense of wonder about God, about what he knows, and does not know, about how the Holy is at work in his own world.

blessed is she

It is left to Elizabeth to express wonder and gratitude, saying ‘blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord’ (Luke 1.45).  It is of great grief to me that I was unable to have children, and I do not understand Elizabeth to be either fulfilled or blessed merely because she had a child.  Elizabeth is able to recognise ‘fulfilment’, wholeness, because she recognises that her seeing relied on her believing that she was a part of the whole of God’s story, even when she could not understand how the details might fit together.  Perhaps it was partly this state that St Augustine was thinking of when he wrote, ’Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe’?

God knows I have a need to see and to know, because God is in the very midst of my story, with me.  Seeingdarkly and knowingdarkly are the ways I can begin to communicate that I belong to God, because the very GodSelf is in me.  It is part of my story too, that I am to give birth to the GodSelf; and I can do that by telling others how I am known.  As Annie Dillard said:

You were made and set here

to give voice to this,

your own astonishment.

To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives – the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections – that requires hard spiritual work.  Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say thank you to all that has brought us to the present moment.  As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for.

‘January 12th’, Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen

giving voice to astonishment. (iPhone image).

whole: day 14

The quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.

Jerry Sittser

dazzle gradually

One of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems begins ‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant -/ Success in Circuit lies’.  As a way of approaching God, of knowingdarkly, it is the only way to talk about the Unknowable God.  In my contemplative photography project Acts of Daily Seeing ‘Tell it slant’ is also a way of seeingdarkly.  Dickinson goes on to say that ‘The Truth’s superb surprise’ is ‘too bright for our infirm Delight’ to take in all at once; she warns us that it has the power to blind.  There will be no sudden, once-and-for-all revelation until the Christ comes again.  Rather, knowingdarkly and seeingdarkly come together as the Spirit enlightens us as a ‘dazzle gradually’, where the light of revelation brings ‘explanation kind’. 

The Holy has compassion on me: whatever my impatience to know what’s going on, to hear and to see God’s clear direction for my life, God knows that any Wisdom will need to be imparted to me as a slow trickle which I can absorb more easily.  In other words, Wisdom, ‘Truth’, knowing and seeing God, comes through ‘the grace and kindness of the gradual … [since] we cannot cope yet with the fullness of the eternal now’, as Malcolm Guite puts it (‘Emily Dickinson’s desk’, Every Corner Sing (186)).  

Slant and Circuit, Compassion and Grace: this is a pretty good summation of why seeingdarkly and knowingdarkly is the balm for brokenness.  

In this way darkly is not a negative, partial, way of seeing due to a lack of faith. Nor am I being darkly out of some necessary protection for my weak, constrained mortality. Rather, knowingdarkly and seeingdarkly come together as a Grace-given way to encounter the eternal Whole.  

The Whole is always available to be seen, always available to be known, always seeking a loving relationship with me – in my here and in my now. It is up to me to decide if I will risk opening up to let knowingdarkly show me God as God wants me to see and hear God in this day.  

The miracle which awaits me relies on my acceptance.  It is up to me to accept that God is not merely a being outside of me whom I may, or may not, see or know very well: the Unknown God is also at home within me.  It puts a very different ‘slant’ on seeingdarkly and knowingdarkly if, as Robert Browning suggests:

….. to KNOW

Rather consists in opening out a way

Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,

Than in effecting entry for a light

Supposed to be without…

from Paracelsus I: Paracelsus aspires, Robert Browning

I begin to see an object when I cease to understand it.


imprisoned splendour. iPhone image.

whole: day 13

She who is centered in the Source*

can go where she wishes, without danger.

She perceives the universal harmony,

even amid great pain,

because she has found peace in her heart.

Tao Te Ching ((cited in The Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittister (210))

* This line reads ‘She who is centered in the Tao’ in Chittister’s citation, but I have translated ‘Tao’ here as ‘Source’.

I have recently learnt a little about Sashiko, the Japanese art of stitching patches, either for decorative or functional purposes, whether to mend a hole in a pair of jeans or to make ceremonial quilt.  Single stitches are built up into geometric patterns, and different patches can be layered up to make new fabrics out of old.  It is of necessity a slow and thoughtful, ‘mindful’, art.

It struck me that Sashiko might have something to teach me about knowingdarkly.  Sashiko is about piecing and mending, about new creation, about revelation and resurrection.  Sashiko artists have a type of innate visual intelligence, the ability to glimpse a possibility of a whole to be made out of what is currently only pieces.  

In Visual Intelligence: Sharpen your Perception, Change your Life, Amy E. Herman defines visual intelligence as ‘the ability to see what’s there that others don’t, to see what’s not there that should be, to see the positives and the negatives, the opportunity, the invention, the upside, the warning signs, the quickest way, the way out, the win.’

absorb nuance

Yet if I am to be able to see and know what is whole, what is holy, I am going to need to practice seeing slowly.  As Herman says,

Slowing down doesn’t mean being slow, it just means taking a few minutes to absorb what we are seeing. Details, patterns, relationships, take time to register. Nuances and new information can be missed if we rush past them. Slowing down just a little can change a lot. And in many cases, it’s the small, purpose-filled moments that make all the difference in building relationships, securing business, and winning trust.

Whilst I don’t think in ‘winning’ language, I have found that slower seeing helps knowingdarkly considerably.  Slower seeing allows minute details to emerge in my foreground, others to merge into the background.  I am able to see variation. I am able to glimpse the potential of my patch of the quilt being part of a larger creation, even when I cannot encompass the whole.  Quilting, slow stitching, piecing and patching, all these bring a spiritual function, where each individual stitch, no matter how simple, can become a prayer.  

As an act of both mending and making, prayer is both beautiful and useful.  

Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart.  Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.

Carl Jung

I will believe the truth about myself

no matter how beautiful it is:

I believe in my power

to transform indifference into love.

I believe I have and amazing gift

to keep hope alive in the face of despair.

I believe I have the remarkable skill 

of deleting bitterness from my life.

I believe in my budding potential

to live with a nonviolent heart.

I believe in my passion to speak the truth

even when it isn’t popular.

I believe I have the strength of will

to be peace in a world violence.

I believe in my miraculous capacity

for unconditional love.

I will believe the truth about myself

no matter how beautiful it is.

‘The Truth’

Macrina Wiederkehr

slow marks i. (lino print Kate Kennington Steer)

slow marks ii. (iPhone image)