Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Driving a few hundred miles to be still...

Speaking of Cass in my earlier post, here are a few additional images made from this area of West Virginia.

Clayton Spangler, one of my best friends and photography mentor, taught the workshop. One of the unique aspects to Clayton’s seminars is the fact that they aren’t hurried and for this, I am grateful. It may seem a bit dull to tell you how much I savored the breeze and the sounds of the creek rushing by, but keep in mind that my day-to-day life could easily follow the tempo of William Tell Overture.

When Clayton encouraged the group to take time by Leatherbark Creek to look at the rocks and swirling water, some were stationary, quiet observers while others moved from rock to rock looking for a bit of foam...a frog, a dragonfly perhaps. It’s no secret that I was in the latter group. It’s so hard to be still. I’m always thinking I should be doing something else, that there is something more interesting around the bend. But one of the great things I learned about landscape photography over this weekend, is that all you need is patience ...the willingness to be still. Nature is always changing and providing exquisite displays of light and motion... we just have to be agreeable to waiting for the next show.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thin Places

There is an outdoor place I go to pray where the atmosphere is different; it’s marked by a peace that is palpable. I don’t have the opportunity to visit daily, but I try to go there at least once a month because it provides such a nearness of God’s presence. It’s a thin place, in the sense of the Celtic peoples who describe such places in ancient Ireland and Scotland. A place where the veil between the heavenly and earthly realms is very thin and transparent. In looking for others with similar experiences, I found a thought-provoking article by Mindie Burgoyne you might also enjoy.

A few of my friends know what I’m speaking of when I mention thin places, each has their own description for such areas...”the energy is different”, or “the atmosphere is charged” and I have found it fascinating to hear about their own locales and experiences. Some of the monks at Holy Cross Monastery have told me about visiting the graves of saints, sometimes in ancient catacombs, where it was difficult to speak because there was such an overpowering presence of God. In each case, we all have a difficult time describing such places because they seem to be perceived outside of our five senses. It's almost easier to gain a sense of understanding by beholding the face of the witness rather than absorbing their words.

I asked the abbot of the monastery what he thought about “thin places” and he was quick to remind me that while there are holy places on the earth where we come into contact with God and His saints there are also “thin places” where we come into contact with spirits that are not from God, but from the evil one. He cautioned that I should be wise about discerning these places.

I thought of the abbot recently, as I visited Cass, WV for a photography workshop. While the workshop exceeded my expectations in affording dramatic images of the rare Shay engines and surrounding rugged West Virginia landscape, I learned that the community of Cass (population 16) transforms into something altogether different when the tourists have gone home for the night and the train depot is silent. The atmosphere was so dense and disturbing that my friend & I cancelled our reservation to stay in the immediate area and lodged 11 miles away instead. Pictured below is the old Cass Company Store. More on Cass later...

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