One day this week I bought a bunch of pretty pink and white tulips at Trader Joe’s. I put the tulips in a glass vase on the dining room table and enjoyed their cheerful reminder of spring in the middle of winter. With the bright sunshine of the afternoon the tight buds opened quickly in my warm house.
Ordinary Moments, Numinous Grace
The next morning shortly after getting up and opening the blinds to let in the daylight, I walked into the dining room. I was struck speechless with wonder by the simple beauty of the scene in front of me. Gasping with delight I stood there dumbstruck for a moment. Early morning sunlight streamed golden through the sliding glass doors lighting up the vase of tulips and table with a magnificent glow.
I couldn’t help myself. Still in my nightgown and bathrobe, I grabbed my camera with the intention of expressing how it felt to me in that moment. Golden light streamed in making the old-fashioned plastic tablecloth on the dining room table shine with light and shadows. The top of the beautiful maple chair beside the table glowed in the morning light. Pristine white snow outside the window on the deck dappled and glistened with blue shadows and bright light. Ordinary salt and pepper shakers and a butter dish sat quietly on the table beside the gloriously lit vase of tulips.
This is my life, I thought…
Filled with ordinary moments shot through with numinous grace.
Light filled. Joy filled. Beauty filled. Wonder filled. Prayer full in the early morning in the middle of winter in Minnesota. Numinous grace.
And then the amazing moment was over. The glow disappeared.
In an instant the light changed and the golden stream of light turned into ordinary daylight on an ordinary morning.
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
This is the nature of numinous moments. They appear and then they disappear in the blink of an eye.
Practicing my craft as a photographer has taught me to look for and appreciate these moments when it feels like eternity’s curtain cracks open. They rarely last long and never repeat in exactly the same way.
“Don’t shoot what it looks like, shoot what it feels like.”
— David Alan Harvey
Perhaps this is why so many photographers say things like, “Great capture.” They like to think that they can capture these special moments. I don’t like this phrase and I don’t like to think about my photographs as captures.
The numinous moment cannot be captured. But we can attempt to reveal what it feels like to experience such a moment. These photographs made quickly in my dining room without forethought or planning are not great art. But I hope that I am able to convey a little bit about what it felt like basking in the numinous grace of that moment.
Looking at the photographs now, I think I did not succeed very well in revealing the wonder I felt in that moment. Perhaps one needs to read “between the pixels” to imagine the feeling of it.
This is the great thing about the creative journey. There is always more nuance to learn and express.
The setting of these photographs is not staged nor is it particularly artful or beautiful in a traditional sense. The old-fashioned plastic tablecloth on our maple dining room table is there because it protects the wood and reminds me of a similar oilcloth tablecloth my grandmother used to use on her kitchen table. The glass salt and pepper shakers and butter dish are there because it’s the table where we eat our meals every day. The tulips are where I placed them on the table so that we could enjoy seeing them as we ate our meals. Outside the window along the top of the deck rail colorful prayer flags that I hung up last fall flap in the wind.
These photographs that I created are reflections of me. They are my creative voice speaking about what matters to me—ordinary life where numinous grace and beauty appear and fill me with joy and wonder.
My creative journey as a photographer is a journey of self-discovery and exploration. To bring out what is truly one’s own voice is profoundly healing and I believe that it is just what the world needs. Each of us has a unique voice that when freely expressed weaves with other voices to create tapestries of truth and beauty.
May you discover and express your own unique voice.
May you walk in beauty.