Monday, July 14, 2008

Beauty in our brokenness

There are times when it's easy to get caught up in the brokenness of our lives; to become obsessed with and distracted by all the things that need fixing, all the might-have-beens, all the wanna-be's.

I used to wonder, back in the day when almost everything I photographed was a boat, why I was always so much more drawn to photograph the old ones: broken, or sinking; scarred or flaked with layers of paint.

I am still drawn to photograph old and broken things, and now I realize that the message has been consistent throughout: there is beauty in our brokenness.

“Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears," says Frederick Buechner in his book, Whistling in the Dark,

"it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling the secret
of who you are, but more often than not of the mystery of where you have come from and are summoning you to where you should go next.”

I went last night with my daughter and husband to see "WALL-E" and found myself close to tears for several hours afterward, filled with a sense of loss for our fragile earth and what it might become if we cannot learn to curb our relentless consumerism and be better stewards of our environment.

Later that evening I got a call from my other daughter, who was in tears because of some struggles she is encountering in her summer job. I did my best to counsel her, but it was difficult, as her voice kept breaking and the cellphone reception kept breaking up as well.

Over the years it has become apparent that, like many mothers, I have an almost psychic connection with both my girls. So after I hung up I found myself wondering if my sadness about the environment was just mirroring her sadness about her job, or vice versa. But in truth, it doesn't matter; it probably doesn't even matter too much that I couldn't quite pick up every word she was saying. What was important was that I was there, that she felt she could call, and that she knew I would listen and care.

And my hope, as a parent, is that, whatever is driving her anguish, she might somehow grow from the experience; that whatever piece of her life or her world view or her psyche is broken right now may open a space for another bit of divine light to shine through; that from her brokenness joy and growth and new vision might emerge.

Perhaps that is my hope -- and my function -- as a photographer as well; that the images may serve, as Eckhart Tolle says all great art must serve, as a portal to the sacred. In that sense, I hope, the photography is an act of love. As Henri Nouwen says,

"Real caring
is the willingness
to help each other
in making our brokenness
into the gateway to joy."

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