Contemplative Photography: Nature in the City

Boy was it hot, near 40 Celsius in the sun. The ‘heat waves’ were visible, rippling above the sidewalk. Not a great day for an outdoor photography workshop. I didn’t think that anyone would come, and most didn’t, but my friend David Wray showed up, camera in hand, so after a cold drink at Cafe Ninety7 we headed off to capture some images of ‘nature in the city.’

It is amazing how living things find ways to thrive in the cracks and edges of our asphalt, concrete and metal: grass growing through the cracks in a sidewalk, a bird’s nest on a telephone pole, a family of ducks on the canal. Most of the time, we take this for granted, not thinking about what a miracle life is. lf we slow down and pay attention we will be surprised by it all, and photography forces us to do just that, slow down and and pay attention.

David and I found some great examples of green and growing things in unexpected places. I particularly love this one of a single blade of grass by David.


But, the real revelation came when I looked my pictures and realized that I had the theme backward: It is not so much that nature thrives in the city (against all expectation and in inhospitable environments), but rather that the city exists in nature. Ottawa is surrounded by the natural world and always will be, no matter how large it gets. East, west, north, south, up, and down, nature surrounds us, and always will!


Beauty over our heads

So, despite the heat, I learned (or remembered) something cool. And that’s what the spiritual discipline of contemplation offers.

Exploring God Through Poetry – Again!

Rideau Park United Church – Tuesday, July 10th, 7 p.m. – 9 .m.

A few weeks ago 17 of us: men and women, young and old, gathered at Glebe-St. James United Church to have a conversation about poetry and God.  It was a wonderful evening, with lots of insightful and thought-provoking comments.  We’re thrilled that Daniel has agreed to lead another evening of reading and conversation, this time at Rideau Park United Church (1103 Alta Vista Drive, at the corner of Alta Vista and Cunningham).  Everyone welcome, no previous experience with poetry needed!

Daniel wrote an introduction for the first workshop, here is it …

What, exactly, does a poet do? Does she do anything, or is it rather that something happens to her? In what sense is she in control?

One of the very few arguments that I had with my roommate in first year university revolved around this question. He was a poet. I was not. He insisted that the best poetry could not be controlled or thought out – it was something that happened to you. That made me uncomfortable. I like to analyze things. I liked the definition of poetry as “the right word in the right place”. The perfect poem is a triumph of order – an extraordinary piece of thinking on the part of a master word-smith.

The wonderful thing about poetry is that both of us are right. For every great poem that has been edited 800 times, there is an equally great poem that was written in a drug-induced blur of feeling. For every sonnet that conforms perfectly to a complex and rational pattern, there is a post-modern poem that conforms to no pattern at all. Sometimes, the poet really is a word-smith, tinkering and toiling until the poem is exactly right. Other times, she is a medium, barely even touching the ideas as they flow off of her pen.

Neither of these experiences is limited to poetry. For me, the most obvious metaphor is sports. Sometimes I’m barely even involved. Instead, I’m “in the zone,” reacting to the game before I have time to even think about it. Other times, I’m practicing – trying to train my un-thinking body how to shoot a basket-ball in the smartest way possible. Sometimes I control my body. Sometimes my body controls me.

There is a lot to be said about this dichotomy – about the way that words sometimes enclose meaning, and you like a writer because it makes you feel like you understand exactly what he is saying. And sometimes meaning explodes out of words, and you like it because it makes you feel like you’ll never know what he means. About how sometimes music makes you think about your life, and sometimes it makes you forget about it. Living life is an exercise in being pulled into and out of things. There is the feeling of control, of knowing and succeeding and resting; and there is the feeling of a lack of control, of failing and trying and learning.

God, it seems to me, is in both of these feelings. God made a world that we could understand, a world that we could succeed in. But he also made a world in which we fail, in which we never get to stop trying.