I feel clear that I am being called to do this artwork for whatever purpose—that I want to give myself to finding, seeing, capturing, reproducing, and sharing the simple yet grand images of creation that I am blessed to enjoy. I am struck by the response of folks who looking at the pictures find something special that touches their sense of beauty. I am feeling inspired and absorbed in moving forward—both artistically and practically. (My journal, December 29, 2005)
This entry in my journal marked the first seeds of what has become my spirit-led “second act” as a fine art nature photographer. Prior to this, my photography was exclusively for personal enjoyment or occasional sharing with family and close friends.
As I look back, I realize that God chose some early messengers around this time—a family friend and an extended family member to whom I was not particularly close. Each of them said that they really loved the images that I was working on and that I should be showing them in galleries. I didn’t really believe them, but I found that idea intriguing.
A few months later, a casual conversation during a visit to my optometrist resulted in an invitation to exhibit some of my images at her office. And thus in the spring of 2006 (as I approached my sixtieth birthday), I had my first public showing. This was new territory for me and more than a little nerve-racking. There was, however, a small but growing sense that this was something that I was supposed to be doing.
Apart from my insecurity about not having formal training or experience in photography, I was also working more than full-time as a nonprofit agency administrator and at being a father and husband in a busy family. These roles were the focus of my identity and energy.
But the door kept inching open. Shortly after that first exhibit, a photographer friend told me that she was showing her work at a neighborhood bank, and that the bank was looking for the right person for its next exhibit. She introduced me to the manager, and my second exhibit was born—through which came the first sales of my work.
I grew up convinced I had no artistic talent, because I had no aptitude for drawing or painting. Even later when I came to appreciate the wonderful work of Edward Weston, Eliot Porter, and Ansel Adams, I never imagined that my photography would or could be considered art, or that I could be an artist.
Yet Way kept opening incrementally, and I gradually began to see myself as co-creating a new dimension in my life. I increased my commitment to being out in nature with the intention of discovering and creating images to share. In late 2006, I also began to have a goal of finding venues to share the images. The notion that people would want to buy some of the work—though still novel—was developing some credence.
It is about taking hold of a divine gift and a sense of purpose and offering the power of these images to a world overcome with stress and worry and fear. That for a moment, they may be immersed in a sense of beauty and joy and wonder—their burdens lifted and their hearts lightened. For this work to be truly meaningful, however… I must know it from a place of joy, wonder, and lightness of heart. It must be full of my passion and excitement for the amazing things the work brings me to see and feel, while not being full of my pride and ego. (Journal, June 26, 2006)
In 2007, I had my first exhibit in a real gallery space at the local library, having been through a jurying process for the first time. As I was hanging the show, a man happened by, introduced himself and asked where I had gone to art school. I was taken aback by the question and assured him I had no art training. The subsequent conversation was an important one for me, as it allowed the possibility of seeing myself as an artist. In hindsight, I recognize that this man was another messenger who helped me expand my vision.
My passion for this work grew, and I found myself wishing I could devote more time and energy to it, but my day job demanded a lot of time and was emotionally exhausting. As the joy from photography was growing and the stress of my job heightened, I began to feel inner promptings to re-create my life in some new form.
Once again, Spirit intervened and led my wife Jenny to a new job that entailed our moving to Atlanta. At first, I was overwhelmed with finding my way as an emerging photographer in this huge metropolitan area. My search for gainful employment in my field was complicated by my growing wish to work only part-time and have more room in my life for photography. I struggled to get my bearings in this new terrain.
God works in mysterious ways, and I’m fine with that. Perhaps with a deeper sense of Rilke’s message than I realize, I am at peace, allowing for the unknown to unfold and doing my best to be open to the journey. (Journal, July 21, 2008)
Again God conspired to shift my path, as every door I knocked on in my job search either didn’t open at all or closed during the search process. When I didn’t even get an interview for a job that I was supremely qualified for, I stopped and allowed myself to consider deeply the possibility that all of the earlier dead-ends had been Way closing and that now the door had been slammed in my face. With support from Jenny and others, I surrendered. A clearness committee helped me discern that this was truly how I was being led, and I found a deep sense of clarity that God had this new focus for my gifts. I willingly and gladly yielded to the clarity of this opening. I gave up my search for gainful employment and devoted myself to creating and sharing my artwork. It was an arduous process of discovery, and God may well have despaired of my obliviousness.
I have lying latent within me a working artist—waiting to be believed in enough and valued enough to be given center stage in my life…I would like the artist in me to bloom into new possibilities. (Journal, January 6, 2011)
Through a variety of spiritual work (journaling, further discernment), I have become increasingly clear that this is my work. I am on the path that God has in mind for me. I am embracing this journey with wonder and gratitude, in full recognition that it will unfold as a mostly wondrous mystery. I feel blessed to have discovered the artist within, despite my chronic skepticism.
A few months ago during my morning quiet time, I was revisiting Michael Wajda’s Pendle Hill pamphlet Expectant Listening. One passage in particular spoke to me and prompted an extended journal entry that succinctly articulates the opportunities and challenges I experience in becoming and being Spirit-led in my artwork.
I’ve just been rereading the end of Expectant Listening, which I find really helpful in creating the space within myself for a deeper connection with God in my daily life. Wajda writes of a message he received: “‘You can’t really let a day—or an hour—go by when you are not asking to sink deep into the Living Stream.’ But how, you ask? It has everything to do with listening, and intention and expectation. ‘You must turn your heart, mind and soul toward me at least once an hour. There are limitless ways to do it. When you do, you will feel me singing through you.’”
I wanted to learn to practice a daily pattern of listening for guidance so that eventually it would become second nature and let me focus my attention to God’s presence. It felt daunting but it would be an amazing way to re-invent my life and make it alive and full of inspired purpose. In my journal, I wrote down several interconnected parts to this work:
- explore the beauty, wonder, mystery, and intricacy of God’s natural creation;
- be open to seeing an array of new images that reflect those qualities and express my experience of the divine presence in nature;
- select those images that will inspire others to feel God’s presence in the natural world;
- find new settings and audiences with whom to share these images;
- help others to develop their own artistic pursuits: both discovering their vision and developing their technical skill.
I knew that all of this must be grounded in, fed by, and of service to God:
I have seen glimpses of all these elements while being present to God and to this work, but my faithfulness has been limited; my attention weak and inconsistent. If I could begin to turn my full attention to the Presence for even a few moments each hour, I could live an amazingly more satisfying life. I can’t rely on my own inner resources to accomplish this, so I must find new ways to invite God into my core being and see other people as possible channels for God’s loving presence. (Journal, September 9, 2012)
This is now the heart of my spiritual quest, being undertaken with enthusiastic yet halting step.
After years of focusing almost exclusively on nature photography, I have of late embarked on an added artistic venture. While its roots hark back more than 25 years to Jenny’s work as a midwife on Molokai, Hawaii, the more immediate preparation for this project started in revisiting my journals.
In the journals, I discovered several references to the phrase “My Hands, Thy Work,” which brought back my earlier idea of making a collection of images of people’s hands as they did their spirit-inspired work. I envision this as a long-term project, involving dozens of people, which may evolve into an exhibit and perhaps a book. Feeling energized by this new leading, I have begun with images of the hands of three friends: one who works as an artist; another as a midwife; and the third, as a reproductive biologist. It seems that Way has opened once again.
As I consider Parker Palmer’s query “Is the life I am living the same as the life that wants to live in me?,” I feel clearer now than perhaps at any time in my life that the answer is yes. There is in that realization a source of deep joy and gratitude.