An Altar in the World

Barbara Brown Taylor’s meditation on reverence in her book A Geography of Faith: An Altar in the World (2009) put words to what causes me to pick up the camera to take a picture. With the help of classical philosopher Paul Woodruff she defines reverence as “the recognition of something greater than the self” (p21) Even the recognition that I did not make the tree that I’m standing next to will do. The purpose of reverence is “to remind us that we are not gods

The Color Purple photograph and arrangement by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson, street art by Montague
The Color Purple photograph and arrangement by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson, street art by Montague (iPhone photo, edited in Snapseed, Diptic, Impressions)

Taylor points out that Alice Walker wrote something similar: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” ~Shrug Avery, character in Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple.

Practices of reverence give you “something so important to do that you are entirely captured by the present moment for once. For once, you are not looking through things, or around them, toward the next thing, which will become see-through in its turn. For once you are giving yourself entirely to what is right in front of you, and what is right in front of you is returning the favor so that reverence is all but unavoidable.” (p.29)

This practice requires stopping, turning aside from the schedule, and investing time. In the Old Testament Bible, Moses noticed something unusual and turned aside to look at the burning bush. As a result, he entered a place made holy by God’s presence and he heard from God which was rare.

Yellow Tulip at the End
Yellow Tulip at the End by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson taking with iPhone and edited in Snapseed, Painteresque, Blender and Impressions.

This practice of taking time to notice closely is unusual. “In a way, nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small, we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time” ~ Georgia O’Keefe

But taking this time to turn aside and really see the burning bush, trace the shadows of the flower, to stop and say, “Wow!”, this is reverence.  Part of why I photograph is to pay reverent attention to the magnificent everyday awesome splendor around us. I hope to capture that experience at the altar and share it with you.

What makes you photograph?

Images and writing by Jennifer Hartnett-Henderson ©2012


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