by Nancy Corson Carter
This summer I received a great gift from a neighbor who is a Master Gardener. On our regular walks, my husband and I and others in the neighborhood passed near the edge of her garden where she set out a wooden tub filled with water. From it rose some six or eight great round leaves shaped a bit like umbrellas turned inside out by the wind. I thought I recognized lotus leaves and began a careful watch. One day a long stem had pushed up, supporting a tightly wrapped bud, its first. About four days later, it bloomed—I should say it “luminesced,” because I was stunned by its ethereal light. I’d been carrying my camera, a practice on my walks, and I immediately took a photo. Otherwise, how to explain this beyond-gorgeous moment of Creation bursting forth?
For me this was a moment of meeting the Divine in a “thin place,” a moment of knowing that God’s goodness was manifest, emanating sacred presence in my very neighborhood during a trying time.
It’s no wonder that the lotus is one of the most ancient and deepest symbols we have, equaled only by the rose in its symbolism in art and literature of purity, compassion, transformation, and spiritual enlightenment. The Buddha and others from many traditions have beheld its wordless sermons as it grows from muddy water to rise high above it, manifesting remarkable pure beauty.
My avocation of photography often helps me to acknowledge such “thin places,” a practice that Thomas Merton’s photographs affirmed for me when I first discovered them as reflections of his contemplative life.
Merton suggests that the transformation of object to image involves meanings that can transcend the meaning of the object itself, but this in no way contradicts [the photographer’s] “unspeakable reverence for the holiness of created things.” What we see and experience in the moments of being in “thin spaces” (with or without a camera in hand) can reflect what he called a “reality which is perceived spiritually in the artist’s [or beholder’s] own soul.”