Monday, June 21

Awake to Particularity and Universality

This month is interNational Photography month! Wednesdays, this month, I will be focusing on where the practice of photography intersects with our own experience and expression of spirituality.

Thomas Merton has a photograph he titled “Sky Hook.” He wrote about it, “It is the only known picture of God.” It is definitely not what you would expect! No heavenly skies, no angels, no beard. What was Merton thinking…a simply construction hook hanging from the sky towards the earth. (You can see the photo many places on the internet, one place is linked here, but I couldn’t find a place to republish with clear permissions.)

Often we see photos that prompt us to stop, look, and to appreciate what we have seen but also to wonder about something more. That something more can be something bigger or something smaller. My new friend and photographer, Paul Jeffrey, takes photos for the United Methodist Church for the General Board of Global Ministries—yes! He is a photographer-missionary. He typically focuses on the beauty and stories found in people. There is a photo of a young child in a box (all kids like to sit in boxes, no matter where they are in the world!)  He recently shared this photo with us in a small group and talked about the story. He said there was a huge reaction to the photo. Such a beautiful, young child abandoned in a box! What the photo does not show is that the family was just out of the frame.

How we frame our photographs tells a story.

What if Merton’s photo had the construction equipment in it? What if Jeffrey’s photo had the family in it? Would it tell a different story? Would that story be better? Worse? More effective? Less effective? What does this say about how we frame the stories of our own lives?

Framing is a spiritual practice. Or at least knowing what we are cutting from the frame. If we willingly cut off parts of the frame to focus our attention onto another part, that is fine. For the moment. But if we willingly cut of parts of the frame and never return to the whole, something is lost. I am thinking, in particular, of people who do things like cutting science out of their lives or people who cannot see the whole spectrum of society. When we get caught up in our own particularity, we forget the universal journey. And we forget that the child in a box has a loving, concerned family.

Our particularity is important, but so is the universal truth of compassion, love, and service to others. Our particularity brings us closer to God while seeing the wider frame, the universality, brings us closer to the world. Ultimately, that is one of the experiences of Jesus in Christianity. In a Christian particularity, my path, Jesus brings me closer to God. But seeing the truth of the universality of compassionate love leads me to a life of service for the world, bringing me closer to all who are. (i.e. to other people, plants, animals, sometimes, when I remember, even the cosmos!).

What is your particularity? How do you crop your picture to bring beauty to your own life? Are you able to back away from that frame to see universal compassion for others in their own particularity?

Below is a collage of one of my photos that I framed in two different ways. They tell different stories.


You don’t even have to be a photographer to understand the importance of framing. Hold your hands up around your face, blocking parts of your viewing field, and you will be able to frame your vision. Sitting right where you are!

In photography, we can say, “Where does framing help tell the story? Where does it hurt the story?”

In our lives we can say,

Where has framing helped you tell your own story? Where has it hurt you?

I'd love it if you would share your blog and perhaps a photo comparing two different ways of framing. That would be wonderful! 


    Shalom and Amen!

Post by Terri Stewart, 2014
CC License (CC BY-NC)

Originally published at

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