I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kate Kennington Steer's wisdom on living as a monk in the world through illness:
powerlessness and infinite possibility
What if we knew that within our very cells is a God-given energy,
a source of light that possesses the secret of God's beautiful and complex design?
In 2008, when I was experiencing acute depression, I was sitting in a group therapy session attempting to describe how I felt. Getting to these sessions early in the morning was a huge trial for me and my carer, and that morning I was feeling particularly physically weak and feeble. 'I feel so powerless', I was beginning to say, when the therapist interrupted my meandering sentence. 'You feel powerless because you are powerless.' I distinctly remember feeling gobsmacked at this, shocked that a therapist would intervene in that way, and doubly shocked that he wouldn't say something along the lines of 'you have the power to come through this', in other words something empowering. To be told bluntly and publicly how powerless I was meant that it became a fact, not just a feeling rattling in ever decreasing circles around my head.
It was now 'out there'. And I had to confront it.
Six years on I am still confronting it, pretty much on a daily basis. But what has shifted dramatically is that the 'confrontation' now takes the form of practising radical acceptance.
'I am where I am' is such a simple sentence. But behind it lies all the stories I tell myself about how I got here, and all the daydreams I have about how I might move on from here. Practicing radical acceptance means letting go of those scripts. That scares the living day lights out of me, because I've become very good at creating them. (I suppose that is just one of the meanings of 'the fear of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom'?) Accepting my present moment means sometimes I can get myself out of the way long enough to hear the Presence whisper their power to me. Accepting my present moment means I hear, feel and begin to see my own breath, and how it connects me with the air, the essence of Life itself, all around me; and so with all those who breathe from the same Source. Accepting my present moment means 'I say You are my God: my times are in Your hands'. And as I wait in the present I sometimes can gain a glimpse of eternity, and sense that my present is timeless and full of infinite possibility.
It is the wonder of this that connects me with the camera in my hand, knowing despite whatever technical learning I have, I am powerless to take a 'good' picture. What contemplative photography reminds me of is what I already have deep knowledge of in my heart, though I could never do it justice in this form of language: that every image which sings to my heart does so because it is a gift I received, not an object I took. Every time I attempt to control a time of photography, getting irritated with running out of energy, becoming cross that I've 'failed to capture' what it was I thought I saw, or enraged by the fact my memory won't hold onto settings and which button does what; whenever, wherever this happens, no matter how fleetingly beautiful the light that will pass any moment and I will have 'missed' it, it is time to Stop.
Listen to my yearning.
And lift up, yet again once more, the me of the present moment.
And let the light just go if it will.
This year, because of physical weakness and because I have been unable to live in my own home because of damp, the themes of powerlessness, control, acceptance and surrender have been a constant given in all my reflection and contemplation. The gift of the year has been that although most of the time I have been too physically weak to lift my DSLR, my IPhone has revealed itself to be a receiver of beauty in its own right. All the images that accompany this post are IPhone images. So from my sick room, this abundant array of glimpses into eternity have been given. I just find that amazing and humbling. How much I have yet to learn of the ways of God…
I am not saintly enough where I can say along with Teresa of Avila 'I welcome these wounds' in order to learn these lessons, but I'm certainly on a journey of Revelation with the God of and in all beings.
I am powerless. But I am part of the One whose power is infinite. Therefore all is possible: 'nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith'.
All this can be accepted in this present moment.
I am free to Live, free to See, if only I will accept the invitation.
Having opened our eyes to the deifying light, let us hear with awestruck ears
what the divine voice exclaims…
(Verse 9 of the Prologue to Saint Benedict's Rule)
Kate Kennington Steer is a writer and photographer with a deep abiding passion for contemplative photography and spirituality. She writes about these things on her shot at ten paces blog.