Visit the Abbey of the Arts online retreat platform to access your programs:

Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Contemplative Practice

with Christine and John Valters Paintner, Amanda Dillon, Aisling Richmond, and Claudia Love Mair

Forum Facilitators: Melissa Layer and Amber Andreasen

October 9 – December 2, 2023

Weekly live sessions on Mondays (October 9, 16, 23, 30**, Novembe 6, 13, 20, 27)

3-4pm Ireland/UK

10-11am Eastern

7-8am Pacific

**DST week of Oct 30- this week the session time in Ireland/UK will be 2-3 pm but the same in Pacific and Eastern time zones

Find your time zone here >>>

Program Description

“Film is a record of the ever-changing face of God. This moment is holy, but we walk around like it’s not holy. We walk around like there are some holy moments and there are all the other moments that are not holy. [But they are] and film can let us see that. Film can frame it so we can see that, Ah! This moment. Holy” -from the film Waking Life

Photography can be a deeply contemplative practice. If we approach it with reverence and intention, it can help us to see the holy moments all around us. In this 8-week online retreat you will be invited to take your camera out into the world each week for photographic journeys based on an adaptation of the ancient monastic practice of lectio divina and specific weekly guided themes. In the process of slowing down and lingering over moments of beauty, you will cultivate sacred seeing, your ability to see the world beneath the surface appearance of things.

Photography is essentially about the play of light and dark, illumination and shadow, much as the spiritual journey is a practice of paying attention to these elements of our lives and how the holy is revealed in each. Photography is also about the choices we make in the visual framing of elements, what to include and what to exclude, whether to zoom or pull back. This is a practice of visual discernment: a way of choosing what is important and what needs to be let go of. We begin to see things differently, and in our images also discover aspects of ourselves and God.  In our discussions we will explore how to distill wisdom from the images we receive.

Are you seeking a way to bring more presence and prayerfulness to your creative expression? Are you longing for ways to practice the contemplative life which are more visual and kinesthetic? Would you appreciate some structure and encouragement in the creative path?

This retreat program is not about developing your technical proficiency as a photographer – it is about cultivating your ability to see with the “eyes of the heart” (Ephesians 1:18).  In biblical and mystical traditions, the heart is the seat of our whole being.  To see with the heart, means we bring the whole of ourselves to whatever reality we find ourselves in. The heart is the organ of receptivity, which is a different way of approaching photography than our usual grasping, “shooting,” and “capturing” mentality. We will explore photography in service of expanding our contemplative practice and compassionate presence to the world and to ourselves.

The themes of this class are designed to build upon one another, opening you to new ways of seeing the world.  Your camera becomes a tool for contemplative practice.  The camera on your phone is absolutely fine. Drawing on the ancient practice of lectio divina in an adapted form of visio divina, you will learn ways to become present to sacred in the world.

This online companion retreat offers additional resources to help enrich your process. Each week begins with a live Zoom gathering with Christine Valters Paintner on Mondays (always recorded if you can’t join live). During this session Christine will offer some teaching on the theme for the week and guide you in meditation to deepen into an experiential awareness of the process. She will also introduce the photo prompt for the week which you are invited to share on our vibrant facilitated community forum. There will also be time for sharing with the large group and any questions you might have as we move through this journey together.

John Valters Paintner will be offering a scripture reflection each week to ground the theme in sacred texts. Amanda Dillon will be offering a video reflection on various artworks and inviting us to see them with new eyes. Aisling Richmond will be offering a video invitation each week to invite a somatic engagement with the images you are receiving through your time of sacred seeing. Claudia Love Mair will invite you into additional ways to explore the weekly themes through other forms of visual art expression. Our forum will be facilitated by Melissa Layer and Amber Andreasen. Participation and sharing here is always optional.

This retreat accompanies Christine’s book – Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice – available for order online.  You will want to order a copy of the book yourself as part of the program.

Weekly Rhythm of Content

Monday: Live Zoom session with Christine Valters Paintner (with invitation to post photos)

Tuesday: Scripture reflection from John Valters Paintner

Wednesday: Art reflection videos with Amanda Dillon

Thursday: Somatic exploration with Aisling Richmond

Friday: Visual art exploration with Claudia Love Mair

Saturday: Reflection questions

Sunday: Sabbath time for reflection and integration

We will turn on closed captioning during the live Zoom session (which you are able to turn off in your settings if you find distracting) as well as provide a video recording with closed captioning available and a text transcript of the session.

The program will be recorded for those who pre-register but are unable to attend at the scheduled time or who want to view again. You will be sent a notification when this is ready to view.

You have lifetime access to all online programs.

Weekly Themes

Week 1

Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart

Week 1

An introduction to what it means to see with the eyes of the heart and receive the gifts that come, rather than grasp for photos, trying to capture or seize the moment. This way of sacred seeing is the heart of our contemplative practice.

Week 2

Practices and Tools to Cultivate Vision

Week 2

An overview of the practices and tools we will be engaging in to help us to see the world beneath the surface of things.

Week 3

Dance of Light and Shadow

Week 3

Photography is a way of painting images with both light and shadow. We will explore the differing qualities of light with our cameras, as well as our own shadow places within.

Week 4

Framing: What is Hidden and What is Revealed?

Week 4

Photography requires us to make choices about how to frame an image. We make decisions about what to include and what to exclude. We will bring our awareness around ways of framing and also tend to our inner life and how we discern what to hold onto and what to let go it.

Week 5

Symbolic Significance of Color

Week 5

Contemplative photography brings us a deepened awareness of the vibrancy of the world. One way this happens is through color and invites us to pay attention to how color impacts our inner life as well.

Week 6

Reflections: What is Mirrored Back?

Week 6

When we are moving through the world, we will find some images are reflected in the glass of windows, the shiny steel of a building, or the water of puddles, lakes, rivers, or seas. Through photography we will explore how mirrors reflect something deeper back to us.

Week 7

Self-Portraits: Discovering the Holy Within Us

Week 7

We can bring our contemplative gaze of sacred seeing to ourselves, seeing ourselves as created in the divine image. With camera in hand, you will be invited to explore ways of receiving images which reflect something about who you are most deeply in the heart.

Week 8

Seeing the Holy Everywhere

Week 8

Ultimately this practice of contemplative photography is about seeing the divine in all things and each moment. Drawing on all we have experienced up until now, we will attune ourselves more deeply to the way the sacred shimmers in the world around us.

Your Guides for the Journey

Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

Christine is the founder and director of, a virtual monastery and global community integrating contemplative practice, creative expression, and ways to nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness. She is a spiritual director, teacher, pilgrimage guide, expressive arts educator, poet, and author of 17 books on spirituality and the arts. Christine lives out her commitment as a Benedictine oblate and monk in the world on the west coast of Ireland with her husband John and dog Sourney. Visit the “About Christine” page for more information.

John Valters Paintner, MTS

John studied education and earned a teaching certificate in his home state of California.  John later went on to earn a Masters in Theological Studies at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.  After working in parish ministry for several years, John returned to the classroom, teaching high school religion for twelve years. He now works as Prior of the Abbey of the Arts alongside his wife of twenty years, Abbess Christine. Visit the “About John” page for more information.

Amanda Dillon, PhD

Amanda’s research specialisation is Biblical Reception History with a particular focus on the New Testament. Her research interests include: Biblical Reception, Visual Exegesis, Multimodal Analysis, Hermeneutics, Theology and the Visual Arts. Female characters in the New Testament and their afterlives are another significant dimension of her current research and teaching. Amanda has published on the reception of the Bible in: 21st century lectionaries; contemporary Graphic Design; the art of Marc Chagall; Manga Bibles; Urban and Street Art.


Ailsing Richmond

Aisling Richmond is a Somatic Therapist and transformative guide who is deeply inspired by nature and the wisdom of the soul. Aisling is currently undertaking a PhD in Psychology and Transformative Leadership to work with cultural change. She shares a home with her partner in the rugged wildness of Donegal, North West Ireland. Aisling works as a therapist, supporting people to resolve trauma and life challenges through body-psyche-soul wisdom. She also mentors people in finding their deep soul purpose, and teaches a rich range of transformative programs online.  Aisling is passionate about soul centred living, where nature and the feminine are deeply valued. Having worked collaboratively with many organisations including Amnesty International, Aisling has also been a guest lecturer with both Galway and Limerick Universities. 

Visit Aisling’s website here>>

Claudia Love Mair (1)

Claudia Love Mair

Claudia Love Mair, MFA is a writer, artist, and Ringmistress of the Beautiful Soul Circus, a private Facebook group for creatives, queers, and tender souls. She’s an Inspirationalista who, when she’s not creating something herself, helps other creatives tap into their deepest intuition and longings through writing and painting. Claudia is the author of the God Alone is Enough, the critically acclaimed novel, Zora and Nicky, and her memoir, Don’t You Fall Now. She is a Certified Intuitive Painting and Expressive Arts Facilitator and the Coordinator for the Kentucky Black Writers Collaborative. Claudia lives in Lexington, with two of her adult children, and three cats, including one who thinks he’s a dog.

Forum Facilitators

Melissa Layer

Melissa Layer, MA, LMHC honors the unfolding journeys of our wild and precious lives as compelling invitations for creative, integrative meaning-making in BodyMindSpirit.  Her sacred calling and formal training as a psychospiritual therapist, hospice grief counselor, and spiritual director have taught her about the potency of thin places in thresholds and dark nights of the soul.  Cultivating curiosity, Melissa offers expressive exploration of the Great Mystery through journaling, collaging, poem-making, dreamwork, visio and lectio divina, creation of rituals and altars, and engaged encounters with nature.  Like the honeybee for which she is named, she claims her role as “a bee of the invisible…passionately plundering the honey of the visible in order to gather it in the great golden hive of the invisible” (Rilke).  Melissa offers a compassionate, attuned presence and deep listening with the ear of her heart from the Pacific Northwest in Washington, where the Salish sea meets the evergreen forest.

Visit Melissa’s website here>>

Melissa Layer Head Shot

Amber Andreasen

Amber Andreasen is a contemplative, ever desiring to deepen into and dance the rhythms of monk and artist. She has trained as a spiritual director, receiving her M.A. in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care from The Institute of Spiritual Formation at Talbot School of Theology. Wherever she finds herself, she desires to nurture a compassionate space where others can be listened and loved into fuller being by the Beloved. She is continually awed by the body as sacred storyholder and storyteller, and her heart beats loudly for the weaving together of creativity and spirituality in the discovering of what it means to live an embodied, fully human life in all its mystery and wonder.


Amber Andreasen


Your registration constitutes an agreement with our online program Terms and Conditions below.

We offer a sliding scale of 3 fees for payment. The reduced fee is for those who need financial assistance and the sponsorship fee helps support our ability to offer scholarships. In an effort to keep this program accessible, please carefully consider both your own resources as well as honoring the expense, time, and energy required to run these programs and keep our work sustainable. Thank you!
All prices displayed in USD.


REduced Fee


Regular fee


3 monthly payments of $60


Sponsorship fee

If you need a different payment plan or a greater scholarship to make this program accessible, please get in touch with us.

Purchase the Companion Book

The book is not included in the registration fee. You may purchase the book at the links below or at your local book seller. Thank you for your support!

Terms and Conditions

Please consider your purchase carefully and review the many free materials we have on our website to make sure the program will be a good fit or get in touch with any questions.

We ask that you honor our work by not sharing the program materials with others who are not enrolled.

Please contact us for permission to quote in settings beyond the program

These videos are made available to registered participants and may also be included in future versions of the program including self-study. If you choose to speak during a recorded gathering, you are giving us your consent to record that contribution. If you prefer not to be seen or heard, you can of course switch off or mute your camera or microphone at any time. Chat sessions are recorded and posted as well. Participation in the chat function is also giving consent to their recording. Breakout groups are never recorded.

If you choose a payment plan and stop payment before fulfilling the commitment without contacting us to make other arrangements, your access to the program will be removed.