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Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice

A self-study online retreat

Registration Fee: $150 USD

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.

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. Explore photography in service of expanding your contemplative practice and compassionate presence to the world and to yourself.

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 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.

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?

What's Included

8 weekly webinar recordings with Christine Valters Paintner (in audio and video format with closed captions available)

8 weekly scripture reflections from John Valters Paintner in written form

8 Art reflections from Amanda Dillon in video form

8 Invitations to somatic engagement from Aisling Richmond in video form

8 Creative expression invitations from Claudia Love Mair in video form

Weekly Rhythm of Content

Day 1: Webinar recording with Christine Valters Paintner

Day 2: Scripture reflection from John Valters Paintner

Day 3: Art reflection videos with Amanda Dillon

Day 4: Somatic exploration with Aisling Richmond

Day 5: Visual art exploration with Claudia Love Mair

Day 6: Reflection questions

Day 7: Sabbath time for reflection and integration

*All videos include the option to watch with closed captions on.

Weekly Themes

Week 1

Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart

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

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

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?

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

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?

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

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

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 director of, a virtual monastery exploring contemplative practice, creative expression, and ways to nourish an earth-cherishing consciousness. She is a spiritual director, teacher, pilgrimage guide, and author of nine books on spirituality and the arts. Her deepest belief is that the earth is the original monastery–a wisdom guide and mentor in living a soulful and vibrant life. 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.


Aisling Richmond, MA

Aisling is a teacher, therapist and soul guide living in the West of Ireland. She loves to share with others a juicy, embodied, and creative approach to life. Aisling holds three teaching qualifications in Yoga, Conscious Dance, and Somatics, and is a fully accredited Somatic therapist. In 2011 she earned her Masters degree in Movement Research, which focused on dance as a spiritual practice and healing art. Aisling teaches weekly Yoga classes, runs Somatic Wisdom courses, and works as a therapist to help people to overcome life challenges through Somatics or body-mind wisdom. She runs retreats set in the beauty spots of Ireland, inviting people into a deeper connection with nature. Having worked collaboratively with many organizations including Amnesty International, Aisling has also been a guest lecturer with both Galway and Limerick Universities. Her passion is to support each person’s soul growth, and invite a home-coming to the wisdom and wonder of our sacred bodies. Visit Aisling’s website here>>

Amanda Dillon

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.

Claudia Love Mair (1)

Claudia Love Mair, MFA

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.


Praise for the Course

I am ever grateful to all of you for helping me to see with new eyes (Divine eyes), thus, enabling me to hear the gentle whispers of my soul. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Angie Hinckley
The Team at Abbey of the Arts provided an awesome melding of spirituality and photography, plus encouraged my poetic expressions. . . . This pilgrimage has given me new eyes ... eyes of the heart.
Barb Laski
Enriching, joyful, and transformational are words that come to mind upon the close of our retreat. A heartfelt thank you to everyone at Abbey of the Arts who made this possible. . . .There are many moments of new awareness that I am grateful for on this journey.


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

All prices displayed in USD.


Registration Fee

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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.

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Some self-study retreats include video or audio recordings of sessions that were recorded in a live community offering of the retreat and may make reference to forums or other modes of sharing. Please disregard these as self-study retreats do not have these available.

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.