Posted in Essay, Photography/Photographer, Spiritual Practice, Terri Stewart

Sacred Space in the Frame

This month is interNational Photography month! Here at The Bardo Group, we will be playing with this theme all month long. On Sundays, we 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, but I couldn’t find a place 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.

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


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)

terriTerri Stewart ~ a member of our Core Team,  comes from an eclectic background and considers herself to be grounded in contemplation and justice. She is the Director and Founder of the Youth Chaplaincy Coalition that serves youth affected by the justice system. As a graduate of Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry, she earned her Master’s of Divinity and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Spiritual Direction with honors and is a rare United Methodist student in the Jesuit Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She is a contributing author to the Abingdon Worship Annual.

Her online presence is “CloakedMonk.” This speaks to her grounding in contemplative arts (photography, mandala, poetry) and the need to live it out in the world. The cloak is the disguise of normalcy as she advocates for justice and peace. You can find her at,, and  To reach her for conversation, send a note to


I am a monk disguised as a passionate prophet. My true loves are God, family, and the creative arts. And maybe just a little bit of politics too. (PS My photo is by Eric Lyons Photography).

15 thoughts on “Sacred Space in the Frame

  1. Looked up Merton’s “Sky Hook.” Wow. A few years ago I had the opportunity when visiting Chicago to visit an exhibit of Merton’s photography AND (combined with) the Dali Lama. What a powerful experience that was.


  2. Thanks so much for this insightful piece, Terri. I was aware of how ‘framing’ an image can “spin” it, like in terms of how main-stream media uses that exact thing to sway public opinion one way or another, but I had not thought about it in terms of how we do it in our own lives. I’m going to examine my own “framing” more closely now. Thank you again for pointing it out. 🙂


  3. Teri: Your lovely piece reminds me of the practice of “re-framing” in psycholotherapy– which allows us to see, feel, understand, “reality” in the multiple ways it presents itself to us.


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