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

Sacred Space and Photography: Light v. 2

Sacred Space and Photography: Light v. 2

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.

Last week, I wrote about the symbolism in our religious traditions of light and used photography and light to show how we can point to something that transcends our understanding. Plato would say that the photo of sunset points towards the form of sunset—that perfected form of sunset-ness.

Plato’s Theory of Forms “described the common nature of all things in the world, not just of a table, for instance but of all the tables that ever were and ever will be. This Platonic form of the ideal table is eternal and changeless. It has an essential tableness, as it were, that exists whether the table is where you ate lunch in the school cafeteria or the one at a Paris café where you fell in love. In Plato’s famous allegory of the cave in “The Republic,” the things that we see on a daily basis, like the table in front of you, are merely shadows of the ideal form.” (

Any object can point towards the perfected idea of that object. And what we see in front of us is essentially a shadow of its ideal self (as no perfected form can be reached—saving this philosophical and theological discussion for another time!).

In photography, shadows are only achievable when there is light. Without light, no shadows. And sometimes, shadows can lead to beautiful pictures. When we handle shadows correctly.

Pointing Towards the Form of Tree by Terri Stewart
Pointing Towards the Form of Tree-ness
by Terri Stewart

And isn’t that true of life? We need to handle our own shadows correctly in order to have a more perfected life? Our shadows, like Plato’s cave, leave us living lives that are not quite ideal. Often, our shadow grows out of shame. Shame comes from unresolved trauma—something that we have not dealt with entirely. For me, shame is often connected to my body image. I remember, 30 years ago, sitting at the dinner table all of 5’3” and 120 pounds and being told, “No wonder I was fat.” And then crying into my plate. Logically, I know that 5’3” and 120 pounds was just fine. But that shame experienced at that moment is seared into my brain and I can recall the rush of tears that made me ashamed of my body. That feeds into self-sabotage of my embodied self in some ways and can lessen my general enjoyment of life unless I deal with it and learn to look at my shadow and bring it into the light!

I can use photography to examine both myself and my shadow. Selfies aren’t all selfish. You can use them to take photos of your shadow self, bringing yourself more and more into the light and into a fuller realization of our perfected selves.

Pointing Towards the Form of Terri-ness by Terri Stewart
Pointing Towards the Form of Terri-ness
by Terri Stewart

Someone said that photography is painting with light. It is also learning how to cope with shadows and darkness.  Do you have a shadow—in your photos? Can you peek into it and see how it points towards the fullness of life?

Shalom and Amen!

Post by Terri Stewart, 2014
Photography, 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).

12 thoughts on “Sacred Space and Photography: Light v. 2

  1. A cornucopia of ideas, light/shadow, perfection/shame, pointing toward a form. Wrap them all together, web strands and all, and you have One. And self is in there, too. I have been told to look more deeply at my shadow self because I tended toward perfectionism and denying that it was there at all. It was a scary thing to admit, at first, but a relief to include at last.


    1. Thanks! Great thoughts. When I was writing I did get caught in thoughts of the One, but set it aside for this post.

      It would be interesting to take photos of our shadows as an exercise in revelation.


  2. I went through the same thing with my weight as a teenager and it really messed with me. I waged battle on my weight my whole life and now, due to medical-related issues, I can’t gain weight. Life is so full of irony. But more to the subject, the play of light and shadow is such a strong, appropriate metaphor for our spiritual lives. Beautifully expressed here, Terri.


  3. I love the picture with the shadows pointing to “tree-ness”. It’s funny, my mother told me about a whole set of people who scour e-bay and other places looking for photos of “shadows” where the shadow in the picture is of something or someone not actually in the photo. Apparently, there are people with some pretty odd collections out there. 🙂 I like the idea of capturing a person’s “shadow self” with photography…I imagine that there are probably some times when a person’s shadow self is captured in a photo without them even being aware of it. Neat post, Terri.


  4. This is quite extraordinary; you have created a new perspective, for me, on light and shade and a new reason – assuming there was a valid one before – for taking selfies. It’s funny, because, two or three years ago I took a picture of the shadows of myself and our dog out on the moors and it still feels like the photographic equivalent of poetry; there is a synergy in the simplicity of a shadow that speaks a thousand words. Very enjoyable and thought provoking post, Terri. Thank you.


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