Autumn of 2013 was particularly difficult for me in terms of life balance. After coming home that summer from a wonderful vacation in the western United States, I went into a bit of a rut photographically. I had seen and shot so many beautiful things that I found it difficult to be creative on my home turf. That fall, I also had a very heavy teaching load, student count, and other professional obligations. In short, I was having problems motivating myself to get out and shoot, and my workload gave me a great excuse to lay fallow.
I knew by the end of the semester that I needed a good outing, so the day after I submitted all my grades, I took some time to recharge. I decided to go to the Chattahoochee Nature Center on the north side of Atlanta, cameras at the ready. I didn’t know quite what to expect. I learned that the center provides a serene setting to rehabilitate and nurture injured wildlife, especially birds of prey. I began by practicing my wildlife shots on some of these birds before going on a nature hike around the grounds. As I hiked, I vainly pursued a cardinal who was proving quite elusive (Michelle really wants a good cardinal print to hang up in the winter). I took a couple of landscape shots of the river and pond, and I tried my hand at some more detailed nature shots as well.
As I was walking, I realized how photography had opened me up to something more than just a hobby. It was helping me express my creativity in a way that I could truly share with the world. But this particular hike also did more than just kick the dust off my creative juices. I felt a sense of peace, a sense of being in the present, a sense of connection with the world around me–a sense of rest. In the midst of these epiphanies, I still couldn’t avoid thinking about work. But for some reason, work was less intrusive than usual, and I came up with an idea for a new class. This month, I put that idea to writing, and I proposed a course called “Creation Theology, Spirituality, and the Arts.” Here is the course description:
This course will explore the intersection of Old Testament creation theology, spiritual formation, and the creative arts. Participants will study various interpretive approaches to creation literature throughout the Old Testament. The biblical study will provide the foundations for bi-weekly nature/creation experiences in which class members practice mindfulness while also exploring the creative arts as spiritual discipline. Participants should, therefore, be willing to travel to different locations within metro-Atlanta for approximately half of the class sessions. Each member should also set aside a non-interrupted eight-hour time block for an individual nature retreat that will provide the foundation for their final project. In the final project, class members may choose any artistic medium to communicate their experiences of the Holy in the intersection between scripture and the natural world. The final project includes a paper articulating exegetical reflections on scripture and how they influence the artistic expression in the final project.
And now that I’ve put it on paper, I guess I have to teach it! Several students have already expressed an interest in registering to take the class in the spring, and I’m looking forward to what we discover together.
The end of my photo walk that day last December sealed the deal on all the thoughts swimming through my head. As I was walking to my car past the eagle area, I started hearing a ruckus with some rather odd squawking. I’d never really heard eagles before, and earlier in the day they were quite calm. Then one flew right over my head! Had it escaped? Apparently a free eagle swooped in to have some conversations with those in rehab. I won’t go so far as to call it a sign. I will say, however, that had I not intentionally decided to take some time to nurture myself, I would have missed out on something really cool!