“What did you do on your sabbatical?”
Sounds like a straightforward question, but it all depends on who is asking and what they want you to tell them. The real question could be, “what did you learn?” or “how did you enjoy your 3 month paid holiday that normal people don’t get?” or “have you got lots of new stuff for us?”.
Taking the question at face value, I’ve had a pleasant and fruitful sabbatical. I went to the USA and France, read many fine books, discovered how much more reading I should be doing, visited with friends, took lots of photos, spent time with my family, rode my bike, started doing Couch to 5K, read the Gospel of Mark, had a mini retreat, watched movies and TV box sets. A few times I sat out on the patio next to a roaring fire and looked at the stars. I thought some deep thoughts about God, relationships, work, being me and how all those things are connected.
Some of the thoughts were challenging, some affirming and others revealed that I am (like everybody) a work in progress with a lot of development still left to do. I garnered some useful (if not blazingly original) insights about the Gospel and the wide gap between the Jesus who roamed around the dusty roads of 1st century Palestine and today’s church.
A lot of vicars will tell you about how fruitful their sabbatical was either by telling you about their new book, their postgraduate dissertation or even declaring they have a new job.
But I’m not going to do that. Instead, I want to show you some of the pictures I took during those three months. Bear with me. I know that “have a look at my slide show” ranks right up there with wanting to tell you about my sabbatical using interpretative dance, but hear me out.
Over 90 days I’ve taken over 500 photos, deleting nearly 300 of them for various reasons ranging from blandness to under exposure. I then spent a long time with the remaining 200 reshaping them to draw out a deeper image of what I saw originally in the viewfinder.
The 200 good photos get reduced down to 90; one image for every day of sabbatical (though not necessarily a photo from each day). 90 days of photography.
I don’t claim to be the world’s greatest photographer. What I love is taking a view of something ordinary or even overlooked and seeing if there is something extraordinary within them. It’s a process of discernment where I make it hard to give up on a picture and instead approach it differently by doing something as simple as making it black and white.
“Life’s a lot like that, isn’t it?”
That old preaching punchline is corny, but it is true. As I reflected on the process of how I do photography I discovered that the process is a good analogy for how to do life: looking at the ordinary more deeply and seeing both how to enrich it and, myself, in the process.
I’ve been reflecting on learning what needs to be deleted, what can I live with and, more importantly, what can be transformed in me. Our lives, like photos, are meant to be shared. There is no point in looking deep into our own lives just for the sake of ourselves. It should also be for the sake of all those around us and, of course, for the glory of God.
So here are 90 photos. They are a hard won record of looking at the world more closely and they are the fruit of looking at my life more closely. I hope you enjoy them and I hope they inspire you to look more deeply into yourself and the world too.