Photos, Memory and Play in Prayer


It is now normal for me to take snapshots of my day with my camera-phone. I’ve been called one of this new generation, (which obviously I am) but moreover, in reference to the fact that we take pictures of everything with our phone. Remember the first ‘papal selfie’, where Francis posed for a picture with a group of GenYers, taken on a mobile phone?

Pope Francis and the first 'Papal selfie'

Source: AP via The Telegraph (2013)

While many may grumble that ‘kids these days’ are always on their phones, missing out on what’s around them, I personally wish to say that yes, while that is an easy trap to fall into, that is not the same for everyone. Taking photos with our phones is something – like everything – which has the potential to enhance life, beauty, joy and peace or to take away from the gift of the present moment.

I do take many pictures on my phone. So much so that on our walk yesterday evening, when I stopped to take a photo of a flower, my daughter remarked, “Mum, you’re craaaaaazy about photos…”

I thought about it. Yes, I am a bit. But I didn’t see anything wrong with that. I simply used the technology available on hand to capture what I captured my attention. When we got to the playground, the children played, while I watched them. Did I take photos? Yes, I did. Did I get to join in their playfulness as well? You bet! I climbed up the frame, looked out through the telescope and even went down the slide.

I've Got my Eye on You

Photo: “I’ve Got my Eye on You” | Geralyn Anderson, 2014.

Today’s scene however is different from last night. What seemed like a bit of fun at the time has now become something deeper, something more prayerful and even spiritual. Today, I’m able to look back at my photos and relive the joys of yesterday evening. Remembering is a gift, and in a way, is prayer in itself.

In my own personal prayer practice, taking photos – whether of a contemplative nature with my actual camera, or in the spur of the moment with my phone becomes part of the experience. The art of remembering, recollection and noticing the connections between one moment and another is something that aids my review of the day. In turn, regeneration and rejuvenation of the spirit takes place – especially when the subjects which I photograph are joyous, playful and blessed – and consolation is savoured, over and over, helping me to count my blessings and foster a spirit of gratitude.

The beautiful Ignatian prayer of the Awareness Examen uses memory and recollection to contemplate the presence of God in one’s life, and in every situation. An excellent resource on this kind of prayer may be found at Orientations for Spiritual Growth. So I invite you to look at the photos I took yesterday evening on my phone, and share in God’s graces with me.

Take Lord, receive, all my liberty,
My memory, understanding,
My entire will… – Prayer of St Ignatius

For additional reflection:

  • Have you been playful or experienced joy-at-play today?
  • Do you recall your own playfulness as a child?
  • Do you have photographs or souvenirs from childhood, or from times in the past, with friends, family or loved ones?

If you cannot review your day with photos or reminders, ask God for the grace of memory and remembrance to bring you to a time of joy, consolation and innocence. How did you feel then? How have you grown since?

Feel free to share some of your own photos, experiences and thoughts.

3 thoughts on “Photos, Memory and Play in Prayer

  1. Dear Mary,

    I am flattered by your compliments, however I am most grateful for your contribution to this discussion. Paying attention to how we pray is important and worthwhile in the spiritual life. I am reminded of a simple but wonderfully helpful booklet by Brian Gallagher MSC, entitled “Pray As You Are…” Unfortunately, it is a rare find to come by, but worthwhile the search if you’re up for it.

    All of this just goes to show how ‘uncontainable’ God is – that what we have and what works for us, is never far from God. God is as creative as our prayer, as unique as our individuality.

    Thank you for your comments.

  2. I applaud your picture-taking. Having them later will allow you to savor again and again the experiences and emotions of the day and the play they captured.

    I have had to work through a similar logic for how I have recently begun to pray. I use my computer to journal as I move through an examen-like set of questions. I don’t always feel I receive guidance or comfort from God during these times, but I often do. Not only does this technique keep me from falling asleep or being as easily distracted, but, like you, I can return later and savor again and again the emotions and guidance I received. It’s a blessing.

    Thank you for your post

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