Did I choose the title for this piece to serve as nothing more than provocative clickbait? No, not in the least. As we come to the conclusion of 2020, I am thankful for this year. Now, does being thankful mean that I am happy we're living through a national pandemic? No, I am not trying to glorify nor deny the hard reality that is Covid-19. What I am trying to do is find the proverbial "silver lining" in the 2020 storm cloud. And, at least for me, I've found some rather pronounced silver linings!
Given my newfound love of photography, I reflected on this past year by revising images. While going through these images, what I discovered wasn't just a collection of "moments in time" that are now archived on pixel filled hard drives, but I found memories, good memories of 2020.
The first of those memories was my sabbatical at the Redemptorist Renewal Center in Tucson, Arizona. I needed a break from ministry and, looking back, I think I needed it more than I realized at the time - I was burned out. As I look at some of the images from my time in Tucson, my heart becomes filled with the sea of emotions I was dealing with and how I am in such a better place now having been on sabbatical. When I captured and edited these images, I was focusing on the question, "How do I want these images to look?" Now, looking back, I reflect on how I've grown since taking these images. If I were to summarize my sabbatical in one word, it would be healing. And I thank God and the staff at the Redemptorist Renewal Center who facilitated that healing.
The highpoint of my sabbatical scientifically was when an object burned up in the atmosphere over my head while capturing Milky Way images at the Renewal Center outdoor chapel. One of my goals while in Tucson was to spend time at professional observatories in Arizona. Covid-19, obviously, took those opportunities away. The experience of imaging the aftermath of this atmospheric burn up, sending Br. Guy the image below, and receiving scientific data about what happened overhead from the Vatican Observatory was invigorating for me! In many ways, I treasure that experience far more than if I had visited observatories... Even though I know I would have loved that opportunity! (Click here or on the image of the vapor trail remnant to read about my experience that morning.)
I so treasure my sabbatical experience. Even though I hope to never see another 2020, my sabbatical is something I wouldn't trade for anything. So, in that spirit, thank you 2020!
Reconnecting Prayer With Creation
Another gift of 2020 was reconnecting my prayer with creation. A brother priest e-mailed me a while back to congratulate me on becoming Dean, but also expressed sadness that my new work load would probably mean less time to do photography. I post my images on social media for family, friends, and parishioners, with many telling me the images provide a diversion form the stress of Covid-19. I never thought images could be ministerial, but they are!
I explained to my friend Tom that photography is actually secondary to my primary goal, post sabbatical, of reconnecting with prayer through creation. In light of this, my images are really more of a prayer journal than they are a catalogue of images. Now when I experience stress in contrast to before my sabbatical, I have a prayerful place to decompress and pray - God's creation. Photography simply documents those moments of prayer.
Therefore, thank you 2020 for helping me rediscover and deepen my prayer through the beauty of God's creation! It's a gift that I treasure and would not give away for anything.
And, of course, there was the gift of comet Neowise. What I would give for another night with the comet! Thank you 2020 for the gift of this celestial visitor!
All of us could easily curse 2020 as the "year to forget." As we approach the new year, I would invite you to reflect on 2020 from the standpoint of looking for the graces this year offered us. Challenges help us grow in many ways, even when they are painful. 2020 has created great pain for many. Let's reclaim this year at its end for the good that came so we don't dismiss this year with phrases like "a wasted year" or "lost time," but approach it as a difficult season of our lives that can now be redemptive as we prepare for a 2021 that we hope will be the first step toward a "Post-Covid-19 World."
What are you thankful for? Post your thoughts below. Thank you 2020 and good riddance! And, Lord, may 2021 be a year of healing and joy.