How Instagram Teaches Me About Spiritual Direction

Berries, leaves, and light.

I spend a lot of time pondering the question, "What part of the body of Christ am I?" 

Sometimes, the ear wins the day. Other times, the eye does. 

Truthfully, I'm not sure which one -- the ear or the eye -- is more truly a reflection of the person God made me to be and how he made me to serve in the world.

And then sometimes I wonder: can we be more than one part of the body? 

Romance of moss.

When the ear wins the day, it's because listening is like second nature to me. Like a fish in water, it's just what I do. It has always been this way, even from my youngest years.

I first noticed the nudges toward a vocation in the ministry of spiritual direction, for example, when people in my life began asking for time set aside to process something out loud with me. Listening ... noticing ... drawing distinctions ... asking questions: these are what I do best.

I am an ear, someone who listens and helps other people listen.


But sometimes I feel like an eye because I notice what nobody else seems to see.

I notice the woman who walks into the crowded room and looks around uncertainly, a heavy burden of grief tipping her shoulders to the side. I notice the laughter and too-bright smile of the grocery checker who hints at a long day and too-short weekends, how she seems to be barely holding on but is fighting hard to get through the day with a smile. 

I notice. I see. I am an eye.

There is something so utterly sacred about seeing -- really seeing -- another person, isn't there? 

Brick eye.

I think this is why the Instagram app on my iPhone has become one of my most-prized discoveries of 2011. It has given me the ongoing experience of my eyes. It reminds me on a daily basis, by the things I choose to stop and capture with my phone's camera lens, that I see and value seeing.

It reminds me that I find beauty and deep value in doing this. 

Blueness of sky.

Photography has come to feel a bit like tending the holy in my life, and it is so much like spiritual direction in that way. 

In fact, a new friend and I were sharing a conversation recently about this exact parallel. She's a real photographer, you see -- a bona fide and beautiful one -- and she shared with me that she has often thought spiritual directors are the exact sort of people who would get the real heartbeat of an exciting new project she recently unveiled

My response to her was: 

I do think there is a connection that spiritual directors and photographers have. It's all about the seeing -- really seeing. You know? 

So there you have it. I'm an ear, but I'm also an eye, and somehow both of these truths have made me fall in love with Instagram this year. Sure, it's a fake form of photography -- the poor woman's version of the real thing, I guess you could say -- but despite that, I do know this:

Instagram changed my life this year, and I am so much the happier and enriched for it.