Personal Reflections Shared By Ben Greenberg
August 14, 2000
I have never been an outwardly religious person. By that I mean
I have never worn my religion on my sleeve. I haven’t adhered
to all the rituals of my religion, but I did practice some. I haven’t
turned to religion as my guide for my life, at least not overtly,
but I knew it was always there. I didn’t fill my home with
religious symbols, but I always loved menorahs. I didn’t pray
regularly, but I never stopped thinking about G-d. I am not sure
if I adequately instilled in my children a religious faith, a belief
system that placed religion in an important, even central, place
in their lives. I guess I made assumptions that they would get it.
My children, while understanding that they were Jewish and how that
would impact them in life’s events, also, I’m sure,
understood that I probably taught them through my own behavior a
lot more about independence, hard work, being their own person,
passionate commitment to causes and matters of importance, a desire
to excel, the role of family in their lives, and the joy of doing
than I ever directly taught them about G-d and religious faith.
My behavior has followed that of my parents.
While in many ways I have practiced Judaism more faithfully than
my parents ever did, I haven’t taken it to a significant new
level. I haven’t let my belief in G-d and my demonstration
of that belief through Judaism guide me in my personal journey.
While I tend to be an introspective person, I have never leaned
on my faith in a supreme being and G-d’s role in my decision-making.
In many ways I have always admired people who have that level of
faith, who can say, “let G-d’s will be done” and
truly accept that. During my internal deliberations and decision-making,
I haven’t often prayed for guidance. I haven’t been
able to accept or even acknowledge G-d’s role in the process
by which life’s events play out. I never saw my parents do
so and children model their parents’ behavior. They learn
so much by watching and listening. While they can feel and sense
what is in your heart, they may not really understand.
I think that in the absence of the teaching
and guidance that help develop one’s belief system and religious
practices, I could have continued to let Judaism just “be
there” in my life. As a result, there was something of a void,
an emptiness that was bound to fill up through other means. What
is that saying about how when a door closes, a window always opens?
Well, I may have symbolically closed the door to a higher commitment
to my faith, but G-d found another way to enter into my life and
help me understand and appreciate a belief in a power so much greater
than human capability, even human potential. That way was through
I began taking photographs of Jeff, my first
born, as a means of recording those wondrous infancy and childhood
events that are so special at the time. It didn’t take long
for me to discover that photography would soon become a vehicle
for me to gain a far richer understanding of the world around me
and to have an appreciation of that world that touched me very deeply.
It started with my children and the insights into their spirit and
soul that seemed to come from within my images. Before long I added
images of man’s creations, cities and their components that
help make up an integral part of our lives. I began to photograph
architecture, buildings within which we lead our lives.
I didn’t overlook photographing our natural
environment either, for it truly held a richness that made so many
things pale in comparison. I photographed trees and mountains. I
photographed the endless and fascinating shapes and forms I found
in nature. I didn’t have to go far. I could lose myself in
my backyard with just the leaves and grass and the endless ways
they could be portrayed in my images.
I found myself being attracted to water in any
form. I sought it out and photographed it in as many dimensions
as I could: oceans, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, streams, ice, rain,
snow, dew, clouds, fog … the options and opportunities were
only limited by my imagination. Early on I didn’t make the
connections between water and life. I didn’t consciously realize
that water is the foundation of life, the very essence of life.
I didn’t realize that it would be through water and nature
and my quest to capture them on film that I would, perhaps for the
very first time, really find G-d in my life.
I didn’t know however, that my photography
of the natural environment would turn into an ultimate passion for
me. I didn’t know that it would be through these photographs,
and the experiences that I had in obtaining them, that I would achieve
a closeness to G-d that I had never experienced before. I didn’t
know that nature would for me become the ultimate testament to G-d’s
existence, the “proof”, so to speak, that repeatedly
fills me with awe and “wow” and understanding that all
of this wonder doesn’t happen, cannot happen, without a guiding
During my photographic lifetime I have often
felt and sometimes told others of the spiritual experiences I have
had in seeking meaningful and powerful images. At first I don’t
even think that I knew or understood what I was talking about. It
was a vague feeling, an overpowering feeling that came over me while
I was photographing. It happened so many times that it became unmistakable.
While I have always been passionate about the important things in
my life, these spiritual experiences were nothing like my passionate
commitment to a cause or a process.
These spiritual experiences were life-affirming.
Only later did they become, for me, G-d affirming. I have vivid
images in my mind of so many of those experiences. I can return
to them as if I participated in them only yesterday and some occurred
twenty-five years ago and more. I can still feel the wonderment
as I focused on a tiny drop of water clinging so precariously to
the very tip of a pine needle. I still remember and even feel the
cold falling snow as I stood there mesmerized by an image of a lake
with a reflection of a tall and lonely tree that became a defining
moment for me. I’ll never forget photographing the disappearing
path through the fog with the colorful fall leaves everywhere. How
will I ever forget the first times that I seriously photographed
a cascading waterfall or the beacon of guiding light from the majestic
lighthouse along a rocky shore in Maine.
I will especially retain forever in my heart
the many sunrises and sunsets I have witnessed over mountains and
oceans and rivers and lakes. They become metaphors for the cycles
of life and all the hope, optimism and even disappointment one experiences
in this world in which we live. I think back of the many times that
the emotions I experienced when viewing the scene before me were
so overwhelming that I thought I might cry.
It seems that almost every time I go out to
photograph I seek and ultimately find more affirmation of G-d in
the world around me, especially the natural world. It has become
a quest, a life-changing journey for me, one that I want to share
with others so that they too can feel the wonderment I feel. I want
to share with others what has become my spiritual world –
the spiritual earth.
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