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The Spiritual Earth

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 my photography.

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 force.

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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