St. Anthony Messenger magazine
St. Anthony Messenger

My Own Canticle of the Creatures 

March 25, 2022
Issue
plant coiling itself
Pandemic isolation forced this photographer to capture the intricate and beautiful world around her.

As the world became smaller, the world around me became larger. For more than two years, we have endured the changes that COVID-19 has brought: businesses shuttered, campuses emptied, travel slowed. We hunkered down in our homes to protect ourselves and our neighbors. Stay inside. Wash your hands. Socially distance. Wear a mask. 

Each day I’d walk out my door to greet the day and breathe the air. I’d walk around my yard, pull a few weeds, admire the sprouting plants, and just look. The quiet was palpable. 

I had been taking photos of my garden for years. Each day that I walked in my yard, I looked a little longer, a little deeper. I always prided myself on being observant and appreciating the little things in life. But there were a lot of distractions as well: scrolling through social media, buying things I couldn’t afford and didn’t need, watching Netflix, and other interruptions. 

The slowed pace of the pandemic started to slow me down too. I started to shoot more with my macro lens, which is like looking through a microscope. Tiny flowers and insects appeared larger than life. I began looking not just at a flower, but inside the flower: the architectural design of the flower and the movement of it. What life! How could I not have noticed these little things before? 

The wings of a fly are intricately designed, like a fine etching. The back of a lady’s mantle leaf is like a scalloped shell. The stalks and stems of flowers and vegetables are hairy. The wing of the katydid looks like a green leaf. 

I never felt more connected with the world around me than during this time. The quiet ritual of walking outside and simply looking around was a walking meditation. It brought me to a closer union with the sacred world around me. 

I understood what St. Francis of Assisi meant when he called plants and animals his brothers and sisters. It was his true connection. It is something I felt with a subject when I photographed it: wonder, respect, and acknowledgment. It seemed as if, in some small and quiet way, we communicated. We respected each other. Many writers, poets, ecologists, naturalists, and saints have written about their experiences in the same way. I believe we are all connected and that all beings and all parts of nature contain the divine. 

These photographs are a quiet invitation to step closer when we have been asked to step back and keep distant. These quiet moments are a call to move inward—to become more intimate with the world around us. Move closer, pause, behold, move closer again, and feel the sacredness of the moment. 


Image
purple flowers in the sun

Invitation to Quiet. The song of the divine is always singing. When I set aside my worries, self-loathing, frustrations, plans for tomorrow, and my pervasive ego, I simply look around. I open myself to see and hear this call of God. 

I see God in the setting sun upon the sweet-smelling lilacs, in the tiny black swallowtail caterpillar creeping up the stem of the rue plant (above), in the mandala-like roundness of the zinnia, and in the glorious folds of the mallow bud. I am called—we are called—to share in the glorious banquet of God’s love. 

 

Related and Connected. When I take the time to remember where I am, who is with me, and what is around me, I come to my senses. Why these moments are fleeting, I cannot explain. But in these moments, I notice my breathing. I sense the breath in my body. I notice the breeze upon my face and smell the gentle aroma of the swaying flower in the garden. I am participating in this moment—and it is truly sacred. I see the tiny flowers of the forget-me-not, those blue gems that are the size of my fingernail. Their blueness pulses to life, calling me to delight in the beauty of God’s love. 

The carpenter ant looks at me, or so it seems. And why not? If we are present to the moment, the insects and flowers sense this presence and respond to this connection. And I am reminded again that we are related. We are connected. I understand that sometimes the mind likes to feel separate. But time and again, I am humbled in my humanness. When I see this interconnectedness with the world around me—the life cycles of these flowers and insects in my garden—I feel connected. And there’s nowhere else I want to be. 


Image
pink and red flowers

Beauty to Behold. The unfolding of the lady’s mantle is similar to my own unfolding. Letting go is difficult, and the curled leaf, to me, is a symbol of my resistance, my armor. Like the ridges and tiny hairs on the petals of a lady’s mantle, I experience the grace of unfolding when I let go and let love in. 

The newly emergent leaf slipping out of the seed of the purple hyacinth is shiny, ridged, and crisp. To me, it resembles the wing of an insect. Its green color is saturated with freshness and vitality. Life is pulsating. God’s love is calling to us through this tiny and immense world. The beauty in such flowers and insects is a reminder to appreciate the beauty in myself and in those around me. 

When we slow down and take the time to behold a flower, a weed, an insect, a loved one, we form a connection to this being. The gaze of God holds us as we take the time to behold his creations. We behold the divine creation around us and are simultaneously held in God’s embrace. God holds us when we behold his presence in all of these tiny bursts of life magnified in a flower, in an insect, in ourselves.


Image
beautiful green plants

About the Photographer

Susie Forrester has been a photographer since she got her first camera at the age of 12. She has worked as a freelance photographer since 1992, photographing weddings, pets, landscapes, portraits, college campuses, circuses, dog shows, family members, and much more.

In her words: “For as long as I’ve been shooting, I feel the photo. It resonates with me. I see the image and immediately have an emotional response to it. The spirit of the moment is what I strive to photograph. There is a deep quiet, an almost palpable stillness to these visual moments. They become anchors or tethering points to keep me in the present. It is a connection to my soul, my Higher Power, our shared humanness that photography gives to me. It’s my way of speaking when I can’t find the words to express.”

Susie’s work has been shown in many exhibitions in San Francisco, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and most recently in the Art of the State in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She taught photography at Blair Academy in New Jersey for several years and has conducted photo workshops for both children and adults. Currently, Susie is a studio assistant and archivist for photographer Larry Fink. She resides in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

See her work at Instagram.com/susie_forrester and SusieForrester.com.


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Comments

Lisa T.
Sat, 04/02/2022 - 02:42 PM
Lisa T.
What a beautiful article! The photographer is clearly gifted. We would be wise to follow her example and appreciate God’s bounty that surrounds us. St. Francis would be proud. 💕
marlys
Mon, 04/11/2022 - 11:37 AM
marlys
Phenomenal beauty that displays the face of the creator!
Mari M Castrovilla
Mon, 04/11/2022 - 07:34 PM
Mari M Castrovilla
Oh, Susie, this is totally inspiring. Thank you for sharing your tremendous, God-given gift! PS: I am an amateur Photographer, who takes mostly nature scenes, When I'm shooting (During pandemic, mostly from my living room window!) - sunsets, mist, dew, limbs of trees in all seasons, birds, close-ups of leaves, flowers, and really ALL, I do with thought that I am communicating with God and that I am glorifying God.
Mary Elizabeth Clark
Tue, 04/12/2022 - 10:40 AM
Mary Elizabeth Clark
Inspiring

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