By Sister Jeanne Cmolik, CSJ
Diane Arbus, an American photographer (1923-1971), is best known for her photographs of “outsiders” or “fringe people” such as strippers, carnival performers, dwarves, and transgender people. While some critics see her work as outrageous, freakish, even hideous, I (and others) see an awareness of the deep inner beauty of often forgotten and neglected people. What did Diane see when she looked at them? How did she learn to see with her heart?
When I see photographs taken by Diane Arbus (above in 1939), I am moved by the dignity of her subjects, who look straight at the camera (and the world) with a steadiness, an acceptance they may not feel much of the time. How did she persuade them to let her into their world, so that in her photographs their souls are visible for all to see?
Sometimes, when I pray, I try to see the world through God’s eyes. I see the beauty around me and take comfort in the thought that God‘s joy in creating this world and all that is in it, is magnified by the number of eyes who feast on it. I’m good with sunsets, waves on Lake Erie, wildflowers in the spring and colorful leaves in the fall. I can share God’s delight in children at play, in deer nibbling our flowers and shrubs here at the Cleveland Center, and even with raccoons and skunks roaming the neighborhood in the early morning (as long as they keep their distance).
“You are a holy place. Here is a holy place. Everyone, everywhere is a holy place,” Kathy Sherman, CSJ, writes in one of her songs. Such noble, godly thoughts! How often I struggle to see that inner beauty in people—to see as God sees!
Some years ago, I participated in a workshop given by Jean Houston, an American author involved in the “human potential movement.” I remember that she told us that each person has a spark of the divine within, and that we should regard each one as “God-in-hiding.” That idea of “God-in-hiding” has stayed with me, and when I am truly mindful of life around me, I consider that reality in my daily interactions.
There is a somewhat disagreeable clerk—or I used to think of her that way— at a grocery store I frequent. I always avoided her checkout line if possible. One day just before Thanksgiving, I was waiting in a long line to pay for my items. This clerk had just closed her station, and instead of heading to the front of the store, she came toward me.
“Why aren’t you in the express lane?” she demanded, surveying my cart (which had, as I recall, 14 items—2 beyond the 12 item limit.) When I explained, she motioned me over to the station she had just closed down.
As she rang up my items, I expressed my deep gratitude. “” Wow! This is so very kind of you. I’m going to put you in my gratitude journal,” I gushed. When I said this, she looked me in the eye, and with great dignity said, “My name is Sonja: S-O-N-J-A.” What I heard under this was, “If you’re going to write about me, get it right!”
As I walked out of the store, I realized that for once I DID get it right—a glimpse of the world through God’s eyes.
About The Author
Sister Jeanne Cmolik, CSJ, has served in various leadership positions including being a member of the Congregation Leadership Team from 2008-2013. She has also ministered in elementary schools, high schools, and parishes in the Cleveland area, and served in vocations working with new members. She enjoys reading, travel, music and writing blog posts!