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The Numinous: Sacredness and Light

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

I love the word numinous as a word for describing that which we call holy or spiritually alive. One definition of numinous means, "to be filled with a sense of the presence of divinity,” or “having a strong mysterious or spiritual quality." In other words, when we experience that which is numinous we are taken beyond our usual daily mindset and are drawn into a moment of connection with the Divine.

One way I experience this is by making photographs. As I look at the screen of my iPhone or through the lens of my camera, I reduce my world to just what I can see through with whatever camera I'm using. I stop seeing the enormous range of things that surround me, and I begin to see just one or two things. It's like taking a person's portrait - you exclude everything around you and focus on capturing the look that conveys the essence of that person or thing, and then you can reveal how they really look.

In the picture above, you could say that I was taking the portrait of our flagstone patio and the shadows of the glass picnic table on it. And yet I was really taking pictures of the lines, textures, and colors of this scene, creating a satisfying abstract image that was both accessible and mysterious. The mid-morning angle of the sun was casting an interesting shadow of our glass picnic table onto the stone patio, with the curves of its legs and circular edge creating a mysterious design that counterpointed the colors and textures of the red sandstone. Together, they formed an interesting tableaux, both ordinary and mysterious, and I framed it in my camera in a way to form a unified image. I processed it to add a touch of glow and texture to give the image more depth.

If I had stood back to capture the whole table, the mysterious combination of shapes and shadows wouldn’t have been very apparent. It would just look like a documentary photo. If I’d gotten any closer, I think I would have lost the wholeness that the current image has.


If you'd like to explore your own world in this way, I encourage you to begin paying attention to shapes, shadows, lines, color, and light. If you have an iPhone or other cell phone with a decent camera built into it, I encourage you to explore your world with it and to "play" with it. Look around you, near and far, through its screen, and start to notice just how many things there are in your world that look more interesting when framed by a camera – often at closer range. You can also explore light this way – how do you begin to see the world when you take pictures early or late in the day, and what kind of light do you find yourself drawn to? Perhaps you'll discover that you like to play with shadows, as I do. Have fun!

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