Life Illuminated: Finding Connections Between Imagery and Spirituality
As I reflect on my life, I notice a camera has always been there.
I received my first camera when I was about eight, primarily for traveling.
It was a Kodak point and shoot film camera.
My parents believed travel was one of the best ways to connect with and learn about other cultures.
Along with every trip came the cameras.
Fast forward 12 years, new Kodak in tow, a fancy digital camera this time.
I was studying abroad in Perugia, Italy and spent much of it wandering off on escapades into the surrounding countryside.
Each time I went adventuring, camera at my side, I found myself growing deeper and closer to God.
I recall experiencing this tremendous intimacy with God and the increased awareness God was bringing me all of this—the sights, the emotions, the reflections, and the photographs.
Those months in Italy sparked a symbiotic relationship between photography and spirituality in me.
Myself as artist-creator with my Creator—my Source.
I returned home with a wealth of photographs and began to hear from people, “You have an eye”.
That really struck me and propelled me to explore the emerging gift.
I also continually asked, “What to do with this, God?”
Time, discernment, and practice evolved this connection between my photography and spirituality into a means for bearing witness to life in the Holy Land today.
Photography – specifically the pairing of visual and voiced storytelling – has now become my portal for acquainting people to our neighbors living in Palestine-Israel, educating about the United States’ critical role in their suffering and liberation, and inviting faithful response through advocacy, solidarity, presence and prayer.
I now know it is my call.
Perhaps the most profound element of this call is that God continues to bring the images and people needed to tell the stories I am to tell.
I will share with you two stories that happened in November 2016. I was working on my first project “Through The Checkpoint” and encroaching upon the end of my seven-week journey documenting the diverse experiences of Palestinian Christians and Muslims and Jewish Israelis living amidst the occupation.
I was hoping to meet with a Bedouin community, but it had not worked out.
With two days left, my friend Usama mentioned he was going down to visit Bedouins in Susiya and wondered if I wanted to go?
There it was, the opportunity! As it turned out, that was just the entre onto something more striking to follow.
At dusk, on our way back into Bethlehem following rich conversations in Susiya, Usama observed a flying checkpoint (temporary Israeli military road obstacle involving car screenings and delays) had been dismantled.
He mentioned, ‘They must have found what they were looking for.’
Just then, right outside my car window, six Israeli soldiers emerged, walking a blindfolded Palestinian man at gunpoint down the sidewalk.
I was aghast, quickly documented the scene, and then sat back in shock.
I was baffled by what I had just witnessed and was met by a flood of emotions I could not have imagined would surge up.
It was horrifying, even traumatizing, to see a person being walked by gun-pointing strangers beneath the darkening sky to a future I had heard dreadful stories about.
He would soon be met by physical and/or verbal abuse, coercive interrogation, possibly torture, a prison cell, fear, anxiety, trauma.
 Most Palestinians are arrested based on suspicion than evidence with a warrant. I knew there was a likely chance this young man was one among those.
It was the kind of experience I had mixed reservations about asking for.
On the one hand, I had wanted to witness this since I had only seen such military operations documented in others’ photos, harrowing narratives, or films.
On the other hand, who wants to hope—or pray—for someone to be arrested and traumatized? I certainly did not.
Yet, God had brought me this scene.
Ultimately, I knew being able to document a scenario like this would enhance my ability to illustrate for others what is happening in the Holy Land today.
It was a reminder God brings what is needed, even we are not yet able to verbalize it.
This wondrous relationship between my photography and spirituality continues to be a means through which I grow in my faith, trust, and awe of God.
It is terribly challenging at times, yet the marvel is, those times are when I experience God’s comforting presence most powerfully. And I am encouraged on.
If you have a sense that God may be calling you into a deeper spiritual journey for justice matters or other areas of spiritual growth visit the Spirituality Program page here.
Katie Archibald-Woodward was born in southern California and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to earn her Master of Divinity degree at Columbia Theological Seminary. Formative travel experiences and a growing desire to help connect people through visual and voiced storytelling led Katie to then earn a certificate in Digital Photography at Emory University and a certificate in Spiritual Companioning through the Shalem Institute.
Katie is an Atlanta-based photographer and spiritual director and is in the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Katie focuses most of her energy at the intersection of the arts and her yearning for global thriving, creating educational opportunities through visual and voiced storytelling to spread awareness about the experiences of our neighbors in Israel/Palestine. She also guides groups to the Holy Land for immersive travel experiences—meeting with local people, exploring the holy places that have captured hearts and minds throughout the ages, and growing in awareness of our global community and ourselves.