Photographing the Neighborhood: An Altar in the World

posted in: Everyday Life | 7

“All it takes is the decision to walk with some awareness, both of who you are and what you are doing” (An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor, pg. 55).


Walking barefoot and getting lost are two practices Barbara Brown Taylor explores in An Altar in the World.  She writes eloquently about the simple practice of paying attention while walking and how it grounds us and can help us see God’s presence in the world.  In the following chapter she explores getting lost is low risk situations, so that when you get lost in life—when things don’t work out according to plan—you are more prepared to survive in the wilderness.

There are so many rich passages in the chapters.  Her chapter on getting lost reminded me of the vulnerability of living overseas.  Like getting lost, living overseas means “Even though you would rather not think about it, you are exquisitely vulnerable in this moment.  You are vulnerable to this moment.  Your carefully maintained safety net has ripped.  Your expensive armor has sprung a leak.  You are in need of help, and your awareness of this is not a bad thing” (pg. 76).

Vulnerability is an every day experience for me and walking barefoot is just not done in China (for good reason—I watched a little kid pee on the sidewalk the other day and rather gleefully stomp in the puddle as his parents tried in vain to get him to stop).  So I adapted these practices for my situation—I walked with shoes on around my neighborhood.  I didn’t get lost, but I did give myself permission to explore, to stop in stores I hadn’t visited yet and discover more about this place.  I took my camera with my, because going for a photo walk helps me walk with awareness, to pay attention to what is around me.  On my walk I found…


…the beautiful yellow ginko trees in the courtyard of my apartment complex against the “APEC blue” skies.



…this detail on the gate I walk through every day to get into the apartment complex.


…more leeks in one place than I’ve probably ever seen in my life.  It must be the season for leeks, because one of the produce stores outside the gate had all these in the photo, plus the whole back of a van full.  As I was taking this photo, I heard an older Chinese couple wonder to each other why I was taking a picture of this.  They decided I must not have leeks in my country.


…A beautiful November rose.



…this delightful little market/shopping alley.  I had gone up on a pedestrian bridge to cross the street and noticed it from the top.  I went back down the bridge to find this little street full of fruits, vegetables, dried beans and seeds, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and household goods stands.  This is a reason China is amazing.  You can be in an outdoor goods shop that sells imported Icebreaker socks (for $50USD a pair!) and Osprey packs, and five minutes later you can be in this little alley buying Chinese bread products for pennies.



…these colorful plastic bowls and colanders in the alley.



…two purple mops.  When I pay attention, even mops left outside to dry can be beautiful.

7 Responses

  1. Amy Young

    Ruth, I’m so glad you shared this with the book club! I love when we slow down, what it is we actually see. So many of these pictures capture a details or intricacy that when I look at, I’m moved by in some way, but too often I don’t pay attention.

  2. sue tyler

    you have such a gifted eye. i wonder how much beauty i miss just because i don’t “see”

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