Courtney Milne, Mystical Photographer Reinventing his Profession

Several years ago I received a letter from Courtney Milne who was a photographer who lived in Saskatoon, Canada.  He wanted to talk and told me the following story:  

Photographer Courtney Milne and his partner, writer Sherrill Miller talk about their book “Visions of the Goddess”. Video by Craig Rintoul.

One moonlit night, he was awakened from sleep and went to the window to look outdoors and heard a voice that told him he should go around the world and take photographs of sacred sites. 

A voice like that, a message like that, was all new to him so he went to a bookstore to find some inkling of what had happened to him.  There he picked up my book on The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (the “Cosmic Christ” is an archetype for mystical experience and I offer “21 running and workable definitions for mysticism” in chapter 2 of the book).  

On reading the book, he understood that he had undergone a mystical experience. He packed his bags and set out on his journey to take pictures from around the world.  He also took the book with him. 

The Sacred Earth by Courtney Milne

He visited 140 different sacred places and 30 countries are included in his book.  Many adventures ensued, including having all his photographic equipment stolen from him when in China.  He talked of the journey as a “personal pilgrimage” and defined sacred places as  “awe-inspiring places.”

The result of his calling was his beautiful book, The Sacred Earth with a Foreward by his Holiness the Dalai Lama.  In it, Milne offers the following commentary:

Ironically, my most profound revelations have not occurred at specific sacred sites, but rather they have surfaced as a realization of what it is I am doing….I have come to realize how you and I—anyone who enjoys making images—are responding to the mystic that lives within each of us.

Courtney Milne, struggling with cancer late in life, photographing his swimming pool. Published with permission from the tribute site “The Canadian Nature Photographer.”

This surely underscores a paradigm shift for Milne and an invitation for other artists since the modern era was essentially “anti-mystical,” as Theodore Roszak noted when he said “the Enlightenment held mysticism up for ridicule as the worst offense against science and reason.”

Milne goes on: 

All joyous photographers are artists, and all artists are mystics….Knowing this gives me permission to nurture amazement, to leave the camera in my bag and fully experience a new place—to allow me to be a child again and to discover the newness of an old place or the inherent familiarly of a new place.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work, p. 208.  

And Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, pp. 35-74.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image; “Peace” by Courtney Milne. Published with permission from the tribute site “The Canadian Nature Photographer,” a subsidiary of Science & Art Multimedia, owned & operated by Dr. Robert Berdan.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with Milne that “all joyous photographers are artists and all artists are mystics”?  Is that true of other vocations as well?  Notice the key word, joyous.

Recommended Reading

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

In what may be considered the most comprehensive outline of the Christian paradigm shift of our Age, Matthew Fox eloquently foreshadows the manner in which the spirit of Christ resurrects in terms of the return to an earth-based mysticism, the expression of creativity, mystical sexuality, the respect due the young, the rebirth of effective forms of worship—all of these mirroring the ongoing blessings of Mother Earth and the recovery of Eros, the feminine aspect of the Divine.
“The eighth wonder of the world…convincing proof that our Western religious tradition does indeed have the depth of imagination to reinvent its faith.” — Brian Swimme, author of The Universe Story and Journey of the Universe.

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

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7 thoughts on “Courtney Milne, Mystical Photographer Reinventing his Profession”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, You ask us today in our Queries for Contemplation: “Do you agree with Milne that ‘all joyous photographers are artists and all artists are mystics’?”
    Yes. My son is a professional photographer who has done shoots with the Kardashians sisters and Mariel Hemingway’s daughter–not to mention many lesser known people. I do not think he is very mystical but he is certainly joyous! I also have a woman friend named, Rebecca Gordon who is a outdoors photographer, who does very beautiful, and often stunning work. So I would have to say, that though all photographers are artists, I know there is at least one who isn’t a mystic.
    “Is that true of other vocations as well?” Yes, other vocations can be mystical too if one enters into the work in a open and receptive way. And yet at the same time, mysticism doesn’t depend so much on the activity but on the person themselves.
    “Notice the key word, joyous.” I notice it here, in that Milne says “all joyous photographers are artists”–I think of your book about Aquinas: SHEER JOY, and I think of the Via Positiva for the joy, and the Via Creativa for the artist…

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    I know many photographers, and I would have to agree with Richard, that not all of them accessed the potential of the mystic within. However, I know many whom do… of which I am one. I believe that being a mystic is an inherent potential… seeded and sealed within all… however not all awaken to this blessed gift. This potential can be expressed in and through many vocations… not just the multitude of arts. Truth be told, everyone is an artist, whether they consciously realize this or not… for each one of us all is the artist of our own self and our own life… experienced in relationship to and with the all and the everything of creation… and this in and of itself can be a mystical journey.

    I so enjoyed hearing Mathew read the quotes of other mystics… and their personal experiences of defining what it is to be a mystic. I hope that more people hear these words, that inspires them to awaken and embrace their own inner mystic… cause it’s such an awesome and beautiful gift!

  3. Avatar
    Damian Maureira

    Today’s DM on mysticism reminds me that I have been drawn since young adulthood to the mystics in our past and present human history from all genuine spiritual traditions. They have experienced with-in their lives, relations with others and Mother Earth (with all Her creatures), and with Creation/Cosmos… a Loving Diverse Oneness… that has always attracted me, and still inspires my developing faith/awareness on my spiritual journey towards healing/purification/transformation within and among others and All ongoing conscious co-Creation in our Creator’s Loving~Wisdom~Creative~Just~Beautiful~Joyful… Presence in the Sacred Process of the Eternal Now….

  4. Avatar

    I am in agreement with Matthew’s statements and questions specifically because as the
    bible teaches, “The JOY of the Lord IS OUR Strength”. When we find joy (or it finds us) and we bring that joy into our work, whatever it may be, it becomes a mystical creative adventure. In my experience, the presence of joy IS the presence of the divine for which I am very grateful.

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