Father Lawrence Lew, O.P., tweets beautiful images. A Dominican priest, a friar, he is assistant Catholic chaplain for the Universities of Edinburgh, Napier, and Queen Margaret in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Dominicans are the Order of Preachers and Fr. Lew has made photos a distinctive part of his ministry. You can find his preaching in different forms on Twitter and Tumblr (where you can read his daily homilies for the St. Albert’s Priory and Chaplaincy) and Flickr. Fr. Lew talks with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about making use of social media for holy purposes.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: When did you take your first photo?
FR. LAWRENCE LEW, O.P.: I don’t recall when I took my first photo ever. I must have been a child aged around ten? Maybe younger? However, I consciously began to take photos of stained glass when I was a Dominican novice in 2005. Our Novitiate is in Cambridge, a town blessed with many beautiful chapels and churches, and so I was able to practice in the course of that year. My intention then was to take photos of Biblical scenes rendered in colorful glass in order to use them in presentations for catechizing children.
LOPEZ: You must have a most extensive filing system. How do you decide what you’re going to photograph and how do you know when you’re going to use what? How are you able to find it?
FR. LEW: I use Lightroom and I tag my photos according to themes and saints. However, I confess that most of the filing happens in my mind. I have a “photographic memory,” so I remember vaguely where things are. Some days I do have to search for an hour to find the right photograph, but I generally have an idea of what I want and where it is. Scrolling through the catalogue as I’m searching helps reinforce my memory of where things are located, and sometimes I add more tags to help me find them more quickly.
I’m always on the lookout for obscure saints and interesting Scriptural passages rendered in art. However, I don’t decide what I am going to shoot, as such. I photograph everything in a church, and am always keen to visit any church. Consequently, I currently have almost 120,000 photos on my catalogue that take up about 1.5 terabytes!
To help me decide which photos to post each day, I look at the liturgy of the day. Saints’ days are often the easiest, especially if I have an image of the saint. If not, I look at their writings and see if some image they use fits a photo I may have. Often I will post three photos a day. One will be the main image that is inspired by the liturgy or Scripture reading of the day, and then the others will be photos from the church or place where the main image is located. On days where I can find no photo to fit the liturgy, I will post other photos from my catalogue, typically of life and scenes from where I am currently based, which is Edinburgh.
LOPEZ: Is your social-media use of religious art another form of preaching?
FR. LEW: Yes. I am very conscious that the main reason I do this and am online is to preach the Gospel. As St. Paul says, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” The human soul thirsts for truth as she does for beauty, and so I see the use of beautiful art and images as a vital part of preaching God who is Beauty and who is Truth.
LOPEZ: What’s the greatest work of art you’ve set eyes on?
FR. LEW: Considered as a whole, I suppose the Sainte Chapelle in Paris or Chartres Cathedral both took my breath away. They are such fitting evocations of heaven, and, as beauty ought to do, they draw one out of oneself in a kind of ecstasy so that the soul longs for God and for Heaven. However, I suppose if one thinks of a more specific work of art, I would have to mention a recent visit to Rome when I was allowed into the Sistine Chapel on a private tour. We had a chance to contemplate Michelangelo’s art on the ceiling, and I recall lying on the floor of that chapel and just looking up at his work. The Last Judgment in that chapel, too, was most impressive, and I recall especially that the main altar crucifix stands directly in front of the mouth of Hell. One only realizes this when one is standing at the altar in the Sistine Chapel, and this positioning is not accidental, I don’t think. It moved me immensely to recall that the cross of Christ and the sacrifice of Jesus are what saves us and bars sinful man’s descent into eternal death.