What is the definition of reverence? Would life be more meaningful with it?

“Reverence.” This impressionistic Arizona mission art is from photos I took of an old adobe chapel in southern Arizona. As I titled it, my curiosity was piqued by the word “reverence.” If you notice the details, you’ll see a historic 1929 map of early missions, ruins, and pueblos peek through, and Mary is kneeling beside it. The chapel is named “La Capilla de Santa Maria, Consoladora De Los Afligidos.” Translated, “The Chapel of Saint Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted.” 

“Reverence for Life says that the only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass–and, of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect, that we wish for ourselves.”
–Albert Schweitzer, “Reverence for Life”

What is the definition of “reverence?”

I’ll admit that my first reaction to the word “reverence” gave me some trepidation. I’ve not been to a church service in many years. For various reasons, many of us feel triggered negatively by religious words. Yet, I love the tradition and symbolism of so many religions.

I had to do some research before I committed to naming this image “Reverence.” As I sifted through the definitions, I realized that while there are obvious ties to religions, “reverence” is a full term that deserves our understanding.


“Reverence is a feeling of deep respect or awe. Reverence can be a feeling of awe, and it can also describe how you treat someone, particularly when used with the word with. To treat someone “with reverence” is to show them intense respect.”



“Reverence involves a humbling of the self in respectful recognition of something perceived to be greater than the self…reverence is an emotion in its own right, and can be felt outside the realm of religion.” 



“Reverence is the sense that there is something larger than the self, larger even than the human, to which one accords respect and awe, and assent.”

–Ursula Goodenough

What is reverence?

 Reverence is an emotion.

With that epiphany, I embraced “Reverence” as a title for this Arizona mission art image.

As I let these definitions and quotes sink in, I realized that reverence is mindfulness mixed with humility. When we become mindful, we stay open and curious. When we respect something different from ourselves, we escape judgment. With humility, we recognize that our lives are limited, and our understanding of the mysteries surrounding us is constrained, though we try very hard to figure them out.

We just can’t figure it all out. If we can embrace that there is more to everything than just ourselves and our knowledge, that we are not pulling all the strings, we accept there’s something beyond us: a power, energy, a fabric to the universe. Call it whatever you like. But the reality is, if we think we’ve figured things out, we’ve lost reverence for life.

When we accept that we are part of the whole, we feel a sense of transcendence, unity, and purpose in everything. Then we develop the motivation to treat all life with respect. That feeling encourages us to be better people, care for others, and, most importantly, honor ourselves. That’s when magic exists. And magic makes life more colorful and engaging.

Head silhouette with Grand Canyon layers inside

Like art that is spiritual?

Check out the story of my photo created from the Christmas nativity scene at the Imperial Sand Dunes.

What does reverence feel like?

Yet those moments of reverence are so hard to put into words. So perhaps explaining what reverence feels like is best told in the story of creating this image.

Tucked behind a small winery in the rural ranch area of Sonoita in southern Arizona, I noticed this old adobe chapel. I’d been out for a morning walk in the crisp fall air of a November morning. But, unfortunately, as I glanced up a hill, the setting was a dismal sight.

Wine barrels marred the view, two large metal storage containers sat to its side, and farm implements took up home in front. Beyond the menagerie necessary to run a winery stood this small historic structure, seemingly taken over by the modern method of soothing nerves. Held back by no-trespassing signs, I couldn’t get beyond these obstacles for a closer look.

But as I continued my walk, I knew I’d be back with my camera. I felt compelled to figure out a way to photograph this forsaken structure.  And I wondered, “why do we abandon what was once sacred?”

Why would I spend time photographing this mess?

I’m a sucker for the underdogs that time eats away at. This small church looked sad, aging, and isolated in a time long past. Even the wind abandoned the tree standing next to the chapel with barren winter-ready branches.


Most people would not notice this old adobe chapel, or at least not pay much attention to it. There’s so much chaos in front and around it, and what once was sacred now seems forgotten.

The sign next to the door read, “La Capilla de Santa Maria, Consoladora De Los Afligidos,” translating to “the Chapel of Saint Mary, Consoler of the Afflicted.”

What woes, suffering, and distress did these afflicted bring inside?  Were their prayers heard? Did they unload their grief or guilt? How many stories walked through those doors?

After finishing my walk, I grabbed my camera bag with a sense of urgency as though the chapel might suddenly disappear, which had probably stood there for over a hundred years or more. I returned, passing the sleepy donkeys for the third time, giving them some entertainment on an otherwise uneventful day of swooshing flies with their tails.



The Spanish title led me towards the vision of how I wanted to create this Arizona mission art. 

How I approached photographing the adobe chapel to respect and honor its past.

 I decided to capture a series of photos by walking a few steps up and down the road in front of the wall of obstructions, taking a shot at a specific interval of steps. Later I could blend them together to create an Arizona mission artwork. I hoped.

The winery was closed, but I wondered if someone inside might be looking out, wondering what I was doing. I couldn’t tell. I’ve encountered times when property owners are reluctant about photographers, as though we are documenting security flaws for a future break-in. So I took my photos with a sense of wanting to finish and flee before being accused. Could I have a bit of Catholic guilt buried deep inside? 

The making of an impressionistic Arizona mission art piece.

Once I was back home and downloaded the photos to my computer, I took the liberty of “cleaning up” each scene from the boxes and unsightly storage. Then I layered them together to form an impressionistic view of what I thought the setting might have looked like years before.

But I wanted to add more to the story. In my research, I stumbled on a historic 1929 map of early missions, ruins, and pueblos in Arizona and New Mexico. This chapel represented the Spanish movement of Catholic Franciscans and Jesuits spreading the doctrine to the native peoples. I thought the map was the perfect addition. But this wasn’t something just lifted from the Internet. I respect others’ works and don’t want to violate copyright laws. No need for lousy ju-ju, right? Besides, I’d be upset if someone used my photos without permission.

I sent a message to the Tubac Historical Society requesting permission. I told myself I might never hear from them, or worse, I would hear the word “no.” So I let the idea go in whatever direction it was meant to go. That’s hard to do when an artistic vision is shaping. But a few days later, a volunteer sent me not one, but two digital maps. Happiness! I layered one of the maps into the background. It worked perfectly for my vision. And thank you to Betsy, one of the volunteers at Tubac.



Courtesy of Tubac Historical Society, this map from 1929 shows the early missions, ruins, and pueblos across Arizona and New Mexico. This creates the backdrop to the “Reverence” Arizona mission art image.

The map fits perfectly, and the word “Arizona” subtly stands over the tree and chapel. I had the historical link I wanted, but the photo was still incomplete. Then, I had a flash of inspiration saying, “what if?”

I was a little guarded with my hope of pulling off this idea I was crafting upstairs in my head, but if I could, I thought it would complete the scene.

Last year my friend Dawn invited me to join her in Honolulu before Christmas. I was beginning to play around with this layering technique then. In the lobby of the hotel was a rather sizable nativity scene. I used the same method of walking a few steps and taking pictures. However, the blend of them didn’t turn out to my liking. Isn’t that the way of learning? Loads of effort only to learn what doesn’t work more than what does.

But maybe I could extract Mary from that scene?


A year earlier, I’d tried photographing a large nativity scene in the lobby of a hotel. A lightbulb went on in my head, and I wondered if I could extract Mary from the manger scene.

So I did, and it was successful, which isn’t always the case when I try this. I layered the image of Mary as though she was kneeling over the chapel named in her honor. Known to many as “Our Lady of Sorrows,” I imagined her bestowing blessings and peace to the downtrodden old adobe chapel and those who entered. At first, I blended her into the scene with the color of her nativity statue. But the whole image gave me chills when I used a blending mode that gave her more of a saintly outline. Finally, the piece became more spiritual, and I felt the image transform into the Arizona mission art I had hoped for.

Head silhouette with Grand Canyon layers inside

Like art that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete?

Reverence and living intentionally go together. The result is personal transformation.

There are photos I take in the moment, where all the elements lay out before me. I’ve felt like I’ve been shown a gift through a sunset, rainbow, fog, or the presence of animals. Yes, I put in some effort and hoped for something dramatic, but I had no expectations. I’ve always felt guided in those circumstances. How easy it would be to miss them by a split second, turn in a different direction, or arrive moments afterward.

And then there are these moments, like “Reverence.” The idea did not come together all at once. I certainly could have dismissed even trying to capture this scene. The chaotic jumble wasn’t photogenic, but I felt a nudge to take these photos. My subconscious slowed me down. When my mind quieted, I could listen to what my inner self was trying to communicate. The story unfolded at just the right pace and at the right time. What once were separate photos and elements are now combined and transformed into one Arizona mission artwork.

Rediscovering reverence for more fulfillment.

As I look back, this image is about reverence and transformation. Transformation comes when we live with intention. We must want to see and experience what is beautiful about this life. The little old adobe chapel’s time might be passed, but that doesn’t change how it represents hope and support.

Life introduces us to flaws, difficulties, and pains. Obstacles teach us of their opposites: the flexibility of imperfection, living with acceptance, and pure joy.

Life is constantly changing, and although we fight it often, it is much easier to appreciate it, like a movie. There’s some drama, a few bad guys, a hero, and maybe a few sequels. The script explores the story of something missing in the star’s life, and then we, as the star, discover how to be grateful for what life provides. It’s not always a pretty picture, but it is enough.

Recognizing the loss of reverence in the modern world.

In the past, religious ceremonies, art, literature, music, time in nature, and other rituals were used to offer us these moments of reverence. Unfortunately, our pace and dulling of senses have pushed those things to the side. Instead, we honor a to-do list, busy ourselves with the motion of multitasking, and are numb to the small special moments in life. Reverence is abandoned. People complain of being tired and feeling like the treadmill has no “off” button. As the star of the show, we must dedicate ourselves to figuring out how to appreciate things around us more deeply if we wish to reclaim meaning in our lives.

I’ve been in that trap of rushing through life to get as much done as possible. I’ve also believed that everything landed on my shoulders. I didn’t embrace or believe in a force beyond myself. That’s a very lonely place. And exhausting. And there’s certainly no magic. Sadly, I even thought to myself at one point, “life is so long.”

But I knew that wasn’t right. So I found help, I worked hard on journaling, meditating, and other practices to understand myself and my place here and regain that feeling of the joy of being alive. Then, finally, I realized I wasn’t alone. I didn’t have to depend solely on myself. There was a force beyond me, and I finally lowered my guard to sense that love was all around.

That’s why I love photography and writing. These activities restored fulfillment and meaning for me. They gave me reverence. There’s space between action and thought. I see into the photos for the symbolism they hold. And when I write, I synthesize those feelings. I am still left with many questions, but that curiosity fuels me forward. There is so much to learn. This reminds me of a quote we recently discovered on mom’s desk:

“Everything I learn makes me see how much more there is to know and how little time there is in a lifetime to learn it all.”-

– Tom Brown, Jr.


Like my photography path, in living, maybe we learn more about what doesn’t work than what does. But, on the other hand, what does work is pretty simple. Perhaps we are too stubborn to believe it right off. We test things out. So that’s where there’s a struggle. And struggle comes and goes too.

Notice all of the creations before you. Love others. Love yourself.

That’s reverence in my book. 

Would life be more meaningful with “Reverence” in it?


This Arizona mission artwork adds so much to these homes, don’t you think?


Explore meaning through art.

“By practicing reverence for life, we become good, deep, and alive.”
–Albert Schweitzer

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