Two weeks ago, MA in Theology & Culture student Allyson Arendsee wrote about the prophetic role of the artist in community. This week, MA in Counseling Psychology student Kelly Pastori is reflecting upon her photography and the labor pains of the creative process. Check back next week to hear from a student-artist in the Master of Divinity program.

“Art is important for it commemorates the seasons of the soul, or a special or tragic event in the soul’s journey. Art is not just for oneself, not just a marker of one’s own understanding. It is also a map for those who follow after us.” Clarissa Pinkola Estes

I love a good love story and I love a good photograph. The lighting, the composition, the subject—each of these details can change how the photograph is seen. As a child, I was always intrigued with photos, being in them and taking them. I remember my first disposable camera, my first digital camera, my first (flip) phone camera, and the first time I ever used a DSLR. Although I have consistently been enthralled with photography through the years, I really fell in love with it was when I was in Kenya for a summer. A friend whom I stayed with let me borrow his DSLR, and the photos that I took told stories that my body and mind could not tell. These photographs served as my heart’s translator. Through a camera and a photograph, I am able to tell a story a bit differently, if not more accurately. Some stories have to be seen through a different lens in order to be felt and heard.

This year I have been blessed to shoot weddings and births and sunsets and mountains. Lots of mountains. Since I am from Florida, the topography and stature of Washington astounds me daily. But the most transformative experience I have had thus far is shooting a friend’s labor and birth. Women’s bodies are miracles. I have never felt more proud of being a woman and more intimidated by own womanness at the same time. As I watched this resilient and fierce soul of a friend go through her birth process, I felt her laboring deep in my bones. Somehow, I felt that I stood with her in her labor and knew a version of it.

The way our stories emerge from the depths of our beings is similar to the birth process: In order to get to a birth, you have to go through death. The death for me has felt like dealing with parts of myself I never thought I would voice, or dealing with parts that I didn’t even know were a part of me. My mind and body has labored hard and is presently laboring in order to voice my stories and let them be heard. After the intense laboring, the crying out for mercy, there is, suddenly, a new life. The baby has been born. The baby gives hope for new life. We are stunned when a crying new voice shows up in the room; we could never fully prepare for it until it’s there. To me, the birth feels like parts of us that we did not even know were there showing up into the world. The entrance (whether it be a literal birth, or figurative hopes, dreams, or desires) bewilders us. Sometimes we get so lost in the newness that we momentarily forget the labor process, but we still have the scars to show for it.

The birth process was one of the most holy and earthy experiences I have ever been able to witness. As I have said, the creative process is similar to birth. I consider my journey at The Seattle School to be a creative process as well. I’m having to let certain parts of myself come to life, and other parts have a bit less of a say. My soul has rebirthed itself along with my creative intentions. I have needed people to tell back to me what they have heard in my stories so that I can know how to communicate with others and myself more truthfully and vulnerably.

During this process, I have found that my photographs can help lead me to my words. In seasons of grief, it seems that I take more photos of lonely silhouettes, of dark spaces with only a tiny bit of light (if any) shining through. Photographs help me to come nestle into my emotions. In seasons of redemption, gratitude, and goodness, I find that I let lots of light into my photos; I tend to photograph fresh blooms and smiling faces filled with sunshine and joy everywhere.

My work at The Seattle school has taught me to dwell with people and with myself in the deeper, more vulnerable places, and to not just ask for help but also rely on it. Rather than “being strong” in ways that are not helpful to my soul coming to life, I have been learning to truly understand the strength that is a part of me. I have found this to be the bravest thing that I can do in order to hope for redemption in my story. My eyes speak truth and crave to be known. I am telling a different story these days, and I am met in my mess—not my cleaned-up version. I have had to be awakened, and I have needed help from the women and men in my life who have enabled me to see myself more clearly. I get to go though the labor pains until the bewilderment and gratitude come out of nowhere, making the whole process worth it.