Prayers on the Clothesline

05/26/2015 01:13 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2016


A recent art exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Religious Art at St Louis University featured the work of photographer Regina DeLuise, whose black and white photographs attend to the ordinary moments in the spiritual lives of the people of Bhutan. The photographer noted that she was inspired to visit this country after learning that their government was focused on the "gross national happiness."

Bhutan only opened its borders in the 1950s and it limits the amount of tourism, but DeLuise was welcomed to spend six weeks with artists, photographing them and others she met as they embraced the ordinary aspects of their spiritual lives.

One stunning photograph looked at first glance like someone's laundry hanging out to dry on clotheslines across an open field. It was only upon inspection that I noticed the pieces of material were all the same size. And then upon reading the small description by the artist, I learned that these were prayer flags. I felt embarrassed and ashamed that I had mistaken these holy symbols for somebody's boxer shorts and socks on the line. If the photographs had been in color, I would have recognized them, I told myself.

But as I toured the rest of the exhibit, I learned that in Tibetan Buddhism there is not a sense that religious life is exotic or separate from everyday living. So maybe the people who hung out those prayer flags would not be offended after all. Maybe God was at work in the flags, the photograph and even in our laundry, as we look for the sacred in everyday things.