A few weeks ago, I went on a weekend retreat at Living Water Spiritual Center in Winslow. The center is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph and hosts retreats and other programs put on by churches and other groups, as well as offering programs of its own.

I had signed up for this particular retreat because it intrigued me: it was called “Picturing Prayer,” and the description said it would involve using nature photography as a gateway to prayer. Having long fancied myself a nature photographer, I was captivated.

The leader, Sister Claudette Darisse, SASV, belongs to the Sisters of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and was interim director at Living Water during 2008-09. The program description said, “Her approach … is laced with a deep sense of gratitude to creator God and an eagerness to share that with others… .” A person after my own heart; I was excited.

The first evening, I went outside a little before dusk and walked the labyrinth that is mowed into the grass. It was peaceful to walk slowly along the winding path, breathing the cool spring air, hearing the birds, letting my thoughts go where they would but not really thinking about anything. I admired an apple tree in blossom and made a mental note to photograph it the next day. Then I turned back to follow the path on its inevitable route to the center and back out to the starting point.

The next day was Saturday, and I got up eager to go out in the sunshine and start taking pictures. Before long, I was headed in the direction of the apple tree I’d seen the previous evening. I don’t know why, but when I’m taking pictures I am often attracted to details — the face of a flower, the texture or pattern of a leaf, the blur of a hummingbird’s wings. This day, it was as if I were trying to get a really close look at the new world opened up by the burgeoning spring.

I wanted to get a good closeup of one of the bees pollinating the apple tree. It took a few tries and some experimenting with different settings on my camera, but finally I got it: a shot that showed the yellow bands around the bee’s body, the opalescent wings, the tiny legs against the white of the apple blossoms, with blue sky in the background seen through the tree’s branches.

I also tried some edge-on shots of the labyrinth, so the whole pattern could be seen, surrounded by the new green of the grass. Then I headed into the woods on one of the nature trails maintained by the center, and found more photographic subjects: a handsome wooden bridge, a miniature waterfall, the meandering Sebasticook River with its rocks and eddies, patterns of light and shadow, leaves. And a bicycle in a tree.

It was so unexpected, I had to laugh when I saw it: a three-dimensional joke told by someone generous enough not to insist on being present for the punchline. There it was, maybe 30 feet up, securely lodged in the crotch of a very tall maple, a full-sized men’s bicycle, as if E.T. had attempted to return home, only to get caught and be catapulted into space. Naturally, I had to take a picture.

There were many more photos. My camera and I feasted on the rebirth of the natural world, taking in light, shadow, color and pattern, as well as smells and sounds that my camera couldn’t capture. It was as if I absorbed directly the energy of new life on an unseasonably warm spring Saturday. It was heaven.

This was a different sort of prayer than I was used to, without words or thoughts, a prayer of the senses and the spirit responding to creation in joy and gratitude.

Later, we used Sr. Claudette’s color printer and photographic paper to print some of our favorite pictures and make greeting cards with them, then wrote a quotation, from Scripture or another source, inside. In my card bearing the picture of the bicycle, I quote Matthew 10:27 — “All things are possible with God.”

All in all, the weekend was a welcome chance to have my vision and my spirit renewed, and my sense of the loving God at the center of creation affirmed.