It is one of those old-fashioned words, “Behold.” We hear it in some English translations of the Bible, but not a whole lot outside of Church. I think there is a reason for that. Quite simply, we don’t behold much anymore. We do see things, we sometimes notice, glance or even examine, but we do not behold very often. To behold is to look at something deeply. To “hold” it carefully and deliberately in our attention. It involves stopping, being still, really taking the time to see something as it is. We cannot behold when we are in a hurry, when we are distracted, when we are rushing from one thing to the next. We cannot behold when we are wrapped up in ourselves.
In the Bible, the word “behold” often carries a meaning that says, “Pay attention. This is important. God wants you to notice something here.” In the Bible, people of faith are asked to behold God’s works, God’s presence, God’s words and will for the community. People are also asked to behold one another. Beholding is a spiritual practice, and an important part of the life of faith. In the moment of beholding, we deeply see or perceive something or someone, without imposing our expectations or evaluations upon them. To behold is to appreciate someone or something not as an actor in the fascinating drama of our lives, not as an object to be utilized, not as a means to our ends, but rather in and of itself worthy of value and worthy to be “held.” In beholding we give time and space in our lives, in our hearts and minds.
In the act of beholding - that moment of stillness, perception and appreciation - we allow ourselves and something else to just be, and we might even allow ourselves to be affected in some way by them. There is an element of self-surrender in beholding, even obligation. This comes through in the meaning of the word “Beholden.” Because of this, beholding is an essential part of loving. If we really pause our own agendas for a moment to behold another person – or to behold God – we are opening ourselves up to become concerned about another in a way that puts ourselves to the side. No wonder we don’t behold much – it is dangerous. We resist being beholden to much of anything, and zealously guard what we think of as our “independence.” Hurrying from one thing to the next, rushing around in frantic busy-ness, is a lot easier than being still and beholding, a lot less risky than opening ourselves up to be affected deeply by something or someone else, making room for the possibility of self-surrender. But what are we losing?
What would it be like to revive the practice of beholding in our lives? How would it change our relationship with God? How would it change our relationships with one another? Is it possible that God is saying to us, in the midst of all of our hurry, all of our distractions, all of our anxiety, “Behold! Behold my marvelous works. Behold one another, my children, in all of your broken-ness and all of your beauty. Behold my abiding, steadfast love. Behold my presence, my creative, transforming will in your lives and in the world. Behold.”
The Rev. Amanda K. Gott
Grace & St. Peter's Episcopal Church
Image from http://abduzeedo.com/most-creative-ads-series-hands