‘Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ Matthew 28:20 ESV
Behold – It’s a word that is a little archaic, but I wonder that as we journey with Christ, beholding may need to be reinstated in common everyday language, at least among Christians.
It’s a word that for me has taken on a greater spiritual meaning as I have been on this inward path to God – what I refer to as His contemplative call. I have been helped in my understanding by the writings of Anglican solitary Maggie Ross who helped help me see the crucial importance of beholding in the contemplative life. It involves gazing, loving, receiving love, a sense of mutuality. We behold God in response to God beholding us.
When looking to its meaning Bible commenters suggest that the word denotes one who had been initiated into the innermost secrets of their faith and who enjoyed the highest religious privileges.
Right at the beginning of the Bible we see that the first Word heard by human beings, the first Word understood, by the man and the woman was
‘And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.”’ Genesis 1:29 (ESV)
From the beginning the word behold was not just a verb, not just an activity, it is a command word, telling us that something of profound significance is happening. No wonder that God chose this word to be his first word to us, his human creatures, behold – pay attention, be awake, listen.
I also noted that at the end of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus uses the same word as part of his final word to His disciples in the Great Commission – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
Behold is a word that alerts us to pause, however briefly, to be vigilant, because something new, something startling, is about to be revealed. Beholding is a process of continual death (the mind being temporarily brought to silence) and resurrection (the arrival of a new perspective). If we live in beholding, we continually live in a new creation.
Beholding is a concept that not only are we in danger of losing, but that is often lost in translation, yet it is fundamental to our understanding of our new life in Christ.
Let’s take a moment to walk through the sequence of our new life in Christ – God calls us; we are disturbed (made restless) by the call; we recognise it as longing; we wake up (respond to the call); we behold the mystery; and then – and only then – do we start thinking about it.
True beholding, therefore, is transformational rather than merely experiential — echoing Teresa of Avila’s insistence that the only sure way of assessing progress in the spiritual life is by considering one’s growth in holiness, which is to say, growth in love and humble service of others.
Beholding is about learning to see, to watch, to pay attention. One of the Desert Fathers – whose name is lost to us but who was thought to be named Macarius – compared the act of beholding Christ to an artist’s model holding his or her gaze steadily on the painter while the portrait is being made:
Beholding God is an end unto itself. But, paradoxically, it is also a means to an end. In our beholding, we are transformed – we have the “Heavenly image” of Christ engraved “into our souls.” This becomes the key to eternal life, confidence, and rest.
So just how do we behold God in everything? Here’s where all the language and stories and teachings of the Christian wisdom tradition help us. The tradition affirms that God is omnipresent – which means God is everywhere, God is in everything and we didn’t have a thing to do with it. God lives in us; God is the source of our being, our life. Yet God is out of control – that is to say, outside our control – and God is hidden in plain sight. God is gazing at us, beholding us, right here, right now. Never mind what we feel or don’t feel, perceive or don’t perceive.
If you in any way long for God or God’s blessing in your life, this call is hidden in the heart of your longing.
Take a deep breath and relax into your longing and remember that it is a mirror. God is looking for you.