Worship. Serve. Grow.

To Behold Art

I hope you had a chance to see and listen to the video of my interview with The Rev. Alice Graham Grant that was included in my letter to the parish last week. Alice shared how her journey of faith, particularly her call to ordained ministry, has been formed and shaped by her experience of art. If you have not seen the video, I suggest you take the time to see it.

I found Alice’s insight very powerful. And this past week I came across the following meditation by Richard Rohr (founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation), which I’d like to share with you. It has led me to a continued reflection to the gift art can be to us. 

We Are Called to Behold

When we look at art, we are usually quick to judge its value according to our own preferences based on style, color, size, location, and even country of origin! However, there is another invitation—one that goes beyond our likes and dislikes—and that is to simply “behold” it. Many of the apparitions in the Bible begin with “behold”—usually uttered as a command, an invitation, or perhaps a call to a different style of attention. In a sense, it is a giveaway that, in fact, we can and need to “switch gears” once in a while to be ready to perceive what is about to come at us.

When I have sent people into the woods on a retreat, I learned from wilderness guide Bill Plotkin to ask them to draw a symbolic line in the sand and to truly expect things on the other side to show themselves as special, invitational, or even a kind of manifestation. We could do the same with time spent gazing at a painting, a sculpture, or immersed in poetry or music. Believe it or not, it always works somehow. On the other side of that log, or “line in the sand,” or piece of art, we start beholding. Someone who is truly beholding is silenced with the utter gratuity of a thing. We let it give us a leap of joy in the heart and in the eye.

Once we decide to behold, we are available for awe and wonder, to be present to what is, without the filter of our preferences or the false ledger of judging things as important or not important. A much broader, much deeper, and much wider field of perception opens up, becoming an alternative way of knowing and enjoying. The soul sees soul everywhere else too: “deep calls unto deep,” as the psalmist says (42:8). Center knows center, and this is called “love.”

Beholding happens when we stop trying to “hold” and allow ourselves to “be held” by the other. We are completely enchanted by something outside and beyond ourselves. Maybe we should speak of “behelding” because, in that moment, we are being held more than really holding, explaining, or understanding anything by ourselves. We feel ourselves being addressed more than addressing something else. This radically changes our situation and perspective.

I invite you to “behold” something today. In my experience, you will seldom be disappointed. Find a bit of ordinary beauty—a print, a sculpture, a photograph—in your home, online, or at a museum—and gaze at it until you see it as one instance of a manifestation of the eternal creativity of God. Allow your “beholding” to move the work of art beyond its mere “relative truth” and to reveal its inherent dignity, as it is, without your interference or your labels. It becomes an epiphany and the walls of your world begin to expand.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (CAC Publishing: 2017), 99–101.

You can sign up to receive daily meditations from Richard Rohr and the CAC. They are very worthwhile.

—Fr. George