THE WONDERS OF BEHOLDING
READ: Matthew 10:28-31
And then Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body; rather fear him who could destroy both body and soul in hell. Can you not buy two sparrows for but the cost of a small coin? And yet not one of those sparrows falls to the ground without your Father knowing that it falls. Why, every hair on your head has been counted, so there is no need to fear, for you are worth more than many sparrows.“ – Matthew 10:28-31
Jazz, the Abbey cat, followed me to my hermitage this morning. Along the way, she likes to explore the many nooks and crannies that a farm does provide for an inquisitive cat. As we crossed our little meadow, we were come upon by butterflies who came to harvest nectar from all the wildflowers that are just now in full bloom. I have found that butterflies, when gathered in many numbers and when preoccupied with their harvesting work, become somehow bolder. My lumbering presence seemed to be of little matter to this gathering of butterflies; the presence of Jazz, maybe a little more worrisome, but not too much. Well, Jazz got to chasing these fluttering bits of gold and yellow, sometimes taking to the air herself in a desperate effort to snatch one from the sky. But little chance … butterflies are remarkably gifted in avoiding getting caught! Sometimes Jazz would slink down into her hunter’s prowl, inching, inching, closer, closer … then to pounce … only to always come up empty.
As we neared the low, stone fence that marks the boundary of our meadow, the Lord brought to me one of those teaching moments that God provides those who listen to life in contemplative ways. A butterfly had set upon the top of the stone wall, there seated quite peacefully, moving her wings in occasional ups-and-downs … not in the manner of taking flight but instead as in the manner of moving every so gently the still air. Jazz, in her quite natural cat-like way, approached the low stone wall, then rose up to peek atop the wall at this wayward butterfly. Jazz eyed that butterfly with patient intensity. Slowly, ever so slowly, she reached her paw over the edge … held it there in perfect striking position … but then … for reasons I do not know … she pulled her paw back … and then just kept beholding this graceful, intrepid butterfly. And there the two of them, a peaceful cat and a courageous butterfly … beheld each other … for what seemed the longest time.
“Beholding” is a spiritual practice that is emphasized in the Benedictine approach to Christian discipleship. “To behold” something or someone is to take all the necessary time required … for holding what is before one’s eyes until such time as that being beheld enters the interior of one’s own self, becoming forever a vivid, enduring presence within one’s soul.
For example, as Benedictines, we not only read or study the words of Scripture, but we are asked to “behold” the words, giving the words of Scripture the time needed for those words – their meaning, their sound, their intent and implication- to soak into the inner places in our being, for the words to become engraved upon the soul. In like manner, as Benedictine Christians, we not only open our eyes to God’s Creation – including that of Creation known as humanity – but we take the time to “Behold” an aspect of Creation, opening our souls to the Creation, giving it the necessary time for its Creator to tuck into our souls, God’s meaning of that moment. Like Jazz the Abbey cat, … who somehow found herself going beyond her predatory instincts, … in order to behold the innocent courage of a graceful butterfly.
When the Christian soul practices this spiritual discipline of Beholding … the Lord brings a certain tenderness to one’s Christian heart. We become more and more in tune with both the echoes of Creation and the whispers of God’s inspiration. It is all part of the Oneness that transforms us from our carnal selves into our spiritual selves.
When speaking of the relationship between the contemplative life of Christian prayer and our call to Christian mission and servanthood, Thomas R. Kelly, in his Christian classic, A Testament of Devotion (1941), wrote …[When we are truly in the midst of the glory of God] … “there is a tender-ing of the soul toward everything in Creation, from the sparrow’s fall to the slave under the whip.” We become compassionate with the compassion of the Lord. And because our souls are changed by the Spirit of God, then we in Christ can’t help but take notice of the sparrow’s suffering and the suffering of a slave under the whip. This sensitivity of compassion comes through taking the time to “Behold” that which God beholds.
Brother Anthony of the Cross