‘Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known.’ 1 Corinthians 13 v 12
Take a look at the first image. This is part of an exhibition I curated at my local parish church called ‘Behold’. The title of the show referenced St John, the saint’s name of the church, whose most famous biblical words are ‘behold the lamb of God’, said once he lay his eyes on Jesus; when the person he had been talking about was suddenly there in front of him. I also wanted people to think about the idea of beholding, of taking time to look, spending time with the artworks I exhibited.
I have a tried and tested technique when I visit art galleries. Bearing in mind that I am a seasoned gallery goer and lover of art, even I have found that I cannot take on board everything that is on offer in a gallery in one go. There often is simply too much to really digest meaningfully. So, when I enter a busy art space, I do a quick sweep through all the rooms, take note of things that really pique my interest, and then go back and spend serious time with each of these chosen pictures, sculptures, or installations. I find they give so much more by being given my attention. As Richard Rohr, in his recent reflections on the visual arts says, “I invite you to ‘behold’ something today. In my experience, you will seldom be disappointed. Find a bit of ordinary beauty…and gaze at it until you see it as one instance of a manifestation of the eternal creativity of God.”
In a way, beholding – or taking time seeing, really seeing (not looking?), is a bit like taking a visual breath. It a chance to pause and to receive. Take a look at my second image. This is of a piece I made inviting people to consider those simple natural, often ephemeral objects that we often don’t notice. I chose different finds such as this baby peacock feather, with just the tinge of the promised iridescent turquoise at the tip of fluffy chick growth, and placed them in boxes, enhancing the concept that they are precious. Each box had a word in it about being in the moment and noticing the divine in that instance. This box has the word ‘darshan’ which I think I have talked about before. This is a Buddhist word, which I learnt about from Robert MacFarlane’s book The Old Ways. In it he says, “It suggests a face-to-face encounter with the sacred one earth; with a physical manifestation of the holy”. An similar idea perhaps to what St John was also getting at.
In medieval churches, you can sometimes find a hole in one of the pillars. This is a ‘hagiascope’, made to allow congregants who were sitting behind the pillar the ability to see the moment when bread and wine were transformed, according to the theology of the time, into the body and blood of Christ. An important and transcendent moment within the liturgy of the service, but meaningless, it seems, unless visually witnessed; the hole providing a ‘window of wonder’.
And so, I also invite you to ‘behold’. To take time over the next month to notice, pay attention, foster that ‘attitude of regard’ which the desert fathers talk about. Keep an eye out for the ‘glimpse of glory’ in your everyday – maybe through religion or art, maybe in nature, maybe in the face of a loved one. The main thing is to linger, to allow that glimpse to become a gaze and so to behold.
Take another look at the pictures:
- What visual things give you delight?
- What helps you be completely in the moment?
- How can you cultivate an ‘attitude of regard’?
You will need a mirror.
- Take time, maybe a short walk, to look around you and then chose something that interests you
- Hold your mirror up against this and look at it in the mirror. What do you notice? Does this help you view it in a different way? What are the limitations of seeing in a mirror?
- Now look at the object itself, take time to really ‘see’ it, notice everything: colour, texture, size, how it interacts with the light, how does it make you feel? What does it make you think about? Can you sense the divine through this attentive seeing?