X Manchester Talk May 31, 2012
'Beholding is embodied; it opens on the deep mind where incarnation, transfiguration, and resurrection are rapt into one, where the truth of the self unfolds out of our sight. The body signals beholding by the orans gesture. To behold entails a reciprocal holding in being. God the creator of all, God who is beyond being, consents to have his creatures hold him in being in time and space, even as God is holding them in time and eternity [...] This notion of exchange is intrinsic to beholding, even extending to and including sin, which is a function of self-consciousness alone, and which is less possible to commit as the centre of the person is shifted from the feedback loop of self-consciousness to self-forgetful immersion in the free upwelling from the deep mind'. It is no accident that Irenaeus sums up this reciprocity when he says, 'The glory of God is the human being fully alive, and the glory of the human being is beholding God." Behold signals shifting perspective, the suspension of the analytic faculty, the holding together or even the conflating of radically different points of view. Beholding differs from mindfulness in that mindfulness is a deliberate practice. Mindfulness can open a person to beholding, but beholding is itself a gift—which is why Julian asks us to 'seek to the beholding'.
The word behold is key to understanding the Christian tradition, especially patristic and medieval texts. Their authors are soaked in the bible, and when they use hinneh, idou or ecce, they mean what the English word behold signifies with all its theological nuances and more. These authors also use behold in the manner of biblical authors to interrupt the narrative so that the mind's repetitive interpretations will be shaken. Behold, a virgin shall conceive: it is in the beholding that conception takes place; the rest of the sentence is for those who do not behold. The major sins against beholding confirm the behold tradition. Until the high Middle Ages, the biblical inheritance prevails: fornication refers to distraction from beholding, while pride means hanging onto one's own ideas, refusing to yield them to the refiner's fire of the deep mind.
In terms of the diagram, behold lives in liminality at the event-horizon. It is, as Buber notes, the opposite of experience; it does not admit interpretation. Beholding opens to the deep mind, which is inclusive, multidimensional and relational, in sharp contrast to the self-conscious mind, which is linear, discriminatory and hierarchical. We have nearly lost the word behold in Christian tradition, and with it the understanding of the work of silence, the importance of the two epistemologies' working together, and the primacy of re-centering in the deep mind.
The misinterpretation of Christian texts through the lens of a Cartesian methodology has led to the dehumanizing of Christian spirituality. Even in the wake of Vatican II, there remains an inisistence on a Manichean, even sado-masochistic attitude towards the body and the person—particularly regarding what is mis-pereceived as the self—as the price of theosis. It has exacerbated the idolatry of experience, and the heedless, witless destruction of the natural world. Every aspect of western Christianity has suffered, from biblical interpretation and translation, through theology of every stripe; to ecclesiology, and most especially the degradation of liturgy, which has been stripped of its primary purpose of opening the gate to the deep mind where the shared nature of divine and human is realised. In the inimitable words of Richard Holloway, Christian institutions have exchanged poetry for packaging. Liturgy has become a smorgasbord of self-reflexive experiences rather than its effacement to beholding.