Attending and Beholding


“Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but do not see, who have ears, but do not hear…” – Jeremiah 5:21

“If it took You two billion years to bring me here, help me to be all here, as You are.” Rev. Allan Hunter, pastor of Mt. Hollywood Congregational Church in Los Angeles, 1920’s-1960’s

When we meditate a sense-object, its thin, conventional nature ‘slides away’, but its eternal nature remains behind.” Dr. Arthur Zajonc, professor emeritus of physics, Amherst College

Attending is something more than showing up – although, as they say, half of success is just that. To attend is to be all here: body and soul. To attend is to be present, for and to and with.

Beholding is an antique word that should be shined up and put back in currency. To behold is to see while attending.

On the Calf Creek trail in southern Utah last week, hiking five miles in bright sun on a cool morning, I beheld the colored cliffs, the fluttering poplar leaves, the swishing horsetail reeds, the swallows shrieking and flitting in and out of holes in the walls of the canyon. I attended to these things as fully as I could. And then I began to release my definitions and opinions and categorizations of these experiences. I began to empty the boxes into which my mind had stuffed them. I attended to what they were, as they were, on their own terms. Then they became windows into realms beyond. From them toward me, toward them from me, love tumbled and flowed like the clear waters of the stream. Thus I found myself hiking in the Kingdom of Heaven.

So much of what I encountered on that trail fit my conventional definition of beauty. But that beauty wasn’t enough to deliver me into the Kingdom. There are people and things that are “easy to look at”. But it is hardly any easier to behold and attend to what is pretty than it is to behold and attend to what is not. Indeed, surface beauty can distract us from entering Heaven. Beholding is active, moving from the sensory function of the eye into the expanding perception of the soul. Idolatry is frozen attention, mesmerizing the eye without really seeing what is within and beyond.

I’m back at work in Los Angeles now, about to head home. As I walk down the gritty streets to the Metro train, and experience the daily commute, opportunities will abound for me to attend and behold: to see, and really look, to hear, and really listen.

Rev. Jim Burklo, Associate Dean of Religious Life, USC
Website: MINDFULCHRISTIANITY.ORG Weblog: MUSINGS Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
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Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California

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