advent apertures 2019: day 20

A moment when sound and vision were inverted themselves, torn inside out and filled my attention to capacity.  A moment when everything else dropped away and the experience of seeing, of sensing, became so overwhelming, so all encompassing, that the very idea of interpretation did not, could not, exist.

Uta Barth


Sister Maggie Ross has been one of the most influential women on my spiritual life.  I was privileged enough to be taught by her at Oxford University, and for the last twenty five years her writings on silence (and on mysticism, apophatic prayer and transfiguration) have fed my soul.  She was the first person to get me to think about the theology and spiritual practice of ‘beholding’, although it took me an extraordinarily  long time to realise beholding is the key part of contemplative photography; and it seems to me that a moment of ‘beholding’ is precisely what the photographer Uta Barth is talking about above. 

An encounter with an angel in my living room that will change me – if I let it – is all about beholding.  An encounter that is about seeing with eyes other than the physiological, in order to envision the Divine: this is beholding.  “Behold!”: the Advent stories are littered with experiences of beholding once one begins to look, all of them signposting life-changing encounters with the Holy.

Beholding is a gift; it is a way of being in the world … The more one ‘seeks to the beholding’, in Julian [of Norwich]’s words, through intention and vigilance, the more beholding becomes the hidden referent, the fountain from which we draw the energy for our daily lives. If we try continually to seek to the beholding—not a ‘state’ or a ‘technique’ but as a way of being in the world, of a deep inner opening and detachment—then gradually we will be re-centred—we cannot re-centre ourselves … We might think of beholding as … reciprocal … by intention and the practice of detachment (especially from our own ideas and even more especially our ideas about the so-called spiritual life, and about God), we make a space where God can be present and work in us, out of our sight … Perhaps the biggest [discipline] is to accept what we think (and perhaps secretly despise) is ordinary, but which is anything but if one’s perception has been transfigured by beholding.  To seek to the beholding is so simple: perseverance in simplicity and ordinariness is the difficulty. As St Paul says, beholding is always ‘more than we can ask or imagine’. To have the deep interior attitude/intention of openness, receptive responsiveness, attentive receptivity, is all that is required. 

God does the rest.

(Ross,, 8.12.11)

Through beholding, my eyes are opened to seeing what I cannot (yet) understand.  Through beholding, what is ordinary and normally beneath my notice might become treasure where the Holy Possible waits to reveal itself to me in my here and now, in an encounter that will transfigure how I see from this day on.


The Spirit, like a sun lighting up the view for a healthy eye, will show you in himself the Image of the invisible, and as with great delight you contemplate that Image, you will see the inexpressible beauty of the Archetype.

St Basil

inexpressible beauty (bl)inexpressible beauty. iPhone image

Published by Kate Kennington Steer

writer, photographer and visual artist

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