Such a lovely “beholding” today! I went to the well — and it was uncovered for me to look down. Instead of the still circle of water I expected see, it was all heaving and rippling in swelling circles! Then it stopped and grew quiet, and while I was wondering if my eyes could have deceived me, the trembling began and all was repeated. Some periodic up-burst from the hidden spring below — then all grew glassy again. I never knew before what the “well of water springing up” meant. I thought of it vaguely as a springing all the time. But this is so much more like His way with our souls. A sudden rising and flooding of the underlying life — and then a sinking back with stillness.
~ Lilias Trotter (15 June 1909)
In years upon years of journals, sketchbooks, and booklets, Lilias Trotter captured – both in words and in paintings – countless “beholdings.” This concept, which Lilias derived from the Japanese, cannot be found in a dictionary. But its essence is captured by its root word, “behold.” To behold is “to perceive through sight or apprehension; to gaze upon and observe” (Merriam-Webster). Lilias had a way of seeing: she saw beauty in the land of North Africa, considered parched and dull by many; she gazed upon the desultory activity of a bee and pondered its significance; she observed the pattern of trembling of water in a simple well and apprehended how it was like God’s way with our souls.
Lilias’s concept of “beholdings” comes to mind in the midst of our current unprecedented circumstances. We need, more than ever, to find beauty in our immediate surrounds. Miriam Huffman Rockness captured this idea in the first chapter of her recent book, Images of Faith: Devotional Edition. In fact, her words from the chapter “Beholdings” seem like they were written as words of encouragement for what we are currently facing:
“Sometimes beauty surprises us. Serendipity. Sometimes it seduces us, as did the glimpses of joy that C.S. Lewis, as a child, saw in Beatrice Potter’s illustration of Autumn, intimating to him ‘something other.’ Beauty sustains us during times of unrelenting duress: The renewal of spring, during a seemingly endless war, evidenced by green shoots and yellow daffodils breaking through cracks in barricades of sandbags – recorded by V. Sackville-West in her Country Notes in Wartime. And, sometimes it saves us: Viktor Frankl’s glimpse of ‘the mountains of Salzburg with their summits glowing in the sunset, through the little barred windows of a prison carriage. . .’ fragments from a Beethoven concerto, piercing the darkness of a concentration camp barrack, heard by Elie Wiesel, the violinist playing out his soul, bow gliding over the strings, at once life-affirming and heart-breaking. . . a pot of tulips in a hospital room . . .”
One of the unexpected joys right now is the beauty that is being shared via social media, or even privately within families. Impromptu concerts are taking place, artwork is being created and shared, acts of kindness are being offered to those in need, and photographs are capturing moments of beauty. Beholdings. People are intentionally looking for goodness, truth, and beauty to lift their spirits. It is essential for survival. Soul survival. “The soul is weighed in the balance by what delights her. Delight or enjoyment sets the soul in her ordered place.” (St. Augustine)
We encourage you to look for your own beholdings. Maybe start your own list, or begin a journal. In Images of Faith, Miriam notes:
“Whether by surprise or design, I am continually startled by ‘beholdings.’ If I could, I would paint them, like Lilias, but instead I record them in my journal. ‘Beholding’ I write in bold print – then jot it down, one at a time, as it happens: scent of orange blossoms… a single orchid bloom, survivor of a neglected plant. . . a trio of butterflies dancing above Lantana. . . a peacock reclining alongside a back country road. . . a clean child wrapped in terry cloth, wet hair slicked behind ears. . . a letter in the mailbox . . . music from a CD filling the house. . . a cat sunning in a patch of sunlight . . .” (p. 11)
In the coming weeks, we will be offering “beholdings” from Lilias regularly on our social media venues. Beautiful images – in words and watercolors. Amidst harsh circumstances, Lilias saw beauty all around her. Let her observations encourage and inspire us in our personal circumstances – a century later!
In addition, we would love for you to share your “beholdings” with us – either through comments on our social media posts or through private messages. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to follow along and relate the beauty you are discovering.
May God give us the heart and eyes to see His beholdings in our current surroundings.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
~ Philippians 4:8