So where do we go from here? What does discipleship look like in our pandemic-shaped reality? A week ago, I was drafting thoughts about how the first signs of spring have arrived in West Michigan, with the tiny crocus purples and yellows decorating loamy flowerbeds. The annual transition back to spring is something to behold. I am reminded again of God’s character, particularly God’s faithfulness in this season.
But, when I am honest with myself, I also remember how distractible I can be. Good intentions to be still don’t automatically lead to remembering that God is God in the midst of my circumstances. In this COVID-19 reality, I find myself preoccupied with family, friends, neighbors, and projects that need my attention.
I get easily lost in keeping up with the latest news, especially in response to the ever-changing guidelines and restrictions related to the Coronavirus and within this election year. Not to mention Netflix. It feels as if my cultural context is designed to keep me from being attentive to God, and I am an all-too-willing participant in the distractions.
Behold is one of the words that has mostly disappeared from our everyday conversations. In fact, some of us may have paused and smirked when we read that word in the first paragraph. Just typing behold for the title and a few times here already has admittedly felt awkward and dated. Often treated as an extra almost throw-away word, behold has fallen out of use in more recent translations of Scripture. For instance, the older KJV includes nearly 1,300 occurrences of behold; whereas, the NRSV and the NIV combined have fewer than 30.
In the psalms, people often beheld God’s glory, majesty, or beauty. The poetic account of creation in Genesis 1 beckons us to behold God making everything very good at the end of the sixth day. Revelation 21-22 ends with several pleas to behold God’s work of making all things new, including the reality of God dwelling with us. One professor of mine said that “beholding” meant to look closely and deeply at something, so as to give it our full attention. When we read all the beholds in their respective contexts, we begin to hear a cadence emerge throughout the biblical narrative, repeatedly calling us to be attentive to who God is and to what God is doing.
Over the years, three elements have helped me grow in attentiveness to God, and in so doing have nurtured within me a greater sense of beholding who God is and what God is doing.
One aspect of learning to behold is stopping. One particular practice that has helped me with this is taking micro-sabbaths. Micro-sabbaths are brief moments in the day where I intentionally step away from productivity for a few minutes and rest. That rest can come in the form of stepping outside to simply stand in the sunshine or take a short walk around the block.
In a cultural current bent toward productivity and efficiency, these micro-sabbath moments create space for me to remember that my identity is not rooted in my work but in God’s grace and provision. Particularly in this season when a sense of urgency ripples through the inflections of every new commentator and host, we need these micro-sabbaths to remember that we belong to God, who is our ever present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
Giving attention to the Spirit also includes listening. For me that listening includes regular time within both books of God’s revelation: Scripture and creation (see the opening to the Belgic Confession, article 2). Immersing myself consistently within the grand narrative of God story expressed through the Bible helps me to hear and recognize God’s voice more clearly.
Sometimes this means studying a particular passage; other times, it involves reading the whole book of Ruth or the letter of 1 John in one sitting. I also need time in creation. I’ve found that walking with a camera trains me to be more attentive to God’s creativity and providential care within creation. My certainty of God’s presence with us and care for us often deepens through these walks. When I fill my days with the latest cacophony of news, gossip, fear, and scapegoating, I tend to lose track of God’s voice and forget to “behold” that God is making all things new.
What frequently, though not always, comes out of this renewed remembering and believing is a desire to respond to God. As social distancing and self-isolation are becoming the best ways to love our neighbors, we need to think creatively about how to respond well to God’s work in our lives. This response could involve a note, an email, or a phone call to someone else. It could look like a renewed desire to be generous with finances, to seek forgiveness in a broken relationship, to get involved in addressing a systemic injustice, or even to start (re-start) a new spiritual discipline or practice.
While many of us will find ourselves at home more than usual, we are still called to follow James’ admonition: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22)
The point is that paying attention to the Spirit by stopping and listening frequently leads into a new way of living that serves to deepen our love for God and for our neighbors. And noticing that God is at work changing our hearts and our ways of living is something to behold.
How about you? What helps you to behold God, especially in these strange days? How do you take time to stop, listen, and respond to God’s presence and work in your life?
Faith Formation Ministries provides congregational faith formation leaders the opportunity to meet in-person or connect digitally or by phone with members of our team and other ministry leaders for coaching and support. Whether it’s a one-time, one-on-one conversation or a long-term peer group, we are here to help. For more information about our regional catalyzer, visit crcna.org/FaithFormation/coaching.