Yesterday we meditated on Rabbi Heschel’s invitation to “behold in order to stand face to face with the beauty and grandeur of the universe.” 

At one with the cosmos. Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Meister Eckhart also calls us to behold.  He explains that “the word ‘behold’ implies three things: something great, something marvelous, or something rare.” 

What is great and marvelous and rare calls out to us, beckons us.  It wants to speak to us, to befriend us, to wake us up, to walk with us, maybe to fall in love with us. 

It is, as Eckhart understands it, God’s word to us, God’s communication and invitation to pay attention and open our hearts up.  And if, as Eckhart teaches, “every creature is a word of God and a book about God”, there is a lot of invites beckoning us every day to behold. 

The Via Positiva is everywhere and “every creature is gladly doing its best to express God.”

“Lexi and Kinsey the Hamster.” Photo by Kristen on Flickr.

In light of today’s creation story from science, that every creature–ourselves included—boasts a 13.8-billion-year history and is kin with us in this universe of two trillion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars, that is a lot of grandeur beckoning us, isn’t it?

Can humanity respond?

Why should we settle for war or control compulsions and addictions which interfere with the beholding we are invited to engage in?  Why play at hatred–of self or others—when there is so much beholding to practice and undergo?

What Eckhart calls the great and marvelous and rare is everywhere.  Heschel speaks of “radical amazement” and how this cultivates a sense of the sublime.  For him, the sublime is “the silent allusion of things to a meaning greater than themselves.” 

We get carried along to an encounter with transcendence and meaning, an awareness that “the world in its grandeur is full of a spiritual radiance.”  

“Reflection of the Cosmic Moment” window by Doyle Chappell, inspired by The Coming of the Cosmic Christ at aChurch4Me, Metropolitan Community Church, Chicago. Published with permission of the artist.

We try to name this “spiritual radiance.”  Some call it tselem or the image of God in things. Or the “Cosmic Christ” whose doxa or glory or light beams from all things.  Or the “Buddha Nature” in all things.

Consider Thomas Merton’s experience he once had crossing the street at noon rush hour in Louisville, Kentucky and seeing everyone, all these strangers, lit up like the sun.  “How do you tell people they are all walking around shining like the sun?” he asked in his journal at his hermitage the following day.

Adapted from Adapted from Matthew Fox, “The God of Awe, Wonder, Radical Amazement, and Justice,” in Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, p. 5.

And from Fox. “Sermon One: All Creatures Are Words of God,” in Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, p. 62.

And from Fox, A Way To God, Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, p. 61.

Also see Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.

Banner Image: “Ocean encounter.” A whale surfaces beside a contemplative paddler. Photo by Howard Ignatius on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

Is it your experience that “every creature is gladly doing its best to express God?”  What follows from that and our encounter with the light or radiance in other creatures, be they small or large, human or more than human?

Recommended Reading

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.”  — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.  

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

In what may be considered the most comprehensive outline of the Christian paradigm shift of our Age, Matthew Fox eloquently foreshadows the manner in which the spirit of Christ resurrects in terms of the return to an earth-based mysticism, the expression of creativity, mystical sexuality, the respect due the young, the rebirth of effective forms of worship—all of these mirroring the ongoing blessings of Mother Earth and the recovery of Eros, the feminine aspect of the Divine.
“The eighth wonder of the world…convincing proof that our Western religious tradition does indeed have the depth of imagination to reinvent its faith.” — Brian Swimme, author of The Universe Story and Journey of the Universe.

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10 thoughts on “Heschel, Eckhart, Merton on Beholding”

  1. Avatar

    But not all humans are gladly doing their best to express God? The light in them is darkness – so beware. Last night on CNN the interviewer was continually denied an answer to her question by a ‘Trumpette’ (Trump Puppet). He continued with avoidance and would double, triple and quadruple down on the puppeteers outright lies. I was ready to puke, so I turned off the segment. The interviewer should have done this for me. –BB –.

    ‘Embrace’, ‘Experience’ means to ‘Behold’ —
    * “I want to be inspired and see and experience the awe and wonder of God’s creation.” Is this our willingness to be open and receptive to that which we have not experienced in any meaningful depth in the past? BB 04 17 24.
    * How do we discern and appreciate the truth and beauty of God’s created existence? Ecstasy knows no bounds and lives in the present moment. All of time, evolution, and existence ‘lives fully’ in the present and interrelational moment. — BB 04 16 24.
    * First and foremost, we are ‘receptors’ of love, beauty, truth — BB 08 11 23.
    * A ‘radical faith’ hears, embraces and holds Jesus near and dear to the heart. ‘So be it’ becomes our ‘radical’ 24/7 acceptance, obedience and devotion to communion with our loving Partner. — BB 04 11 24.
    * Sifting through and embracing what we consider to be the good and the bad, and find that God & Life, the ‘one truth’, emerges out of the messiness of our lives. — BB 04 13 24.

    1. Avatar

      I’m with you. There are too many human creatures who are not gladly doing their best to express God, or who have a very distorted idea of any angry, revengeful God. And that makes it more vital than ever for me to be able to have compassion and love for them and to act out of love in everything I do, which includes speaking the truth without the same anger and rage that fuels their hatred.

    1. Avatar
      Gwen McGrenere

      Linda, it seems quite serendipitous that you saw the Virgin Mary sitting in the left cheek of the Chappell painting. This morning I opened my copy of DAUGHTER ZION at page 27 to see my highlighting from many years ago:
      “Thus we can now say the figure of the woman is indispensable for the the structure of biblical faith. She expresses the reality of creation as well as the fruitfulness of grace. The abstract outlines for the hope that God will turn toward his people receive, in the New Testament, a concrete, personal name in the figure of Jesus Christ. At the same moment, the figure of the woman, until then seen only typologically in Israel although provisionally personified by the great women of Israel, also emerges with a name: Mary. She emerges as the personal epitome of the feminine principle in such a way that the principle is true only in the person pointing beyond herself to the all-embracing reality, which she bears and represents. To deny or reject the feminine aspect in belief, or, more concretely, the Marian aspect, leads finally to the negation of creation and the invalidation of grace.” [Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 1977]
      Of course the mother of Yeshua was Miriam, the historical woman who holds the center between the Old and New Testament.

  2. Avatar

    I haven’t read Matthew’s “The Coming of the Cosmic Christ” yet, but I love the title because it reminds me what the mystics of the past and present (within and among Us) have experienced, and remind Us that the SPIRIT of DIVINE LOVE Is Always ETERNALLY PRESENT in All of Ongoing Beautiful Creation in LOVING DIVERSE ONENESS~COSMIC CHRIST CONSCIOUSNESS…

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    As I pondered upon the words, “Every creature is gladly doing its best to express God”, at first I felt a wave of compassion for all wash over me. I realized that to do one’s best to express the living essence and presence of God within, and to do so gladly, is no easy task; and that we attempt to do so based on our intimate, authentic and personal relationship with this Great Mystery which not only unfolds within our own soul sense of self, but is also there to behold within another and all of creation. Often, our be holding and expressing is veiled, for we see dimley as if looking into the illusions of smokey mirrors or rose colored glasses.

    Can we bare witness, and behold without judgement, criticism and condemnation, the vast and diverse ways all of creation is doing its best to express the living Spirit of God within, amidst all our failures, faults and start overs along with our successes, beauty and evolving? Are we willing to take responsibility and stand accountable for lifting our own personally imagined veils that often distort our expressing and beholding the true image of God within all? Are we willing as C. S. Lewis wrote of, to reconcile all things… Till We See Face To Face? I’m choosing daily, over and over again to learn how to behold and express God within, even if it takes many lifetimes; however right now I’ve only got this life to live!

  4. Avatar

    I am in Ravenna looking at the gorgeous mosaics from the mid 400’s. I love the beautiful tomb of Galla Placidia from 450, with the starry sky of gold 8-pointed stars on a deep blue background. All of these mosaics are so fantastic, and 1600 years old! Stability is also good, along with watching people shine like the sun, and recentering to the God calling us into the future. Thank you for Soelle’s creed. Thank you for the wider vista!

  5. Avatar
    Happy Go Lucky

    wonderful, great topic: beholding.

    I used to notice my brother, in his 50s, 60s just standing under a tree looking at things, beholding. He’d often just get up and go outside and sit, beholding vast things. He was a drinking/smoking kind of guy. I didn’t know what he was doing til now. It was a definite part of his nature to behold beauty, awesomeness.

    I’m going to follow his example, it was wonderful.

  6. Avatar

    I love this, Matthew—that “every creature is gladly doing its best to express God.” Most often, we can’t see this. Let us look. Let us see how even the humans we struggle so greatly with, indeed are doing their best. It’s a huge stretch to imagine this, at least for me.

    I am blessed to have heard you say, years ago, that we need to fall in love at least three times a day. I believe it is true, and how is it possible that in this gorgeous universe, on this gorgeous planet, I fail at doing that. Perhaps at our retreat in Orvieto in just a few days, you can give us guidance on how to truly do this. Oh how I want to do it. It would make all the difference.

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