Saturday, January 3, 2015

Word for the Day: Behold

Using Google to look up a word and its usage on line, you can quickly come to a graph like the one above for the transitive verb behold.

Behold means “to see or observe a thing or person, especially an impressive or remarkable one.” It has an intensity to it. From Old English the prefix bi- means to do so thoroughly, which I take to mean with one’s whole being. Like the injunction to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength, et cetera.

Behold is the first word of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel passage (John 1:29–34). It is the thing John tells us to do as Christ approaches. Is it possibly the thing we must do if we are to receive Christ fully into our consciousness, make Him a part of our lives, and “be like him,” as the reading from John’s first epistle (2:29–3:6) suggests we can?

Behold is an awesome word, partly because it has an old-timey feel to it but also because the word itself connotes awe. Behold means see and be in awe of. 

We cheapen the word and lose the sense of awe when we use it in the cliché lo and behold. In that phrase behold is a time filler, a mental pause before saying what we really have to say.

Behold is something else again. It is the word of the angel to the shepherds in Luke 2. It is John the Baptist’s first word to us in John 1. It seems to me that beholding is a state of reverent mindfulness—one we must try to “put on” if we wish to experience properly the Gospel, the sacraments, even Christ himself.

There’s just one other point I want to make here: As the graph shows, the use of behold has been declining for the past two hundred years. I’m sure the linguist would say that’s because, well, you know, the language is changing and the word is archaic.

Yeah maybe. Or maybe we’ve just lost the ability or desire to behold.

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