Last week my Pine Valley neighbor (hey, in a town this size, we're all neighbors!) Judith invited me to drive all the way to Saint Paul's Cathedral in downtown San Diego. Dean Nelson, whom Judith has known for years in writing circles, was going to be leading an adult Sunday School class at the large Episcopal Church next to Balboa Park.
Dean and I go way back as well. Brought into the Literature Department at Point Loma Nazarene University to start a journalism program the same year that I started at PLNU, Dean was my creative writing professor. In addition, a small group of students often skipped chapel to hang out in the faculty lounge and debate theological issues--and Dean was usually at the center of the debates. (And yes, I had to pay $70 in chapel fines after graduation before the registrar would hand over my diploma.) Plus, when I returned to PLNU after earning my Master's in English from USD, Dean was kind enough to offer to share his office with me as my classes were first thing in the morning and his were...not. ;)
Judith and I, along with our beautiful sidekick Kitty, have been faithful attendees at PLNU's annual Writer's Symposium by the Sea, Dean's brilliant brainchild. We've enjoyed hearing from such wonderful and varied writers as Ray Bradbury, Kathleen Norris, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Anne Lamott, Donald Miller, Amy Tan, Eugene Peterson, Calvin Miller, Billy Collins, and many more. Dean has also been very kind in trekking up the mountain to lead several workshops for our little Writers' Workshop here in Pine Valley--and we hope to make it happen again late this fall.
In 2009 Dean published an amazing little book called God Hides in Plain Sight. The last time Dean came up the mountain to speak to our group, I purchased a copy which he signed: "To Susanne--colleague, fellow writer, office-sharer, friend! Dean Nelson"
But I haven't had time to open the book, and from its place of honor on my desk, it's been staring at me, almost beckoning me to read it. But homeschooling, online classes to teach, essays to grade for co-op classes, etc., have kept me from opening the book and diving in.
|Dean Nelson at The Writer's Symposium by the Sea|
And as Judith said to me on our long drive home, "I didn't know that Dean and I had so much in common theologically." And I agree.
The subtitle of God Hides in Plain Sight is "How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World." He lays out this idea of seeing God in the ordinary, daily events of our lives through the seven sacraments in this order: vocation, communion, confession, confirmation, marriage, baptism, last rites, and, adding a new one, service. He quotes from Thomas Merton and Eugene Peterson, from Frederick Buechner to Walker Percy, and while his disarming humor is seen throughout the book, it leads us into a deeper place...a place where we see God not just in mountain top experiences or worship on Sunday mornings, but also in the most ordinary moments, during the most mundane tasks.
Although I haven't yet come across a mention of him (yet), Dean's main point reminds me greatly of Brother Lawrence and his little book, The Practice of the Presence of God, which, after the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, is perhaps the book that has influenced me the most spiritually. Brother Lawrence was a lowly dishwasher in a Carmelite monastery in the 1600's, but while he scrubbed pots, he basked in God's constant presence. He often complained about having to "go to the chapel for prayers" because he was already deeply in prayer whenever the bell rang.
I've read the introduction and am partway through the first chapter of Dean's book, and I can tell already that reading this book is going to be huge--perhaps even life-changing. Not to reduce Dean's importance, but the crux of this book isn't about the author--it's about how we need to learn to see God differently than we do now. The meaning of this book is not about intellectual knowledge--although it starts there. It's about heart-recognition and spirit-to-Spirit communication.
My Quotation of the Week comes from Dean's introduction to God Hides in Plain Sight:
"Grace pursues and precedes. It bends us toward God.... When we're paying attention, we see that grace is breaking into our everyday moments, making them different--sacred--drawing us into the presence of God. It's not about us getting a hold of the sacred. It's about the sacred getting a hold of us."
During the month of September, Dean will continue speaking about the book, doing two chapters each Thursday evening at Saint Paul's. Driving 100 miles round-trip will not be easy for Judith and me, but we're going to try to attend Dean's class at least once.
I'm so glad that Judith talked me into making a long drive Sunday morning so that God could take God Hides in Plain Sight off my "back burner" of thought and move it to the front where it's at full boil. I hope to read a little of the book each day and let it really sink in. I'm already underlining passage after passage and making copious notes in the margins, so I pity anyone who will read my copy after I'm done. With books of this importance, I tend to hold scribbled conversations with the author in the margins, but at least with this particular book, I may be able to chat with Dean face-to-face.
In fact, I'm rather counting on it.
Reading with you,