The Gift of Love Unwrapped

By Mark Cutshall

A lot about boundless, unwavering love–the kind of mutual adoration that breathes back and forth and that can remake your heart on a daily basis–I learned from an elderly gal named Mrs. Cushing.

We knew each other for a little more than 14 years until last Thursday, April 25, when she passed away.

I was there beside her up to the end. Put my face next to hers. Kissed her. Then I must have buried my face in the those few seconds when everything stopped, when life, death, and love–the forever companioning of God in its purest form—came around.

Now, a week later, I find myself smiling. This afternoon, I’m more and more sure that before she left, there was something Mrs. Cushing wanted me to see, something never to forget, or keep to myself, a gift of love, unwrapped.

I go back to Day One, that silky, late June afternoon at Rosser’s Pet store when Mrs. Cushing came home with us. Looking back, we were all much younger: Ryan, 8; Sarah not quite 6, and Linda and me, a couple of 30-somethings suddenly wagging our tails.

It was all about Mrs. Cushing, a dachshund with four stubby legs, endearing ears, and that unabashedly long, signature nose. Those first few minutes, alone, were a gift.

Mrs. Cushing, what we come to name her, didn’t need a mirror to know she was beautiful. She knew it every time we were freely caught up in who she was, together. It didn’t take us long to freely receive, embrace and return love every time we delighted in her true Mrs. Cushing-ness: the diva-like prance around the house, the artful display of sitting up for one more, itty-bitty bite, the missile-like defense system targeted at countless innocent, well-meaning UPS deliverymen who gimped away back to the truck, and who remained on our prayer list.

The joy and freedom to give and receive love that, in God’s eyes, doesn’t reward behavior with a dried-up dog biscuit “as long as you do it my way,” is what Mrs. Cushing taught me.

More than once this little dog would sneak up on my sometimes lazy need to be by myself and taught me something else:

Love walks and follows and travels beside another. It’s how stories are born, and how conversations can turn minutes into hours and weeks into years. Mrs. Cushing had a knack for finding and seeking to devour discarded chicken bones. In these urgent moments, I was loving her. Love kneels down. Love reaches in and goes after what can hurt and harm and choke off life. Love protects.

We went on many walks together, chased a lot of squirrels, and watered a lot of lawns. We were regularly companioned by our very svelte, black tuxedo cat named Johnny, and our Labrador/Boxer named Buzz. Up one block and down the other, with Mrs. Cushing often leading the charge, the threesome took us on an Incredible Journey that inevitably created new opportunities to love our two-legged neighbors.

Several months ago, I noticed her pace beginning to slow. Why the bloated belly? Get her to the vet. Tests. Decimal numbers on a clipboard. A cold and naked examining table, and a diagnosis. Management but no cure. Think not in terms of years, but months. Attends for a dachshund? No thank you.

As days waddled on, I found myself looking at the calendar more than usual. Then, one afternoon, I poked my nose in the family room to check on our patient. Love wanting and needing to know how things are going.

There she was. This beloved creation was stretched out in her bed, dreaming away under a blanket, no doubt with the ankle of a frantic FedEx guy firmly in her grip.

Looking back, as I gazed at her in her bed, her health now in certain decline, I realize now I was seeing a picture of the kind of true, honest Sabbath God most desires:

With me, you can stop. Rest. And just be.

My imagination went off leash.

What if . . .?

Without thinking, without trying, I remained in this luxurious moment, thanking God for this little dachshund who made real to me the gift of love, unwrapped.

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Help surrendering to “the slow work of God”*

by Gwen Shipley


In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  (Isa 30:15 NRSV)


Do you ever feel resigned to a situation you seem powerless to affect, one that continues to plague you despite your best efforts? If I’m honest, my attempt to authentically consent on the go can sometimes disintegrate into a feigned surrender to the present moment accompanied by a resigned, “Whatever.” Clearly, they’re not the same.

My intentions were good at the beginning of Lent: Each time the impulse to say, “Whatever” came knocking, I would resist as an act of embodied remembrance. I would give up entitlement to ease and “welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing…” because hope lies in knowing that the God who makes all things new is already and always at work. That was Week One.

Three weeks hence, I am painfully aware of “the slow work of God” and reminded that I’m exactly where I need to be: always returning to the love of God. Here are various ways people have learned to do so and are helping one another.    


When exploring unfamiliar roads, Google often asks if I’d like to “re-center map.” Going deeper with God often leads me down similarly unfamiliar paths. It is reassuring at those times to remember that transformation neither originates with us, nor does it proceed by some perfectly executed plan of action. It happens as we return again and again and again, surrendering to the One who makes all things new, one present moment at a time.

In Week Four of Lent, looking toward the cross, hoping in resurrection, that’s…Really. Good. News.

*From “Patient Trust in Ourselves and in the Slow Work of God” by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


Photo by Eileen Pan on Unsplash


From Becce Bettridge

Becce will be leading CFDM’s Spring Workshop – DreamWork 2.0: Learning to “Sleep-on-it.”  
Date and Time: Saturday, March 23, 2019   9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Place: Emmanuel Presbyterian Church, Bothell, WA


What did you dream last night? I dreamt about a ten-year-old boy (who turned out to be named “James”), that had been shrink-wrapped (because he was so difficult to deal with) and left in the attic of my new house by the former owner. YIKES! So, was that crazy dream a result of the spicy chicken cacciatore I had for dinner, or does God and/or my unconscious, have some important (but strangely presented) message for me?        

Most of us in the western, protestant, tradition have never heard much about the role of dreams in Christian spirituality. Not many sermons are preached or classes taught on this important topic.  Yet, in Scripture, we find that God often uses dreams to give a perspective or remove barriers to correctly interpreting and applying his Word. Historically, people of faith from St. Augustine to Eugene Peterson affirmed God’s presence in, and leading through, dreams. In modern times, sleep laboratories have demonstrated that everyone dreams one to two hours each night. The average person sleeping for eight hours a night will dream about one to two hours of that time in a sleep level called “alpha sleep.” During this level of sleep, we have what is called Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Sleep researchers discovered that if a person is awakened every time REM begins, preventing her/him from dreaming, that after about three nights the individual will begin to show signs of having a nervous breakdown. “Clearly,” says dream work specialist Steve Stutz, “dreams are an inner release mechanism which helps provide us with emotional balance and maintain our sanity. Dreams can be considered guardians of our mental and emotional well-being.” 

One of the foundational precepts of spiritual direction is that God chooses to communicate with each of us. And second, as we learn to pay closer attention to the variety of ways God “speaks” to us, we can experience our Lord’s love and guidance in very personal ways. Dreams can be honest and reliable messengers of the condition of our heart (Psalm 16:7), as well as the voice of God within our heart (Psalm 17:3). A close consideration of the symbolic language used in our dreams can show up areas in our lives in which God is inviting us to grow…but I am certainly curious about what growth God is inviting me to by presenting me with the shrink-wrapped boy! I will be working on this dream during the dream workshop on March 23.


CDFM’s mission is to encourage spiritual formation focusing on practices, disciplines, and ways of being that enable us to hear, see, and respond to God’s invitation to deepen our relationship with Him.

DreamWork 2.0 is one way in which CFDM is providing these resources, support, and training for those called to the ministry of spiritual direction.

Interested? Register today.


The True Purpose of Waiting

By David Hicks, CFDM Faculty

A poem by John Milton was sent to me recently by a friend entitled ‘On His Blindness’. I confess that 17th century poetry is not normally something that I spent a lot of time with so as I was reading it nothing much was really sinking in. I was having a hard time getting past the phrasing and odd use of certain words. English has become so much more understandable in our day (please see the humor here). I struggled through the poem until I came to the last line. The last line forced me to go back and re-read and re-think each word and phrase that Milton was using.

The True Purpose of WaitingBefore giving away the last line let me try and summarize what my sadly under-developed poetic mind thinks he is saying.

Milton was a gifted poet. He had written the classic Paradise Lost. He was a deeply devout Christian who believed that his poetry was a gift from God and he had a responsibility to use this gift for Him. But in the prime of his life Milton became blind. This poem speaks of his struggle with feelings that he was no longer able to use his gift as God had intended (“And that one talent which is death to hide lodged with me useless”).

He asks God why He would give him a gift and expect him to use it but then withhold the means to do so (“Doth God exact day labor, light denied?”). He realizes that ultimately “God doth not need either mans work or his own gifts”. He says that there are several ways to serve the Lord. Some serve Him by crossing “land and ocean without rest”. They are seemingly tireless in their work for Him. But this is not the only way to serve the Lord. In his last line Milton says, “THEY ALSO SERVE, WHO ONLY STAND AND WAIT.”

Wow! That totally alters my perspective on waiting. Normally we wait for something or for someone and we are finished waiting when that something happens or that someone comes. The only purpose in our waiting is for the fulfillment of something. Have you ever said, “I waited all that time for nothing”, meaning the thing that you were waiting for did not happen so there was no purpose in the waiting. It was a waste of time.

The same thing is true spiritually. In this season of my life I am waiting and wondering. I am waiting for health issues to be resolved. I am waiting for what the next season of ministry will look like. I am waiting for a renewed sense of purpose. I am waiting for the next opportunity to serve the Lord using the gifts and talents He has given to me. In my mind I am thinking, “My waiting will be worthwhile when all of these things have happened”. I am waiting for something.

Milton has shown me that this is a faulty way to view my time of waiting. Not everyone can serve the Lord tirelessly across land and oceans. Sometimes, “they also serve, who only stand and wait”. There is a purpose in the waiting, and the purpose is not the fulfillment of that which we are waiting for. We can serve Him even while we stand and wait. Even while our hearts are breaking at not being able to do what we used to, or what we want to; even when confusion and fear consume our soul and distort our vision; even when our desires for personal fulfillment are frustrated; even then, “they also serve, who only stand and wait.”

Isaiah 30:18 says, “Blessed are all who wait for the Lord”. In our life with God we are never really waiting for something; we are always waiting for someone. So, for all who, along with me, occasionally find themselves standing and waiting, take heart. Your opportunity for serving the Lord has never been closer.
Link to full text of John Milton’s poem

Finding God in All the Wrong Places

by Rev. Terry Tripp, CFDM Co-Director

Having experienced a lovely time with family and friends over Christmas and the New Year celebrations, I am acutely aware that I am a blessed woman.  Loved, cared for, finding community in a new town, helping to lead an awesome non-profit that seeks to teach that God is in all places and more loving and gracious than we can imagine.  So, of course I see and feel God’s grace and love, right?  But is it a matter of my circumstances or a fact a part?

I would say that I grew up believing that I needed to show God and others how much I loved them by how I did all “the right things” at the “right time”. What a burden, especially when life didn’t work as I thought it should! Yes, I celebrated God’s grace in Christ crucified for us (Gal. 2:19-20), saving us from ourselves. But my behavior was that of a person who followed “the rules.” “The rules” were defined by what the Church interpreted as the right behavior of one who believes in God incarnate through Jesus Christ. And when I followed those rules, I would experience the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:4-7).

Yet, over the last 20 some years I have been on an on-going conversion to experiencing that peace is through letting go of my idea of how life ought to be or go. A more grace filled Gospel than I had ever imagined, finding peace in not what I performed, but in what God simply gave to me if I would receive it. Receiving it became the invitation, not performing it! And really, in not getting the life I thought those behaviors would induce.

I began to find God – God’s grace – in all the wrong places. God breaking in – the Kingdom of God breaking in, regardless if I or someone else performed the “right behaviors.” I stopped having the typical “quiet time” – a time of scripture study and prayer that I designed – of course, early in the morning. Now, don’t get me wrong, reading scripture and prayer are Huge ways into receiving God’s grace – but they stopped being performed in the ways I was taught. They came to me when I was hungry for them or led into a moment of reflection, un-beckoned by my own decisiveness.  Finding the Spirit drawing my heart when I had no idea I needed what I needed.

I found God in the homeless man who attends the Church I’m attending. He chooses to be homeless. He comes to worship in dirty close with a broad brimmed hat and a cat on his shoulder. Up he goes for Communion with the old, the middle aged, and the young. We ran into each other in town last week and he held a door open for me with a smile of acknowledgment that we are in the same community. A community that is simply wanting God’s grace as we figure out life as it is when it is.

God broke into my grieving heart as I listened to a new member of the community of the widowed. This is not a community that anyone wants to belong to! How the mystery of who lives and who doesn’t creates unanswerable prayers where God seems silent? Yet there too, the Kingdom and grace break in as we discover that we survive and want to live and still be present to God who loves us, though doesn’t answer all our questions.

Finding God in all the wrong places is in fact finding God in all the places God chooses to reveal God’s self-more fully than if we constructed events according to our plans. Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” Finding God in all the wrong places, is in-fact finding God in all places at all times. God working out God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Grace is so offensive to us because we don’t get to control how it operates and it’s not dependent on what you do, but on what God is doing.


Photographer: frank mckenna. Used with permission.

Look for it afresh in 2019!


as i wait…

by Mona Chicks, CFDM contributor

As a kid, it seemed like decades passed between each Christmas. I loved the lights, the colors, the cookies, and of course the presents that each Christmas brought. One of my most cherished memories is driving around town in our old green Impala station wagon with my grandparents and great aunt, laying in the back looking out of that big window at all the Christmas lights on the homes in our town. I had this sudden realization that, after all of my waiting, it was finally here! It was Christmas Eve!

as i wait...

Advent is just that – a time of waiting. We join the people of Israel in waiting for our Savior. Unlike that first Christmas, though, we know how this story plays out. We know that the Savior would not be born in a palace, but would be born into the lowest of circumstances, and turned into a refugee. We know that instead of challenging an oppressive regime as a military leader, this Savior would challenge the oppressiveness of religion. We know that instead of rebuilding an earthly kingdom, he would initiate the growth of a relational Kingdom – a people adopted as sons and daughters into the holy family.

And so, as Advent begins, we wait again. We participate in a season of waiting because we are still waiting – we are waiting for Jesus’ return, for a time when all sorrow and sadness will cease, when God’s Kingdom will be complete.

Have you ever noticed that when you wait for something, when it finally arrives it is immediately more precious? What if this Christmas was like that for you? For me? What if, instead of being buried in the chaos of the gift lists, post office woes, meal planning, and decorating, we instead set our sights on the expectation of the coming of the baby Jesus? What if we could do all of those things but with a sense of awe and wonder in the knowledge that our Savior is coming?

O come, o come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice o Israel
To you shall come Emmanuel

Going Deeper with God Through Discernment

by Mark Cutshall


If you were to take some time and listen to what’s going on around you, what things would you hear? Beyond the air conditioning overhead or the barking dog outside, what if this simple act of listening could open the door to the deeper inner stirrings, questions and desires for distinguishing where God is living and moving in you? Here are three areas of awareness that have helped me discover the unfolding work of God in my life.

Cutshall November 2018


God’s loving presence  


First, consider that God is already present with you and in you. Paul’s words to the Greeks are for us: “Yet he (Christ) is actually not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17: 27-28). Discernment takes place in God’s loving presence. Being present to God who calls you beloved matters greatly to Jesus. His last words to the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane were a farewell gift of his heart’s desire: “Stay awake.” Pay attention. Listen. In the midst of darkness, and in the new day, consider how much God loves you, then ask the Holy Spirit to meet you and reveal where God is already at work.  

As you prayerfully listen for God, what thoughts and emotions emerge for you?


Our spiritual posture


Discerning God in and through the Holy Spirit involves our spiritual posture–how we position ourselves to approach, participate with, and receive from the Lord. A vivid symbol of this for me is what I affectionately call the Jesus Chair, a wingback chair my directees use in spiritual direction. It’s got an upright, inviting feel. The chair has “held” countless stories, honest emotions, and unedited prayers. Another picture of spiritual posture for discerning God is captured in the two outstretched hands on the cover of Henri Nouwen’s book, With Open Hands: Being open to seek and know God involves being vulnerable to trust God for what he wants us to receive.

What words and pictures would you use to describe your spiritual posture?   


A regular practice


Acknowledging God’s presence through a posture of openness, vulnerability and trust helps us to practice discernment. As you carve out some time in your week to listen and pay attention, and as you participate and discern the work of the Holy Spirit, the practice of being with, noticing and communing with God will become more natural. You’ll likely see patterns develop, rhythms that involve a new appreciation of place and prayer. Give yourself time. The psalmist encourages, “For the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope” (Ps. 130:5). Discernment can arrive suddenly in the blink of an eye, and it can roll into view like a patient, wide, flowing river. And because God is the author of surprise, we might even take a cue from, of all people, the wicked witch, who in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, was certainly paying attention to notice and make it clear that, “Aslan is on the move!”

What appeals to you most about living into a new rhythm of being with God?

May these three areas of awareness reveal to you God the Father who loved you into being, Jesus the Son in whom you have new, eternal life and the Holy Spirit who leads and guides and empowers you, even now, as you continue to go deeper with God.



Psalm 33:5

by Gwen Shipley, CFDM Northwest Co-Director

Psalm 33:5 – The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.

Confession: Reading the Bible is sometimes hard for me. I’ve had to learn to like it–again. I struggle to believe what it says some days, if I’m honest. But it’s also true that I am reclaiming its truth, its beauty, its gifts, redeeming it from a lifetime of utilitarian approaches to scripture. I confess to it here because it’s an integral part of my journey from a very young age. It’s especially difficult when an absence of righteousness seems evident or profound injustice momentarily prevails; when natural disaster or disease ravages a nation. And it’s a humbling reality when I find myself directing a spiritual formation program whose aim is to nurture an unapologetically Christ-centered approach to the human experience! While a lifetime’s exposure to the Bible helped me know about God, the knowing God would only come over time and with intention.  It would come by being with God.    

I was reminded along the way, that you can know about someone without knowing them. I was reminded again recently while sitting in a dark theater with a small but diverse crowd watching “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” I listened to others’ sniffles and sobs in between my own as the friends of Mr. Rogers, Yo-Yo Ma among them, recounted the impact Fred’s life had had on theirs. From the very opening moments of the film, each of us was moved beyond our capacity to maintain a detached movie-going demeanor as, one by one, family, friends and associates told how they were changed by being in the presence of Fred Rogers. Of course, I knew about him. So did millions of Americans. But the people who lived and worked with him, they knew him.


The story of his lifetime of service to children grew more compelling as he revealed that as a child, he himself suffered from debilitating anxiety. As a method of managing it, “My mother told me to always look for the helpers,” he says.  That line came back to me recently when I came across Psalm 33:5:

…The earth is full of [God’s] unfailing love.

My inner cynic stirred but the wise counsel of Fred’s mother persisted. Might we see more of the unfailing love of which the psalmist says the earth is full if we, too, always looked for it? Maybe I would even find it in scripture—if I always looked for it.

While the Bible is claimed to be a narrative of God’s unfailing love, I just as often find it billed as a “manual for living” (Proverbs) or a recitation of “moral obligations” (Ten Commandments, Beatitudes, etc.) or weaponized when the “authoritative word of God” (Gen-Rev) seems necessary. All of these hold varying degrees of veracity but with a relational significance hopelessly remote to the deepest longings of my soul.

It was adding regular spiritual practices–like *lectio divina--in an environment of freedom and grace, that opened me once again to the Spirit’s invitation to an encounter in scripture with the God whose Beloved I am, whose you are. Yes, perhaps I could find God’s unfailing love—even there. I chose to trust that whatever else was needed would follow.

As it turns out, Fred Rogers was an ordained minister whose pulpit was a television studio. He, too, had come to view the words printed on the page as an invitation to encounter the One to whom they refer; he valued solitude and silence…and scripture. I wonder if the reason he could be of such help to others is, in part, that he had trained himself early to always look for the ways that the earth was full of God’s unfailing love–and looking for the helpers was one of those ways. Perhaps we can still learn from Mr. Rogers. Perhaps if we always look for it, we will discover that…

…The earth is full of [God’s] unfailing love.


*CFDM is rooted in Ignatian spirituality which places an emphasizes seeing God in all things. Spiritual Formation 1 facilitates this kind of seeing beginning with the practice of encountering God’s love through reading for transformation as well as information. If you are interested in learning more, contact us at



by Margie Van Duzer


Stained Glass

“As He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct:  for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” …. Now that you have purified our souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart” I Peter 1:16, 22

“But you beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God.  Look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.  And have mercy on some who are wavering”…Jude vs. 20-22

My church community has recently felt that God is inviting us to consider what it means that our space of worship, our sanctuary, is to be understood as both “safe” and “holy.”  In connection with a recent art installation many folks were invited to share their views on sanctuary.  A few focused on holiness but I noticed that for most folks, the emphasis tended to be all on safety.  What did it mean that our sanctuary was to be a place where people could come as they are, free to be themselves, and still experience the love and mercy of God?  This captures the idea that sanctuary is a refuge and place of safety for all.  And this emphasis makes sense.  With all that is happening in our world, there is a pervasive sense of anxiety and fear that seems to be growing stronger of late.  We want folks to feel safe in the presence of God.  We want folks to be able to be honest about who they are without fear of rejection.  Folks want to know that God loves them and desires to be merciful to them. I believe it is absolutely necessary for one to feel safe in order to truly experience the love of God. Hence, for years I have had (the perhaps arrogant?) audacity to argue against the famous line from CS Lewis’s Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe where Aslan, the Christ figure is referenced:  “Safe?” Said Mr. Beaver, “Who said anything about safe?  Course he isn’t safe.” I disagree with Mr. Beaver.  I firmly believe we need to see God as safe in order to truly experience God’s love and mercy and feel safe ourselves.

And certainly there is historical precedent for this understanding of sanctuary. In the Old Testament there were hints of claiming safety at the altar.  As early as the time of Constantine when the church community began to build sanctuaries for places of worship, the spaces were not only set apart for worship, but under certain conditions, fugitives had immunity from arrest while in the sanctuary itself.  Even today some refugees seek protection from deportation in the sanctuaries of churches.  Clearly, then a sanctuary is a safe place.

And yet… I have found myself troubled by the lack of conversation around what it means for our sanctuary to also be a place that is somehow holy.  The very word, “Sanctuary,” comes from the Latin word Sanctus which means holy or sacred. The Greek word for holy, hagios, carries an implication of being set apart.

In the book of Isaiah, God is often referred to as “The Holy One” – It is there we have the famous line “Holy Holy Holy” referring to our God and Isaiah 6 captures this sense of the sanctuary well:  “Woe to me. I am a man of unclean lips”   Nothing particular “safe” about the flying seraphim and burning coals on our lips. So yes, in some ways the sanctuary is safe but it also is a place that is “other”, “set apart” where there is some sense of purity, righteousness and a sense of God’s awesome otherness. Yet, we as a church community are not talking so much about sanctuary being such a holy place, and I’ve been wondering why.

Perhaps talking about holiness can make us feel more distant and make us seemed removed from others. Perhaps a God who is high and lifted up seems less accessible, less safe. At a time when we want to be inclusive and loving, it may suggest an element of exclusivity.  Holiness does not abide me “just being me, however I am.”  It makes claims on me.  It wants to touch my unclean lips with a burning coal.    Maybe talking about holiness can feel judgmental.  And if that is a possibility, maybe it is better to avoid the topic of holiness altogether.

This is where my reading of the above verses from I Peter and Jude have come alive for me.  These verses clearly speak to the importance of holiness in our lives as Christians.  But they also speak to the centrality of giving and receiving God’s loving mercy.  Both are core attributes of God and both are to be central in our lives as Christians.  If we are to reflect Christ in our lives, both are to be a part of who we are as God’s people. We are to be both holy and lovingly merciful.

When Peter and Jude were writing these words of holiness and mercy, there was much disunity and disputed theology within the church.  It was an unsettled time.  Peter exhorts his readers to live lives of holiness then soon after calls them to love deeply, even those they disagree with.  Jude reminds his readers that they are to grow in their holy faith, and then he then immediately comes back to God’s mercy that leads to true life, full life.  And after all of that, he exhorts his readers to be patiently merciful to those that are not as strong in the faith as they are.  Holiness and merciful love all bound up together in faith practice.

I do not have a formula that puts all this neatly together. I can’t tell you what it looks like. I wonder, however, if some of what we have lost is an ability to imagine that we can be welcomed and loved – that we can be invited to enter the sanctuary just as we are confident that God’s loving mercy will enfold us – and yet also that in the presence of God’s holiness we may be called to change.  Maybe.  What I can say with confidence however is that somehow we must always remember that Scripture never lets us separate holiness and mercy.  Both are intimately connected with each other and together they point to the very nature of God.  And as God’s beloved community both holiness and mercy must be found in our sanctuaries and in our lives.


Where God Dwells

by David Hicks

One of the books that we have used in the Formation 1 program is an old spiritual classic called, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, by Jean Pierre De Caussade. He talks about our tendency to miss seeing God in the places where He most longs to reveal Himself – in the ordinary and mundane, even in the places that we often think are hurting or destroying us. De Caussade says that God often comes to us, “in events that we imagine to be our ruin.” He goes on to say something that shatters most of my sacred pre-conceived notions of how God works in our lives. Sometimes, “there is no remedy for this darkness but to sink into it.”
I sometimes reflect on Psalm 40 where the psalmist is praising God for, “lifting me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire.” I sometimes imagine myself in that pit desperately clutching to the sides trying to keep from falling further into the depths of what I just know is death and destruction below. I look up and cry out to God for help. I try and picture Him leaning over the edge of the pit and grabbing my arms, pulling me to safety and security and placing, “my feet on a rock”.
But maybe I have the picture wrong. Maybe it’s not so much about me waiting for God to reach down and lift me out as it is my letting go and falling into the darkness I so dread because in the darkness is where His presence is waiting for me. Maybe He is not above me, but below me, waiting for me to fall, not so much into the darkness, as into Him. “There is no remedy for this darkness but to sink into it.” Maybe the place that I most fear is the place where He most dwells.

The story is told of a man who tripped and fell off a cliff. Clutching at the grasses on the edge of the cliff he finds that he can put off his fall for a moment or two. “Is there anyone up there?” he cries out. “Yes”, came a reply, but nothing further. “Who are you? Why don’t you help me?” shouted the man. “I’m God”, said the voice, “and I will help you, but you must do exactly as I say.” “OK”, whispered the man. “What do you want me to do?” God says, “First, let go!” The man thinks for a moment and then says, “Is there anyone else up there?”
Sometimes surrender to God is not so much a movement upward (the most logical direction), but a movement downward, seemingly deeper into the darkness that we dread. Maybe God is actually present in the dark places that we fear to go in ways that are unseen, unknown to eyes that do not see “by faith”.
De Caussade says that it is in these dark places, “that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself, mysteriously bestowing his grace.” I must admit that the idea that God may actually dwell in the darkness that I most fear is a difficult one for me to grasp. But then it is my grasping that often prevents me from falling into the grace that is my soul’s deepest desire. Who would have thought that the way out might actually be down rather than up.
To me, this is one of those “leaps of faith” that I find so difficult to take. Darkness, pain, suffering, affliction are things to avoid not things to embrace. They are things to get past quickly not things to linger in, finding a deeper place of God’s presence. “Let go”, God often says. “for the place from which I will lift you up is not from above but from below, from underneath you, from those places you most dread, for even there, I AM.”
Trial and suffering fills our lives but I am coming to see them as Jacob did when he encountered God at Bethel. “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” (Genesis 28:16)


David Hicks is a regular CFDM faculty member for the Formation program and a guest presenter for the Spiritual Direction program