Hide and Seek With God

I’m in the R. Kelly library at the University of Toronto. It’s big. With rows upon rows of towering bookshelves, I imagine how much fun it would be to play children’s games, like sardine or hide-and-seek, here. I’m picturing that there are some corners of the library where you could remain hidden for days. Mental note to self: if I ever organize a giant hide-and-seek game here, make sure to bring snacks and a flashlight because it’s going to be EPICALLY long…

It’s no wonder that I’m thinking about hiding because I am desperately trying to avoid the truth which has just leaped off my borrowed book’s page. Why isn’t there a 5-second-rule for thoughts, I wonder? Because now that I’ve read it, there’s no going back.

I’m skimming through a book about Henri Nouwen’s life and this passage caught me off-guard: “Discernment is about seeing, knowing, and being known. Do you want to be seen by God? Do you want to be truly known, with all your inner thoughts and outer activities laid out before an all-seeing, all-knowing God?”

Well, actually…I don’t. That sounds like a terrible idea!

I’ve been seeking discernment lately because I’m looking for my first call as a soon-to-be-ordained minister. I’ve been wanting some direction about where to apply and how to know you’ve met the right congregation for you. I’m all for the “seeing” and “knowing” part of discernment. Hey Sophia, send all that wisdom my way! But I didn’t realize that the flow of knowledge, clarity and understanding is a two-way street. It’s a relationship. As we open ourselves to be receptive to God’s wisdom, we are also revealing ourselves to God.

Of course, God does already know who we are. God knows our favourite flavour of ice-cream, the wishes we make when we blow out our birthday candles, and the things locked in our hearts which we’ve never told anyone.

But that’s not the point. That’s not what Henri Nouwen was trying to say.

What is important is that we’re ready to show up – as our whole selves – in our relationship with God. Our busy, modern lives are so distracting that we can often avoid having to look at our faults and our wounds. We don’t have to deal with the parts of our lives or our souls which are painful, squidgy or a little bit frayed around the edges. But when we’re asking God to help us with discernment – to help us come into alignment with who we are meant to be – then all parts of our souls will be called into healing.

The book I’m reading, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life by Henri Nouwen suggests that we write a personal letter to God, openly and honestly looking at the areas of life we are not sure that we want God to investigate, and then we can pray that God will help us to see ourselves (and these “tender areas”) as fully, gently and beautifully as God sees us.

Hmmm… sounds like I’ve got some letter writing to do. This could take a while. I’d better bring snacks. And a flashlight!

Joy Cowan is an MDiv student at Emmanuel College in Toronto and she is a Candidate for Ordained Ministry within the United Church of Canada. She adores her silver tabby cat named Kiri, and she has a penchant for collecting acorns and perfectly round stones.

A canoe, a decision and Jesus.

I remember like it was yesterday, staring at the doctor with my mouth gaping open.  Are you kidding?  A Hysterectomy?  I am 44, not 64!  The doctor looked at me with some compassion (and a little puzzlement).  “What’s wrong?  You can choose whether or not to keep your ovaries and it’s not like you want more children now, right?”  That’s compassion for you!

I had been having major trouble with my period for a few years, but was not expecting to hear this…I knew there were less invasive procedures. I went home and discussed it all with my partner Steven.  It was true we didn’t want more kids, and our children, Kate and Michael were now 20 and 18 years old.  My identical twin happened to be pregnant with her sixth child and I thought she was crazy.  “So what do you think about taking or leaving my ovaries?”  “Take them, I would say.” said Steven. I agreed.  If I was going in, I was going in once and would take away any chance of ovarian cancer in my future.

This was such a tense time in life anyway.  I wondered if I was being punished for going into discernment. I am usually the last one to think this way, but I was wondering what was happening in my usually tame life.  I mean who did I think I was anyway?  My dad wasn’t well (although we did not know for months yet that he had cancer), and my mom was lying in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s Disease.  She didn’t know us anymore and rarely spoke.

I called to cancel my Discernment twice and hung up before anyone answered.  I prayed and prayed.  Bleeding or immediate Menopause?  Discernment or back to my old life?  Did God want me or not??  I (like I am sure many others), had a blissful picture of Discernment being a quiet time of contemplation, a time when I would become convinced of my call and all would be well.  Now, I thought bitterly, I felt more like I was on the Road to Damascus than the Road to Emmaus.   Please God send me a sign that’s strong!  Give me an answer I can’t ignore!  I knew that if God was going to be subtle with me, I would miss the answer completely.  I discussed it over and over with Steven, and finally decided that if I didn’t get a good shove from God in the direction of staying in Discernment soon, I would call and withdraw…and never show my face at Church again…OK, for awhile anyway.


It was during this time that I had my dream.  I have spoken of this dream to many groups, and each time I feel enveloped in love and acceptance by the listeners.

I am not confident enough to be in a canoe in rough water.  I can swim, but not long distances, and tend to panic easily.  There I was, in a canoe, all alone and the wind was soaking my hair and I could hardly see.  The waves were rocking the canoe violently and I did the only thing I could think of.  I started praying.  “Lord save me from this, it’s too much. I can’t cope with this and everything else.  I have too many burdens.”  The canoe was way down at my end and I was taking on water when I noticed someone sitting in the other end of the canoe.  “If you are Jesus, calm the storm please!”  “Give me your burdens” he said quietly.  I should not have been able to hear him over the waves and thunder but I could, clear as a bell.  “I can’t!” I shouted, “The boat will sink!”

The figure kept saying “Give me your burdens” until I was almost waist deep in my end of the canoe and yelled “OK!”  The storm stopped immediately.  I opened one eye to see if I was dead, drowned in the water, but I was still in the canoe….and far from being lower in the water at the other end, with all of my burdens, the canoe was completely level in the water….  “I will help you, we will work together.  You are not alone.”  I never doubted again.  I felt so at peace.  I think if I had heard “Your burdens are gone, all taken care of.” I would not have believed it, and drowned in my own panic.  Instead I woke up feeling better than I had in months.

My doctor called and said he would recommend taking my ovaries and that there were ways to help my body through the shock of immediate menopause.  My Discernment Committee decided to ask me if I wanted to take a few months off so I could be with Mom and Dad (they passed away within six months of each other that year).  Before he died, my Dad told me out of the blue how proud he was of me and that he just knew Mom was too.  On our 45th birthday, my twin gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl.  I felt her happiness and knew suddenly that I was happy with my decision too.

Small answers with enormous results. A canoe, Jesus, sharing All is well.  I prayed and God answered, not with thunder but with gentle rain, soaking into my conscience.  We are not alone, we live in God’s world.

DLM Wendy Lowden was born and raised in Hamilton Ontario and married her first boyfriend forty years ago.  They have two married children, Kate and Michael, and five wonderful grandchildren, in Ontario and in Lewisporte, Newfoundland and Labrador. Wendy is currently enjoying her time as President of her region.  She loves to write, and thinks it is always good to stretch her wings and get away from writing sermons.  The drawing of the canoe was made as soon as she woke up from her dream.wendy


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