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God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World


God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World

It all started in India. Well, kind of. In retrospect, I’m sure Dean Nelson would agree that GOD HIDES IN PLAIN SIGHT is a book that has been in the making long before that trip. But it was in India, on a brief teaching assignment, where Nelson started to notice things that seemed unusual --- incidents that reminded him of his family. A piano player in the hotel lobby played songs two days in a row that his children had played at a recital the night before he left on the trip. A student, a missionary, in his class wrote a paper about a transformative experience with a pastor back in Wisconsin --- a man who happened to be Nelson’s father-in-law. Nelson is quick to say that coincidences do happen. But he also saw in these events a kind of greeting from God.

He writes, “I believe that grace goes before us as a way for God to say, ‘Welcome! I got here before you. I’ve been expecting you.’ That is exactly how I felt when I heard this missionary read his assignment in Bombay. I was alone, feeling like a Martian, a little bit afraid, and I sensed God saying to me, ‘See? You’re with me, and you’re going to be fine.’”

As Nelson tells it, that experience gave him courage, even amused him. And he started paying closer attention to his life. “What I hungered for was better vision so I could see God and his activity throughout my day. I believed that his grace and love and presence were all around me, but I wasn’t seeing them. I wasn’t living with that knowledge at my center. I wanted the blinders off. I wanted to catch the subtleties of God’s activity.”

Such vision doesn’t develop overnight. But slowly and steadily, Nelson started to see and understand that grace is constantly breaking into 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,” he writes.

In GOD HIDES IN PLAIN SIGHT, Nelson unpacks how the idea of the sacraments --- outward signs of inward grace --- helped him see God at work in the world. Through rich and wonderful storytelling, he explores the outlandish and mundane, urging readers to see God at work in all areas of life, even (and especially) the messy, chaotic and even boring areas. His important lessons come easily through engaging and good-spirited prose, making this a read that is both delicious and nutritious.

But don’t just take my word for it. The cover of GOD HIDES IN PLAIN SIGHT features a nature scene that evokes the title and an endorsement from Frederick Buechner in the upper right-hand corner: “This book has wonderful and valuable things to say.” Buechner’s assessment is true, and he should take some personal satisfaction in this given that Nelson is clearly beholden to Buechner’s work in the development of his own ability to see God in the world around him. Nelson writes, “Much of our lives, it seems to me, are spent like that of the main character in Camus’ novel, THE STRANGER; we are indifferent, unmoved, unfeeling, walking dead people. Not until the stranger faced his own death did he ever notice the stars in the sky. He reminds me of a lot of people I meet. ‘Listen to your life,’ Buechner said. ‘See it for the fathomless mystery that it is … There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize Him or not to recognize Him.’”

Nelson’s own fluid prose and keen observations are often bolstered with insights from not just Buechner, but from a wide array of writers and thinkers, including Anne Lamott, Philip Yancey, Eugene Peterson, Thomas Merton, Henri Nowen and Frederica Mathewes-Green. This rich contextualization is a delightful feature of the book that introduces (or perhaps reintroduces) readers to other authors whose work they will also want to explore.

I myself hope to track down a book by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, first published in the 1700s, titled THE SACRAMENT OF THE PRESENT MOMENT. As Nelson relates, “[Caussade] says that God’s activity permeates all things, even the most trivial and annoying. Look for God backstage, he says, not center stage. ‘No moment is trivial,’ he said, ‘since each one contains a divine Kingdom. The present moment is like an ambassador announcing the policy of God.’”

But before Caussade, I look forward to spending more time with Nelson. His lively, conversational tone makes GOD HIDES IN PLAIN SIGHT a pleasure to read. It’s the kind of book you want to revisit, to slow down with, and to learn from. And in this way it’s like a good friend, one that’s helping you to see your own life more clearly by bringing God’s presence into focus.


Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on November 13, 2011

God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World
by Dean Nelson

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2009
  • Genres: Christian, Christian Living
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Brazos Press
  • ISBN-10: 1587432331
  • ISBN-13: 9781587432330