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You Learned Along the Way Not to Believe in Love

I asked God a question
that’s been plaguing me
for a long time

As I travel on my journey
and uncover miracles
in the midst of pain

Why do I still doubt

God became very quiet
sighed then smiled at me

Because you are afraid and
you learned along the way
not to believe in love

But why did I learn
not to believe in love

Because you have never
felt the depths of mine

then God took me
gently in his arms

©Janet O. Hagberg, 2006
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Chaos Reeks of God

Spiritual direction has transformed my life. I have experienced it as a gifted relationship with another person in which we listen to God and discern God’s wisdom in the events of my life. My spiritual director is trained to understand the working of the Spirit in my life and she knows how and when to remain silent, when to ask provocative questions or to tell stories.

After I had been in spiritual direction for a few years I began to notice that my director was neither impressed nor stressed by the tumult of my life, not even the big stuff. She brought a calm presence to our time together whatever the topic. I wondered how that worked and what was happening inside of her to elicit that response.

Now that I have been a spiritual director for a long time, I can understand more what was happening in the inner life of my director. She was counting on God to be there with both of us and to be a major mover for growth and transformation, which happens most in times of tumult and chaos. She knew that at those times, when I thought I was losing my life, I was actually the closest to finding it. She wasn’t afraid, so I felt I didn’t have to be so afraid either.

As a director, I get to hear a lot of stories and be part of major events in people’s lives, both joyful and traumatic. Over the years I’ve noticed that when someone begins describing a crisis or a difficult dilemma my feeling inside is a faint sense of humor, kind of a divine humor. My directees report that I even break into a little smile, just a hint of a smile, and it may seem to be inconsistent with the words they are saying to me. I really can’t help myself in these situations so I let them in on the truth I am experiencing; their situation “reeks” of God, as my spiritual director used to say.

I do not mean to imply that God punishes us with bad experiences nor that I think people’s pain is funny. But the doors of our inner psyches do not open wide enough to allow for major change very many times in our lives. So when vulnerability or chaos knocks on that door I try to encourage people to let the door swing open and trust that God is present. Once we are in a loving relationship with God, all things, even painful things are accompanied by a deep understanding that God is already transforming us and using the experience for good. It may not be clear in the moment, though, and that is why a larger perspective can be so helpful in framing the meaning of the experience. These transformations that accompany pain can help us change our direction, deepen our journey, renew our love, release things, forgive others, humble us if we need humbling, or give us back our voices if we have lost them. So chaos reeks of God for those whose lives are becoming attuned to God.

God works most intimately in times of illness, disappointment, and crises. As we gain this perspective, it can soften our pain or change our expectations of the outcome. I have found that if I can release the whole situation to God and let God work through the situation with me, then the changes that emerge as a result are usually transforming for me in the long run. I used to try to ward off change, pain or difficult decisions. I am still not eager for these things. But when I look back at my life and see the most majestic work of God in my life, it seems that the times that looked frightening, negative or unfruitful were the times of deepest transformation. Career change, divorce, unexpected surgery, loss of friendships, financial crises, addiction, loss of faith. Sometimes I can only see how profound these changes were in retrospect. Then I can see that God was at work the whole time. The more intimate my experience of God the more I trust that my whole life is in God’s hands anyway and I can enjoy the adventure.

Many poets, saints and mystics have written about the invitation from God to see all things as gifts and all of life as reeking of God. We experience it when we can laugh at our own foibles, when the hidden becomes clear, when all we hoped for turns upside down, when our enemies become our greatest teachers. Here is a poem from the 16th century mystic, Teresa of Avila, about a new way of being with God, transforming burdens into joy.

Laughter Came from Every Brick

Just these two words He spoke
changed my life,
“enjoy me”
What a burden I thought I was to carry—
a crucifix, as did He.

Love once said to me, “I know a song,
Would you like to hear it?”
And laughter came from every brick in the street
and every pore
in the sky
After a night of prayer, He
changed my life when
He sang,
“enjoy me.”


So may each of us consider the possibility, when things are all askew or even when it feels like everything is caving in on us, that this too, reeks of God; that we are on holy ground and that is why the earth is quaking beneath us.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.
The poem is from from Love Letters to God p. 276

Reflections on this essay
Have you ever known a person you could talk to in depth about things that were going on in your life and he/she listened carefully to all you had to say? What affect did that have on you?

Have you ever found that by seeing the bigger picture or reframing an event you could heal or release the burden of that event? What was your situation and what was the reframing?

How would you describe your relationship with God now?

How would you describe your childhood image of God? How does that childhood image affect the way you respond to God in your life now?

How does Teresa’s poem resonate with you? What draws you deeper in her words? Which ones stand out for you? Is this a call from God?

Dayanu: It Would Have Been Enough

At crucial times of my life when I am in a major transition or feeling very confused, it is easy for me to wonder where God is, why things are not becoming more clear, or why God is not making things work out for me since I believe I’ve been faithful in my journey. I wish I could say I have enormous patience and that I can just wait for God’s immaculate timing but, in truth, the more frightened I get, the harder it is to trust.

During prayer one day, in the middle of one of these crucial times, God reminded me of a practice I learned several years ago in a brief conversation I had at a friend’s birthday party. The practice is part of an ancient Jewish ritual of remembrance during the Passover Seder using the word Dayanu. This Hebrew word means “it would have been enough.” At the Seder, a leader recites all the major ways in which God has been there for them and, after each description they say, “dayanu.” It would have been enough—just doing each of these things would have been enough…but God wasn’t through yet.

I decided to try this. So I began with the earliest memory I had of God being there for me in a tangible way. It was when my mother died at a young age (55) and I was in my early twenties. At the time I was quiet mad at God for not saving my mother but in retrospect I realize that God sent me an angel presence to guide me, helped me through the intense grief and then started me on the incredible inward journey that has guided me ever since. As I was writing that entry I felt misty, just remembering how that angel presence helped me. After I finished that entry I wrote just one word on the next line—Dayanu.

I moved forward to another turning point in my life, when I put my job on the line while being the only wage earner in my young marriage. I took the risk of losing my job rather than continue to be a recipient of sexual harassment from my boss. This was a very difficult decision for me and God carried me through it, inviting me to draw from a deep well inside of myself and muster the courage to take risks I had never taken before. After that entry I wrote the single word—Dayanu.

Next I recalled another time in my life when I made a decision that took me into an entirely new direction. This was the day I decided to leave my job and start a consulting business with two partners. I was quite young and had no business experience. But it seemed right and I felt there was divine guidance in this decision. It was clearly the beginning of a new way of life and work that were more life-giving for me. God granted me the clarity and courage to make this move. On the next line after that entry—Dayanu.

I could now see that this pattern of writing my stories followed by Dayanu was teaching me something new. I went on to write paragraphs about joining a new church, healing from childhood pain, starting spiritual direction, losing friends from both death and disruption, experiencing abuse, working on healing a marriage, raising children, losing a marriage partner, understanding intimacy with God and others, surrendering my achievement-oriented work, moving and downsizing to a different life, going through the Wall, engaging with people on the margins, writing books and poetry, being poor in spirit.

After I finished each of these paragraphs I wrote the single word–Dayanu—on the next line, and then reflected on how God had been present in each of my experiences. It was overwhelming for me and I began to cry. I was deeply moved to see, in these concrete ways, the faithfulness of God in my life. God was always there in good times, but even more so during times of change, stress and despair, even if I did not have the strength to ask for help. It was more than a trip down memory lane. It was an act of remembrance of God’s unconditional love and deep healing.

After reading and reflecting on these paragraphs and the impact of that single word—Dayanu—“it would have been enough,” I felt a surge of gratitude well up in me in a deeper way than ever before. I felt gratitude in my soul, and it changed me, let me see that God is and has been consistently there with me, no matter what, even when I feel God is absent. I feel a new kinship with gratitude now, a deeper level of gratefulness, even for things that, on the surface, do not look good or will not make me more successful, or give me the control and security I think I need to be happy.

This insight, that God has been participating in my life all along, is profound for me. Each time I am in a tough place, a turning point, a crisis, or experiencing a big loss, I now know that if I trust God and walk slowly forward, directly into my fear, taking that risk in faith, the most incredible things happen to me. It’s not that the pain is relieved. Death is a great loss, divorce rips my heart out, but the experience somehow transforms me—slowly—and I go in a new direction, I get a new revelation or a new level of inner freedom. It has happened many times and now I clearly see the pattern. It is a God-shaped pattern in my life. And it allows me to view my current challenges in a new light, with deeper assurance that “all will be well and all manner of things will be well,” as Julian of Norwich says so beautifully.

This word—Dayanu—has been a gift to me in another way too. I practice Centering Prayer, a meditative form of prayer, a way to stay in the present and be attentive to God. When practicing this prayer we are encouraged to choose a word that has particular meaning to us and we keep coming back to it gently whenever our minds wander. You can imagine the soothing sense I have whenever I return to my new centering prayer word—Dayanu.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009, all rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay
When was the first time you realized that God was active in your life?

What do you think of the idea of Dayanu in your life?

List several times that God was present to you in good times and bad and then write the word Dayanu after your description. How does it feel to you?

What does your list bring up in your heart?

What word would you use as a centering word that, when used, would cause you to feel wrapped in love by God?

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