Brief Reviews, VOLUME 3

Review: God Hides in Plain Sight by Dean Nelson [Vol. 3, #20]

A Review of

432332: 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
By Dean Nelson.

Paperback:  Brazos Press, 2009.

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Reviewed by Margaret D’Anieri.

In Julian of Norwich’s Showings, Christ shows Julian a hazelnut. Julian asks what it is, and the response she receives is that “It is all that is made.”  Julian then writes, “I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might fall into nothing because of its littleness”, and she goes on to notice three properties of the hazelnut: that God made it, that God loves it, and that God keeps it.

Julian is venerated as a mystic, perhaps the greatest English mystic, and those of us who do not consider ourselves mystics are often made to feel that we can never be really close to God, never truly experience the thin place that connects heaven and earth, profound and profane, quotidian and extraordinary. In God Hides in Plain Sight, Dean Nelson contributes his own “showings”, in which visions of God and experiences of the holy are available to all of us.

Jesus tells us we can see God at work in the little things, like a mustard plant – the equivalent of a weed. People generally expect to see evidence of God in the big stuff – the Gee Whiz events when in reality, according to Jesus, it’s at knee or ankle level, spreading like a weed. Or like yeast in bread. It’s in the everydayness, using everyday elements. Whether we see it is up to us. Instead of looking up, we should be looking around. Or down.

The book is structured along the lines of the seven traditional sacraments, with an eighth chapter on what he calls the new sacrament of service. In each chapter he interprets the sacraments as recurring themes of our lives, with the liturgical expression of the sacraments as only one manifestation. The chapter on communion talks about the sacredness of all tables, not just the altar; the chapter on confession talks about the sacredness inherent in all conversation, not just that which takes place between priest and parishioner. The book is filled with anecdotes – each chapter is mostly a string of stories from Nelson’s life as father and globe-trotting journalist, interspersed with quotes from observers of the life of faith including Anne Lamott, Eugene Peterson, Frederick Buechner, Henri Nouwen, and Richard Rohr. It’s well written for a general audience, and would work well for a study group.

Nelson’s theme is that as with the hazelnut, God made all of creation, God loves it, and God keeps it – and we need only pay attention. This book helps us to see the holy in our own lives more clearly.


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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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