- Noticing God by Richard Peace
Richard Peace here presents a comprehensive interdisciplinary guide and engaging ecumenical tool for what he calls the “spiritual discipline of noticing God” (14). Throughout the book he argues that believers have to learn to notice and, by noticing discerningly, little by little they gain a sense of God’s reality and presence in their lives and in the world (18). A United Church of Christ Minister, Richard Peace divides his time between Pasadena, California where he is Professor of Evangelism and Spiritual Formation at Fuller Theological Seminary and Wenham, Massachusetts where he is a member of the First Congregational Church. These two contexts inform the intersecting components of his ministry as a renowned academic and creative pastor. Past president of the Academy of Evangelism and Theological Education and prolific writer whose works have been translated into more than ten languages, Peace combines Biblical rootedness and spiritual formation to produce study guides and video presentations to educate and inspire contemporary Christians. His recent book, Noticing God, can serve both as a primer on how to recognize various manifestations of God and as a testimony to the transformative effects of noticing and responding to God’s interaction in the life of a believer.
As a primer, the book opens with an Introduction that asks, “How do we notice the presence of God?” and ends with a Conclusion that probes, “How do we know it is God?” The directness of these two questions alerts the reader to expect to confront in the book’s seven chapters both provocative topics and challenging practices, such as mysticism and discernment. A fifteen page supplement includes a [End Page 120] step-by-step Guide for Personal Reflection and Group Discussion on the Spiritual Discipline of Noticing. Helpful suggestions for further reading can be found in nine additional pages of informative and clarifying notes. Peace launches the book by expressing his conviction that, “It is one thing to believe in God, as I did. It is quite another to encounter God’s presence” (14). He concludes the book by presenting several models of discernment for following a path of wisdom, not self-deception (140).
In testimony, Peace draws on examples from his own spiritual development, his observations (especially during his years in South Africa) of conversions, some of which were quick and dramatic while others were gradual and progressive. When he first embarked on intentional noticing, admittedly, he had little familiarity with the tradition of spiritual formation (37). Giving himself over to his own questions about noticing God, he identified seven arenas of revelation: Mystical Experiences; God in the Ordinary; the Still Small Voice; Community; the Written Word; Creation, Culture and Creativity; and Church. Writing this book, Peace crafted seven chapters to explore those revelatory contexts with associated spiritual teachers and related spiritual practices. In the Introduction, he states explicitly and with examples nine core assumptions underlying his argument. These assumptions orient his exploration of how women and men “come to touch the living God . . . ranging from the dramatic (mystical experiences) to the mundane (hints and intuitions that come to us)” (16). Equating discipline with intentional practice, he argues that the spiritual discipline of noticing God is the discipline that underlies all other disciplines and that out of such noticing flows transformation because we seek the Presence that changes us (155).
Chapters One and Six, unlike the rest, address the reality of mystical experience as a potent means of encountering the living God. Peace acknowledges a variety of dramatic encounters. For example, he draws on the language and imagery of C. S. Lewis who reported that “brushes with the Divine” often left behind “a deep longing for whatever it was he encountered” (30). Peace also consults Barbara Bradley Hegarty who researched the physiology of spiritual experience and concluded that spiritual experiences leave a “residue in one’s brain or body” (33). For Peace this means that, “the brain has the inherent capability for mystical experience” (34). Yet, he urges caution to distinguish the esoteric voices from authentic witnesses and recommends listening to those in...