On the Spiritual Discipline Of Resting in the Mystery

by | Aug 30, 2016 | Encouragement


Tattered seraphim flash their diminishing edges, like the chiaroscuro God who, if we believe Michelangelo, touched Adam into being with one finger, whose footprints crease the blackness of Gennesaret, whose wing feathers brush our vaulted heaven, purple with storm, whose moon is smudged – a round, glass window, an eye moving between clouds.

An excerpt from Luci Shaw’s Poem, St. Frideswide’s Chapel

I can count on one hand how many times I have seen the sun rise. But after three weeks away on a quiet lake with my family, I discovered rest and expectancy are companions. I saw the sun rise four times in the same week. The first time made me an addict of beauty.

Before drifting off to sleep, I check the forecast from an app on my phone and learn sunrise is scheduled for 6:19am. I set an alarm for 6:00.

Minutes later, I awaken. At least that is the way it seems.

Temperatures drop drastically through the night turning a stuffy garage suite of damp swim suits into a cold cavern of concrete. From my warm spot in bed, under layers of quilts and blankets, I evaluate my idealism. Do I really want to brave the cold just to witness a giant orange orb break through the darkness?

Hues of pink stream through slats in the blinds giving hints to what I may miss.

I zip a hooded sweatshirt over my night gown, slip toes into flip flops and pad sleepily through dewy grass. And witness a bleeding sky of pastels outlining hills across the lake in the distance. But the fog hovering over the surface of still lake and the haunting quiet — my imagination hadn’t fully considered that mystery.

Tiptoeing through the family cottage, I retrieve my camera from the kitchen table, return to the shoreline and find the sky continues to lighten and color fade. Where is the cameleon sky and land I envisioned when I set that early alarm? From a flat spot on a cold slab of stone, I sit and look through the viewfinder, frame an anticipated capture, and wait.




I think about how much of life is like this moment. We long to be awakened by beauty only to find ourselves impatient and wondering if this is all there is. Is hope based on idealism or reality? Where do I end and God begin?

We long for His face to shine upon us, rush in and rescue by wowing us with the miraculous. But mystery as the answer for unfulfilled longing causes us to doubt. The forecast He declares from the Truth isn’t what we expected. Assume God’s hiddenness in our situation translates that we are young, misguided, and foolish. Sometimes we give up, inattentive to beauty we stop listening altogether.

The word chiaroscuro is itself an oxymoron – chiaro (clear, or light) combined with oscuro (dark), suggesting ambiguity and paradox, a fitting term for a deity who has revealed himself in the flesh yet walks in mystery; who scatters clues and hints to his being throughout creation, Holy Scripture, and the human mind, leaving his burning footprints on the lake, but then withdrawing. Luci Shaw, Breath for the Bones

All at once, the sun raises her golden head and the shutter fires in quick succession.

Water gently laps and a loon calls across the lake as I watch light illuminate what was once hidden.





Two years ago, I sat in this same place on the lake yearning for answers during a long waiting period – depleted, at the end of myself, starving emotionally and living in what seemed like a continual fog. Where was God? Why was He insisting on mystery?

Now I know this: In our poverty God cultivates deep desire from within in order to extract the true self from roles and images.

Without mystery we are made in our own image. Darkness causes us to question and hiddenness impresses us to seek.




In the shadows and contrasts we find beauty that speaks of God’s nearness.

We need the darkness in order to perceive the value of light.

Beauty is a sacred sign from God that we are known and deeply loved. Our waiting is not in vain because He is real, He is near, and He is active. The mystery is why I wake up in the morning expectant.


All mystery feels like fog. It presents hiddenness. It demands strong faith to walk into it believing that one day it will be demystified.  ~Luci Shaw

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  1. Sandra Heska King

    Big, deep sigh. And thanks for bringing Luci into this. xo

    • Shelly Miller

      Her book inspired me in so many ways. Thanks for being here. You came to mind several times as I was writing this. Waiting is tough.

  2. Rebekah Gilbert

    “Sometimes we give up, inattentive to beauty we stop listening altogether.” This is exactly where I am. I gave up about a year ago. Even when I attempt to listen, it seems there’s nothing to hear.

    • Shelly Miller

      Oh Rebekah, that is a hard place to be. I was just sitting outside soaking up the sun while eating my lunch and praying for God to intervene on your behalf. He’s with you friend. He loves you. He is near.

      • Rebekah Gilbert

        Thank you, Shelly. One day I’m going to give you a big hug.

  3. DeanneMoore

    You won’t be surprised that I relate to this in so many ways. When I think about you sitting in the same place with a new light rising before you, I am hopeful in the place where I sit…and a little weepy because I am humbled about the fog that is often my reality, the mystery that keeps me walking by faith. Thank you for getting up early, sharing the beauty, the truth, and the poetry. xo

    • Shelly Miller

      Not surprised but truly honored. Suprised? Thanks for being my friend.

  4. Celeste

    Just yesterday I realised something within myself. Let’s call it an epiphany. Change comes to all and I had been fighting it for a long while. Speaking for myself, I realised that the more I insisted on things my way, the more stuck I became. It felt like light flooding the darkness of my mind and my heart. We have been in a period of silence, so it seems. I have embraced it for the time that it seems ours. Perhaps praying more even if it becomes only whispers into the dark. I’m learning to see beauty that isn’t so obvious laying aside my interpretation. It’s still hard to lay aside your agenda and let someone else work.
    Your pictures are beautiful. I’m glad you set your alarm.

    • Shelly Miller

      I think you what you’ve just discovered means you are open and receptive to what God has next. Insisting on our own way does indeed keep us in the same place. Waiting is hard, I wish we didn’t have to go through it but having people come alongside makes a difference. I’m here praying Celeste. Hang on friend.

      • Celeste

        Thank you for those prayers busy lady.

  5. Ro Elliott

    For far too long my gaze was inward … Looking at the ugly… Trying to imagine beauty being there… But His hands of love came and cupped my face… Took me to gaze into His beauty… In Him and a new gaze of His creation … His beauty all around… His beauty is my beauty … Because His Righteousness is my righteousness… I love the pictures… Glory glory!!!

    • Shelly Miller

      Thanks for being here Ro. I hope I get to hug you in Nashville!!

      • Ro Elliott

        When are you coming again?

  6. Nancy Ruegg

    Thank you, Shelly, for these beautiful and inspiring words that draw our attention to: 1) the mystery that surrounds our glorious God and compels us to seek, 2) his mysterious ways which inspire expectancy and compel us to believe, and 3) the day when all things will be demystified. Today’s truth that especially spoke to my heart: “In our poverty God cultivates deep desire from within in order to extract the true self from roles and images.” Yes, Lord, extract my true self — the one who wants to love you unreservedly — from the roles and images that draw me!

    • Shelly Miller

      So lovely to see you here Nancy. Thanks for your lovely, encouraging words.

  7. Jody Ohlsen Collins

    I’ll confess in my sitting and waiting for ‘something’ that I get impatient. “When will God speak? when will He show me something?” Summer has been way too busy to do much sitting and listening–I’m looking forward to time to slow down again in the Autumn and Winter months ahead.
    Thank you for listening to the alarm and taking us along on your treasure hunt, a reminder that our God is worth seeking out and waiting for.
    Remarkable images. Wow.

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m impatient too Jody. Waiting is not for the faint of heart. I hope you get that time to slow down because for me, that time informs the rest of my days. Such important work happens when we stop and listen intentionally. Thanks for the compliment on the pics. It’s easy when the artistry is right in front of you.

  8. Jerri Miller

    “We need the darkness in order to perceive the value of light.” Yes! If everything went great all the time, we’d soon lose appreciation for when the miraculous happens.

    Love that last Luci Shaw quote especially. I shall have to add that to my collection. May we all have that strong faith to walk into the fog. ~ Jerralea

    • Shelly Miller

      I had to shield my eyes at one point for the brightness of the sun and I think about how many times I turn away when his face is beaming with blessings. We have a tendency to get bored quickly and the waiting keeps us expectant, yes? Thanks for being here Jerralea!

  9. Lynn D. Morrissey

    Luci Shaw is one of my favorite poets and you, dearest Shelly, are one of my favorite bloggers. Breath for the Bones is a breath of fresh air and a favorite book. I love all her books, prose and poetry, alike. I’ve used her quotes in my own work, and she is generous to comply–a very lovely, gracious lady. This is powerful and profound, Shelly: “In our poverty God cultivates deep desire from within in order to extract the true self from roles and images. Without mystery we are made in our own image. Darkness causes us to question and hiddenness impresses us to seek.” I see your long waiting period as one of profound mystery, and I think He is just now beginning to reveal to you in the sunrise of His love what was previously hidden and some of His purposes. And I think that with this light also comes more understanding. Likely you are beginning to understand some of His reasons for the delays, one of which, perhaps, was to elicit more trust from you and more praise of His faithfulness now that His desires for you are materializing. But surely you are right–the darkness caused you to seek Him, His light, more ….. just like you sought Him from the darkness of a cabin’s night straight out into the brilliant dawn. It was worth that wait and that cold walk out into the warm light, wasn’t it? The other type of darkness you cite is really serious…. maybe you don’t mean it the way I am interpreting it (and feel free to correct me)… but discerning between our true selves and our roles and images and especially when we are making our selves in our own image, I think, is serious business indeed. We need God’s light to shine truth into our hearts about who we really are in Christ. We need then to walk in that light of what He shows us. I wonder how often I try, even unwittingly, to make myself into my own image, rather than allowing God to make me into Christ’s? It’s a sobering thought. And it’s a mystery to know how exactly He does complete this good work in me that He began. I think He’d complete it a lot sooner, if I wouldn’t fight Him, if I would obey at all times and at all costs, and if I would be patient with His timing as you have been. I pray for the Son to rise and shine in my soul, Shelly. I pray to come out of the shadows and shatter the kind of chiaroscuro that would hide me from Him, that would eclipse His love. You are precious to me, Shelly. Thank you for this beautiful rendering of mystery in words and images.

  10. KimberlyAmici

    Watching the sunrise is one of my favorite things. The trees in our neighborhood obscure the horizon line but the changing colors in the sky make up for it. It’s my favorite time of day to run, it is so peaceful and beautiful.

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