Hidden in Plain Sight: The Secret of More
The writer Diane Ackerman once wrote that for too many people, "Life is something that happens to them while they wait for death." In HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT, Mark Buchanan explores seven ancient virtues that are found in the writings of the apostle Peter. In doing so, Buchanan invites us to pay attention to our lives, to really live, not just exist.
The life we've always wanted, Buchanan reminds us, is already here. It's not later, like after the kids are grown, or we've gone to counseling, or gotten a degree. It's now. We have everything we need. And there are seven virtues that, according to the Apostle Peter, if we add to our lives will make us more fruitful and productive. But first we have to search out these virtues and apply them.
What are the virtues? We need knowledge, the key to efficiency and productivity, and for it to be detoxified by goodness, which renders knowledge beneficial and not impressive. Add self-control; learn to pray. Persevere. Become Godly (Godliness, he notes, is "beautiful when it is authentic, and revolting when it's pretense.") Be kind. Love each other. Virtue's "groundwork" is faith, he writes. Its lifeblood is the Spirit.
As in his previous books, such as THE REST OF GOD and THINGS UNSEEN, Buchanan crafts lovely prose and careful word choices to get his message across. "…the Spirit is a wind. I'm learning to run with his gentle pummeling on my back, keeping me from growing weary. Some days, I spread my arms like wings and catch that wind beneath them, and for moments I fly. I fly."
Buchanan's vulnerability, often poignant personal stories, careful incorporation of scripture, illustrations and quotes from such diverse writers as Annie Dillard, G.K. Chesterton, and Pat Conroy enrich and illuminate his message. Every page is a challenge if we take it to heart. And we can't be proud of these virtues; rather, each virtue must come with an underlying humility.
In one interesting passage of the book, Buchanan wrestles with a concept that I've always struggled with. When we know that whenever we make a decision, the fallout of it might have negative consequences, how do we move forward? For example, we send care packages with toothbrushes in them to impoverished children in Africa, and the local toothbrush vendor loses his business. Or the church decides to invest in new choir robes, and the local food pantry can't feed 30 families because they are short on funds. It can make you crazy! Buchanan's advice, riffing on Martin Luther's "sin boldly," is helpful: "Don't anguish over every little thing. Do what needs doing and leave the outcome to God."
Something different: Buchanan integrates "The Petrine Diaries," 11 entries drawn from the life of Peter plus three short fictional stories that are tagged onto each section of the book, which he includes to "stir up your imagination." Although his nonfiction is stronger than his fiction, these short stories help flesh out the person of Peter on which the book revolves.
This is a message that will go straight to your heart if you let it, make you ask yourself questions about the way you are living, if you are risking enough, if you really want enough of God. I love Buchanan's hope for his book: "May it disrupt us, turn us upside down in order to live right-side up…. May it help us live with such holy vigor that when we're gone, our epitaph will be, "They really lived." May we say, "God, I want more of you." Amen and amen.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on March 13, 2007