“When my wife passed away, she’d been missing for 24 hours first. For those 24 hours I just had to let go. I knew that it was not in my hands. The search was going on and on and I just said, ‘God, I hand this over, it’s in your hands, and whatever happens, happens.’ So I blamed God…for not taking care of us. You know, I think there’s a fine line between doubting there’s no God, and blaming God. If I blame God, I still think there’s a God. So I think that my doubting was more blaming.
I knew about Jesus and the phrase, ‘the kingdom is within,’ and I thought, ‘Well, God is out there and Jesus is out there.’ Only when I came back from India did I come to know the salvation is within—it’s not out there. That was such a relief for me. It was such an opening. And then all seeking stopped because I experienced that peace within, that truth within. And I just knew then that was my truth, my God, and my faith. It’s all within, and as well it is in everything but, for me, it was owning it within and experiencing it within. This is God energy—and that includes Jesus energy, it includes Bhagavan [Shiva], and it includes all these people, it includes you and just everything. And what a gift I was able to get in touch with that in this lifetime. What a blessing.”
I met Lucas Stiefvater on a trip I took to Vancouver Island. I was looking for a place to stay for a few nights and so I Googled “spiritual retreat” and “Vancouver Island.” I found a convent in Victoria (which wasn’t an option!) and then I found Ocean Resort in Campbell River, a few hours north of Victoria. The location was beautiful, right on Discovery Sound (an inside shipping lane and channel connected to the Pacific Ocean, just below Alaska). It had an awe-inspiring labyrinth made of driftwood. Over my stay of several days, I was fortunate to meet the creator and then owner of Ocean Resort, Lucas Stiefvater. I shared with him Portraits in Faith and he shared with me his incredible journey from a workaholic motel and restaurant serial entrepreneur to what was in front of me—a deeply grounded and focused spiritual retreat owner.
As I reviewed my interview with Lucas, I was deeply moved again by his story of personal transformation. There were two lessons for me.
First, that God is within…not outside of us. I did not think about God much growing up Jewish even though I knew all the prayers and was considered a Jewish leader among my peers. It wasn’t until I was 36 when I could not keep functioning as I was that I prayed for help from a God I did not know. When relief, and a pathway, emerged for me, I assumed it came from “without” not from “within.” Portraits in Faith has taught me that if there is a Divine Presence and Source, then there is nothing separate from that Presence and Source…and that includes “within.” In fact, it is easiest for me today to imagine the God-Spirit is in all living things, which includes the Earth and the universe. And the idea that my salvation comes from within does not cause me to discredit or value any less the many great prophets who have come to teach us (Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Baháʼuʼlláh, Zoroaster, Muhammad), and the great figures in sacred literature (Krishna and the many Hindu Gods that symbolize the One God). When God is within, I have to go no further than my own heart to connect with the Divine.
Second, that if we blame God for our troubles, we must, by definition, believe in God. Lucas’s wife was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She went missing one day and was later found dead. He blamed God for not taking care of them and for not preventing both her illness and the tragedy. His comment reminds me of Elie Wiesel’s play, “The Trial of God,” which he based on his experience at Auschwitz when fellow prisoners put God on trial for the tragedy that was befalling them. Upon finding God guilty, one of the men urgently reminded the others that the evening prayers (Maariv) should begin. I love this very Jewish idea that we can struggle with God and even find God guilty but still believe and pray.
I am profoundly grateful that a moment in time existed where I was on Vancouver Island, was guided to Ocean Resort, and got to meet this beautiful soul, Lucas Stiefvater.