The first all-church retreat that I attended with West Hills Friends featured Stan T. as our retreat speaker.  This was in the early- or mid-1990s, when I was already several years into a spiritual struggle with theology and faith and changing understanding of important things once believed with great certainty. As part of our time together, Stan led us in several guided meditations. 


Imagine (Stan told us) that Jesus has a gift just for you.  It is wrapped up in beautiful paper with a ribbon.  When you unwrap the gift there is a box with a lid.  You lift the lid, and look into the box.  What do you see?


In my mind I receive the present, admire the wrapping, carefully untie the bow, and pause just a second before opening the box.  When I remove the lid and look inside, at first I see …nothing.  The box is empty.  Then I realize that I can’t see inside the box because it is dark inside, black as night, lightless as a deep cave.  The gift inside the box was darkness.


It wasn’t what I wanted.  I wanted light, clarity, understanding, a way to move forward.  Instead it was comforting.  It was an assurance that my spiritual condition wasn’t bad or evil.

—Julie Peyton