Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

I Do Not Need 200 Suckers

Written by: on November 18, 2021

“I feel trapped!”  This was the only response I could muster amid a panic attack I had at 11,200 feet in the San Juan National Forest. It was two weeks in the making, that panic attack. I was one of nine students participating in a seminary class entitled An Adventure in Wilderness and Spirituality. Adventures included ropes courses, rock climbing and rappelling, and a week backpacking into and out of the mountains. Each day was a challenge to my emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual self. The panic attack came on the heels of a solo overnight next to our last day in the forest; My-self could not tackle anymore challenge and I literally lost it.  From deep within my soul, the howling of anguish went on for easily 45 minutes while I repeated over and over, “I feel trapped!” Out in the wide open, non-confining space of the Colorado mountains, I was overwhelmed by claustrophobia. However I stuffed the anxiety that was lighted within and choose to count it as exhaustion.

Two months later, while sitting in a theology class discussing Tillich’s understanding that God is the “ground of all being” and the implications for humans’ identity in being. I finally grasped the heart of my panic attack. During that two-week adventure, the noise of life fell away and through all the challenges, my being, being present with the Ground of all Being led to a deep merging. That ignominious morning God was about to overtake me. I was about to be consumed by God and it scared the bejeebies out of me. There was nowhere for me to go. I could not escape God. I could not become invisible or become unseen. Like an octopus, I would have appreciated having 200 suckers to don an invisibility cloak of shells and stones! If God swallowed me up who would I be?  Psalm 139 became for me a living experience. “Can I go anywhere apart from Your Spirit? Is there anywhere I can go to escape Your watchful presence?”[1] Terrified to lose my-self, and nowhere to hide, I ran away from the Ground of my being.

This memory came flooding back as I read Akiko Busch’s How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. How to Disappear is a collection of essays tethered to the argument that in today’s social media saturated world, choosing to be invisible or becoming unseen has important value for one’s identity. Busch finds intersections with science, art, literature, history, culture, and nature as she dives into the sea of her personal reflections on the facets of invisibility she’s considered aspiring to. These essays also include her commentary on the deep flaws of the over-visible obsession our current culture including “Facebook depression, one result of this ceaseless exposure…the anxiety induced by social comparisons and the feeling of being less attractive or accomplished than other users,” and “disquiet that comes from relinquishing – the personal information that is key to retaining a sense of identity.”[2] At the heart of Busch’s book is the  search for understanding identity and the ways she has found herself in those times she has chosen to hide.

I found myself asking theological questions on some of her thoughts, such as, disappearing in collaborative work[3], cloaking[4], silence[5] concealing ourselves[6] and anonymity in community[7].  I also would like to engage in comparing Friedman’s unpacking of self-ish and empathy with Busch’s chapter, The Vanishing Self [8]and the intersection with the gospel. These wonderings are tied to Busch’s question, “What is the difference between being invisible and just landing in a blind spot”[9] and are important aspects to dive into for my NPO framing of the identity of church.

Many aspects of the book evoked responses but, as what comes as no surprise, chapter 4, Invisaphila, captured me. Busch’s beautiful narrative of her scuba diving experience in the Caribbean resonated with my spirit. As a Certified Master Scuba Dive Trainer, I could wax on poetically about what being 60 feet underwater does for my emotional, physical, and psychological self. Submerging in the ocean I find my “Hidden Place”[10] with God. It is the place where I am most found by God, not in an act to be invisible but to be the most seen. Back on those mountains I ran away from God in fear of losing my-self…my identity…of how I wanted to define myself. Returning to the sea is a decision to run into God’s all-consuming presence instead of running away. I am no longer afraid to have my identity transformed.  I desire to be seen, to be known, to remember once again who I am and whose I am.

Busch describes the amazing diversity of how creation camouflages itself seen in the ways insects, birds, squids, etc hide themselves from predators. In the Documentary, My Octopus Teacher, filmmaker Craig Foster shares the astounding ways the octopus can deceive. The most mind boggling is the ability to use it’s 200 suckers to create a security wall of shells and stones. Camouflage, deception, disappearing oneself is ultimately about protection. The difference between other creatures and humans is that for humans it is a choice not generally instinct. Humans can choose to face vulnerability of self with disappearing or with hope of transformation.

As a church leader I must help people recognize the difference. I must nurture an understanding of the difference between disappearing oneself due to fear and the paradox of losing oneself to find oneself in God. Embracing the identity we find in being consumed by God. I must help remove the blind spot so that people can partake of the Trinitarian joy of being separate yet together, invisible yet seen.  In God, with God there is no need to engage the 200 suckers to create a cloak of shells and stone for God is the ground of all being.

[1] Psalm 139:7, The Voice Translation

[2] How to Disappear. Pg 38.

[3] Ibid. pg 21.

[4] Ibid. Pg. 53.

[5] Ibid. Pg.74.

[6] Ibid. Pg 119.

[7] Ibid. Pg 131.

[8] Ibid, Chapter 9

[9] Ibid. Pg.4

[10] Hidden Place is a Vineyard song.

About the Author


Nicole Richardson

PC(USA) pastor serving a church in Kansas City. In my spare time I teach yoga and scuba diving

12 responses to “I Do Not Need 200 Suckers”

  1. mm Andy Hale says:

    I don’t think you could have found a better place to have a panic attack than the San Juan National Forest.

    What a great thought: Humans can choose to face vulnerability of self with disappearing or with hope of transformation.

    As a pastor, what is the most effective method for you to convey and live out this truth with your people?

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, thanks for sharing such a personal story of panic and how it relates to faith. While I was reading sections of the chapter about the reef, I knew you had a smile on your face for that section when you read it. You make a great point about losing oneself due to fear versus losing oneself to find oneself in God. Have you found/used any good ways to communicate that? Would like to “borrow” something that works. Also, I think you should get extra credit on this post for using the word “bejeebies.”

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Roy, I will communicate with others with others how important it is to be open and honest and vulnerable with God and oneself. By starting with the truth that God is already aware of who we are we have nothing to hide and therefore everything to gain. It takes time cultivating a safe space where people are willing to risk. Little by little in practice, they experience the gifts that come being fully open. I also say the importance in knowing who God so that we may know who we are and whose we are.

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Nicole: You ask good theological questions as a response to reading this book. And you make an interesting description of what scuba diving provides for you. We all need a place like that and Busch does a good job of emphasizing this. I got my scuba license 5 years ago, and it is amazing down there!

  4. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Nicole: I love this statement you make, “I must help remove the blind spot so that people can partake of the Trinitarian joy of being separate yet together, invisible yet seen,” It’s an interesting thought knowing that we are meant to be a vessel for the Lord to shine through, yet called to live in a manner that reflects how we were created, individually reflecting Him. I know this book will likely prompt even more for you with your NPO – I’m looking forward to seeing how it unfolds.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Excellent post, as always. While reading I couldn’t help but think of you and your love of scuba diving!

    I love the reflection at the end. Well said. It is a tension we live in, not only for ourselves, but also in helping others understand and know their true identity.

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Thank you, Nicole, for this vulnerable and thoughtful post. I love how you theologically reflect on your life experiences and the implications this has for your leadership. This quote really caught me: “I am no longer afraid to have my identity transformed. I desire to be seen, to be known, to remember once again who I am and whose I am.” What a profound gift you bring to your community! I’m eager to hear more of how you are guided to invite others into this kind of risky and transformative journey!

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Thank you Elmarie. I have found it is a process of continually inviting people into this journey. It’s not easy for people to step into transformation precisely because of the fear of losing oneself. It is the same trust required in living out baptismal vows!

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