Monthly Archives: May 2016

60:Thirsty

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Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” John 4:6-7 NIV

 

Noon in the Middle East is fearsomely hot, I imagine, so no wonder Jesus was tired and thirsty especially after a long walk. It’s hard sometimes for us to remember that God incarnate took on board everything that being flesh means. We have so much art that gives our saviour haloes and clean white robes that look fresh from a washing powder advert. We struggle to imagine him dusty, exhausted and longing for a cool draught of water in his humanity.

So thirsty is Jesus, that he foregoes all protocol, not that protocol was exactly something he ever bothered with, and talks to someone female (shock horror) and who is also not a pure virgin or chaste wife (double shock horror) and who is not even (triple shock horror) Jewish. The quadruple shock horror is that she is also a Samaritan, and for a Jew, let alone a Rabbi, to speak to a Samaritan woman, well it is hard to convey just how badly Jesus is breaking the rules here.

When the disciples come back, their jaws pretty much drop to the ground. But Jesus is tired and thirsty and he sees, not only an opportunity to get some much needed water, but a chance to change a life, and through that, many others. In short, he sees that the woman before him is much thirstier than he is.

How long has she sought for the something that will satisfy her? On her fifth serious relationship, this is no youngster, but most likely a middle aged woman with a lot of life experience and a shed load of disappointments behind her. I think she is probably thirsting for a taste of real love, and of integrity. A dose of truth. Probably too, she thirsts to be seen as a person, rather than as an object of either lust or derision. We all know the cruel names given to women who’ve been unlucky in love, or passed around as playthings. We don’t need to say them again here. But we do need to see the way Jesus does. He sees the heart. He sees a genuine seeker, he sees a whole human being in need of a long cool drink of living water. And so the woman at the well, whom history tries to negate by not even bothering to record her name, becomes the first evangelist, and two great thirsts are slaked at Jacob’s Well.

 

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 NIV

 

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

59: Hungry

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Those killed by the sword are better off than those who die of famine; racked with hunger, they waste away for lack of food from the field.” Lamentations 4:9 NIV

Famine is a ghastly, grisly thing. We have all at some point seen the reports and photographs and heard the testimonies from those who have either survived famine or covered it for the world’s media. No-one who saw Michael Buerk’s first reports from Ethiopia in the 1980s will ever forget the images of starvation from the refugee camps there, or the shock that such a thing could still happen in the 20th Century.

And yet here we are in a whole new millennium, and famine is still a very real part of lives in the poorest parts of the world, and daily hunger a trial for many worldwide, even now in our so called developed countries, where there is a growing underclass of the deprived. Food bank use in the UK has tripled in the past few years thanks to an ever tightening of the belts of the poor forced on us by a greed driven government taking benefits and support mechanisms away in the guise of austerity measures.

In truth there is enough food for everyone if wealth were shared, and hunger really ought to be a thing of the past, rather than the accepted evil that it appears to be. And as well as a lack of food, there are other kinds of hunger, a great many needs that are simply not being met.

People hunger for a God who is represented to them in a way they can relate to. We hunger for truth and integrity, passion and justice, we hunger for holiness and wholeness and are left deeply dissatisfied by the forgeries that world offers us. In science fiction, we often see space travellers eating pills instead of real food, dehydrated nutrition that may give the essentials, but always made me wonder whether they must still be hungry. For it is not just our bellies that need food, need satisfaction, but also our eyes, our senses of smell and taste. We hunger for colour and texture and fullness. And it is the same in our spiritual lives.

As ambassadors of Christ we need to represent the Lord in terms of his fullness. We need to be living lives that make people hunger for the God we serve. Not because we have earthly riches, but because we are bearing the soul-nurturing golden fruit of the spirit, the riches of heaven bursting with flavour and running with glorious colours. We need to be talking about our God in ways that bring the hungry sprinting desperately to the feet of this Lord who satisfies, who blesses, who heals, who loves us into wholeness, whatever our worldly situation.

Yes, let us shine forth and represent with as much accuracy as we can, the Living God who fills that void that nothing else can, and who is no two-dimensional shadowy figure, the one we are told who will get us a yacht if we serve him right, the one who is just a good teacher, the one who is a judgemental old white man on a throne looking down his nose. Let us burst those famine-inducing images and knock them out of people’s hearts and heads by portraying glimpses of the Almighty, who knows us before we are conceived, who sings over us with joy, who loves us beyond measure, who watches over the storehouses of snow and rain and who will one day wipe every tear from our eyes. Let us tell people about the God who came down here and lived and died through every misery with us, and who spoke the good news of heavenly banquets and reassured us with the truth and beauty of the Father’s love, even as he said,

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:21 NIV

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

 

58: Hormonal

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and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully. “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.” Genesis 39:7 NLT

 

Human beings have so many struggles, don’t we, even with our own bodies, our own minds, the very things that you would think we would be able to control and understand. But even the parts that make up our whole are often temperamental and beyond our regulation. We go so far as to ascribe independent control to the bits of ourselves that don’t behave. “Oh, it’s got a mind of its own,” we say of gammy legs, of gorging stomachs, of wayward eyes, or of other parts that seem to override our best intentions. The Bible is full of men who couldn’t seem to control their passions, sexual or otherwise, and a great deal of harm was done because of it. Our hormones, it would seem, are the hardest parts of ourselves to keep in order after our tongues.

There are precious few incidences where women are overcome by their lustful urges in the Bible. Which makes it all the more strange that we are so often accused of being slaves to our hormones. It seems men have a lot more trouble keeping their testosterone under control. But here is one such rarity, Potiphar’s wife, who longs to sleep with Joseph, who in turn refuses the advances of his master’s wife, and ends up slandered and imprisoned for his integrity.

We are all tidal creatures up to a point, and we all get overtaken by our urges from time to time if we are honest, even it if is an uncontrollable urge to binge on chocolate or to snap at our loved ones. And some of this we can put down to hormones, and excuse one another our weaknesses, which after all, are common to humanity. But perhaps sexual urges are more important to control, as infidelities wreck and even cost lives. Demanding that others satisfy those urges, as Mrs Potiphar does here, is a complete negation of Joseph’s humanity. She clearly viewed him as a slave and nothing more, despite his being master of the household. We must excuse one another our minor and occasional lapses, but also become friends with the self-discipline that will save us and others from being used and abused.

I often hear people say of those who left spouses or wrecked homes, “Oh well, you can’t help who you fall in love with!” I disagree, in fact, because one can control where one is focussed. As we see in today’s verse, lust begins (as we saw with David and Bathsheba) with looking. If we train ourselves not to look, or rather, not to look with lustful hearts, then we won’t succumb to temptation. Lust and love are very different of course, but where faithfulness is concerned the remedy is the same, self-control, and keeping our attention where it should be. If we feel ourselves in danger, we must take steps to avoid the person concerned, and not allow ourselves to be ruled solely by fleshly passions which will often tear lives and hearts apart and marriages asunder. Eyes and hearts kept on God and his ways will keep us from grievously wounding him or others.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

57: Distracted

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I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” I Corinthians 7:35 NLT

As I was playing Bejewelled Blitz last night and wondering what to write about for today I heard my own sarcastic reply… why not write about distractions? Now normally I come to write my daily piece from a prayerful place, but sometimes I do get carried away doing other things, and admittedly, sometimes mindless and pointless things. The world is full of distractions, isn’t it? And we human beings seem to have an innate talent for stopping ourselves from being productive. We play games and procrastinate and put things off because the time isn’t right or we don’t feel like it, or because we don’t see the point or we persuade ourselves that we’re not going to do it right. So many excuses and ways of scuppering ourselves. And technology has only added to the problems. Screens are everywhere, and full of zombie-creating, soporific games and entertainments.

I think in this age we need to be more diligent about the use of our precious time than in any time gone before. Martha was distracted as we looked at her yesterday by all the chores she had left to do to feed the great group of people that had just descended on her house. Imagine if she had had an ipad as well! And Paul in our verse today is telling us that even marriage can be a distraction from having our full attention on the Lord. Because the Lord’s work is all encompassing, it can’t be gone at half-hearted. If we come to him with lukewarm hearts or double-minded, we are not a great deal of use to him. Like the fishermen who left their nets to follow him, we need to be prepared to set aside the normal rules, our time and sometimes even our livelihoods.

The best way that I have found to keep doing the work that has been set before me is to embrace self-discipline, some kind of routine and most of all, to pray all the time. Paul tells the Thessalonians to pray unceasingly. I know that can sound a bit impossible, but that’s because we are imagining walking round the supermarket saying our prayers out loud. Really I think that Paul means that the more time we spend with God, the more we find that our very lives become prayer. Prayer – the constant communing, our ongoing relationship with the Lord – becomes an attitude that we start to live by, of handing every moment over to him, offering everything up to him, so that even in our play and in our rest times, both of which every healthy life needs, we are cultivating an awareness and a togetherness with the Lord. When this starts to take hold in our lives, we find that we see and experience God in everything, and with him placed first in our heart, nothing can pull us away or distract us from his constancy, his mercy and his enduring love.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

 

56: Anxiety

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But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,” Luke 10:41 ESV

Oh goodness I have my Martha moments! I am a highly sensitive person and I suffer (for various reasons I won’t bore you with) from hypervigilance, which means that I am on constant alert. I can never seem to relax and I too am anxious and troubled about many things at once. I am like Mary a lot too, but Martha takes up the lion’s share of my time. It is exhausting. My husband says I can leap to terrible conclusions in a single bound of thought. I catastrophise and I really have to work hard at remembering that the Lord told us not to worry and remind myself I have given everything to him to deal with.

Anxiety is a horribly stressful thing to live with and it can quickly spiral out of control. The only way to survive it I find is to pray, to have Mary time to balance out the Martha. Some people struggle to spend time in prayer. I find it absolutely imperative, or as Jesus calls it, “the one necessary (or needful) thing.” We all need to sit at the Lord’s feet, but if we are prone to having our shoulders start creeping up past our ears whenever they are given half a chance, maybe we need it even more. And perhaps, then, even my anxiety and stress can be seen as having a use, since it sends me scurrying back to the Lord and his word so often!

People might seem surprised that I have this problem, this thorn in my flesh. I am often told that I look serene or that I seem peaceful, and I hope, deep down, that I am those things, because I am grounded in God and rooted and established in his love. But I wanted to share this weakness (one of many), because I think it is important to remember that we none of us know what the person next to us is suffering. It is not obvious, and most of us will not volunteer our Achilles’ heels. But life is so tough, isn’t it, to go through holding all these things in, and pretending that all is well?

I wonder if everyone who knew Martha thought of her as very capable, strong and diligent. I wonder if Jesus was the first person to see the pain of the anxiety that was driving her? His sight, his comment, is not a condemnation, I hear it being spoken so gently to her and I imagine Jesus putting his arm around her shoulders as he says it (even though that would have been improper for a Rabbi, but when did that ever bother our Lord?). I imagine too, that it was healing for her to have her weakness given voice, to have it addressed in this way, by her very dear friend, teacher and Messiah.

 

 

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

55: Out of Control

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Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies.” Exodus 32:25

 

People without boundaries is generally not a pretty sight. The Israelites were in dire need of some rules, and Moses was about to give them just that. No wonder, when he saw what fools they were making of themselves, that he gave them quite so many! The ten commandments were just the beginning, and these straight from the Lord.

We tend to look at the rules as constricting things that limit our freedom, but God knows that too much freedom is a dangerous thing. If we do as please we generally end up like chickens loose on a motorway, running wild and causing mayhem. Similar to small children who push all the limits just to see how far they can go, to discover where the edges of acceptability are, we start out on our spiritual journey trying out the freedom that we imagine we have. But as Paul so wisely says, everything is permissible to me, but not everything is good for me (1 Corinthians 6:12). Rules are generally there for our good, and God’s rules created for that very purpose.

We moan endlessly today about the strenuous health and safety regulations we have to negotiate to get things done, but we forget that many people died or suffered terrible accidents before we had these laws to protect us. In the same way, people say they don’t want to suffer the restrictions of living out the discipline of a religious life. “We won’t have any fun!” is their very real concern. It is not until we know and understand that God is our loving parent, wanting us to come to no harm, that we start to see that the rules are there for our own benefit.

For when we do get out of control, it is rather like getting drunk – it’s stupid as well as dangerous. We can become a mockery. Our sex lives, which the mosaic law is so incredibly fussy about, are a good example. Out of control, giving in to every whim and fancy, means that we are prone to disease, heartbreak, a lack of emotional stability, and come to an overreliance on looks and pleasure that make us open to attack, coercion and abuse. If we live promiscuously we also miss out on the rewards of a monogamous, trusting and loving relationship that stays exclusive. Marriage is often hard work, but it bears great fruit, and a lasting love is something we all want and which does us tremendous good. The Lord knows this, because he made us that way, and he understand far better than we do the kind of harm that frivolous living and selfish ways do to us.

Left to our own devices we do laughable things. We do what we have specifically been told not to. Like teenagers left alone in the house for the first time, the Israelites perhaps do the inevitable equivalent of raiding the drinks cabinet, making a golden idol to worship. It’s foolish, it makes them a laughing stock, and Moses, like the weary parent arriving home, is furious, smashing God’s commandments. But rather than grounding, the day ends in a great amount of killing, for the Levites are commanded to punish the people by the sword and over three thousand are killed. This being out of control is clearly no laughing matter.

Thankfully, in Christ, every time we find ourselves out of control, we can turn back to the Lord and start over. Thank God that his mercies are indeed fresh every morning. We may never, in this lifetime, reach a point where we stop making stupid mistakes, nor can we always refrain from breaking the rules; but we can, by prayer and discipline, create good habits and begin to learn to walk in the Lord’s ways, trusting that he truly does know best.

We find perhaps, in the end, that our greatest freedoms are found within obedience, that the sheepfold is fenced for a reason and is the safest place for our Good Shepherd to guard us from wolves, and the best starting place for herding us in the right direction.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

54: Two by Two

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They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in.” Genesis 7:15-16

We can sometimes be forgiven for thinking or feeling that there is little place in life (and perhaps especially in church) for those who aren’t part of a couple. “Two by two” seems to be rather a mantra in a lot of church families I have known. Single women and men are sometimes seen as subtly undermining the status quo, and if they have chosen to be single, looked upon as rather odd. If on the other hand they are looking for a partner, they can be frowned upon as a distraction or worse still, a threat. I have known attractive single women who have been made to feel very uncomfortable, as though they must watch their step and their dress so as not to upset or tempt any of the males in the congregation.

Widows and widowers may meet with more patience, but are still seen as different, and those who are divorced or separated (often through no fault of their own) can feel so isolated and judged as to feel almost like pariahs. Obviously this is only in extreme cases, but the sense that singleness is not quite right is subtly palpable very often, and probably partly a reflection of the way society urges us all to pair off, partly a natural inclination to want others to be the same as the majority, and partly impressed upon us by teaching from Scripture. And yet, at the same time as celebrating marriage, Scripture is actually tremendously supportive of the single life.

Many great prophets stayed single, as did Jesus of course, and his Apostle, Paul. Paul even tells us that the single life is a superior state (1 Corinthians 7: 32-35). We are told in no uncertain terms to be kind and generous to widows (and widowers by default, we must remember in Biblical times women on their own had no respectable way to support themselves) and God uses and blesses the unmarried just as often as those with spouses. In truth, though we might think of Adam and Eve, and of the animals heading into the ark two by two, there is a greater variety of comings together and fallings apart going on in the Bible, since it is, amongst other things, a history of humanity and the behaviour of God’s people is possibly more often a warning than it is a prescription!

The truth is that every kind of relationship status you can think of is present somewhere in the Bible as it will be with us, and we need to be more realistic about the different forms families can take and less prescriptive about pairing people off. Neatly two by two with the door carefully shut behind us isn’t going to happen, nor is marriage everyone’s ultimate goal.

Perhaps we would do better to embrace and celebrate singleness and family in all its forms and advantages, without perpetuating yet another divide in God’s household. I feel that diversity is something to be welcomed. I know it can feel very challenging to our dualistic mindsets, where some of our comfort and certainty comes from defining ourselves against things, or setting up norms and calling things “other,” but I wonder if part of us all becoming true community means that we need to drop our severe outlines and instead embrace the whole spectrum of what it is to be a human being, loved by grace.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

photo from morguefile

 

53: Priorities

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But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:22 NIV

This is a puzzling verse, I think most of us would agree. It seems, on the face of it, devoid of compassion. And yet Jesus was often puzzling. He spoke in a figurative way that confuses us just as it sometimes did his disciples, though culturally this frame of thinking was usual to find at that time in a spiritual teacher, as it ought to be now, perhaps! Does Jesus really mean the man should leave all responsibility for his dad’s funeral?

I think this is about priorities. Jewish and Muslim burials need to happen within 24 hours of the person’s death, and so this man’s loss was extremely recent. He’d probably barely taken the news in, was still reeling from it. And Jesus says, no, don’t be concerned about that, following me is more important. Following him is more important, more urgent than the funeral of your nearest and dearest? Yes.

And Jesus also speaks from a place of absolute knowing the difference between life and death. Death in his understanding was not the enormous separation from life that we conceive it to be. For him, it was simply another state of being; several times he refers to the dead as “sleeping,” and of course was capable of raising the dead back to life. When you have come from eternity, perhaps these transitory differences are less fundamental and less tragic than they seem to us. And yet Jesus is not without compassion at other people’s grief throughout the gospels. We see how terribly moved he is by Martha and Mary’s grief even though he knows their brother Lazarus will soon be brought back from the dead.

I can’t help thinking, when I call this verse to mind, of Therese of Lisieux, who followed her calling to enter a convent despite the fact that her father couldn’t cope with losing the company of yet another child and was heartbroken afterwards. His mind broke too and he ended up in the local asylum. Yet still Therese went, there was no question of her returning home, of breaking her vows, and so she went on to become a revered saint and a doctor of the church, influencing and helping millions through her writing, life story, prayers and her “little way”. Likewise, we see Isabella in the bard’s Measure for Measure counting her eternal life more important than her brother’s earthly life, as she refuses to sleep with the Duke in bargain for Angelo’s release. I read this at university with a group of non-Christians, and they simply could not understand her refusal. I could see where she was coming from, but they just thought her selfish.

I am quite certain that Therese loved her father dearly. I am sure that she felt great anguish for him, but I also understand that there was a greater claim on her heart. Her elder sister, Celine supported him and Therese wrote to them and prayed for them. It must have been so hard. But both these women, one real, one fictional, are looking at things from an eternal perspective, seeing life as the smaller part of existence, and making decisions with heaven in mind. I think that is what Jesus is urging us to do, too.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo public domain from pixabay

52: Stumbling

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Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.” Daniel 11:35 NIV

Failure can be humiliating, difficult and, for those used to success, uncomfortable to the point of distressing. Being wise is clearly no safeguard against falling down. It can happen to the best of us. We all make mistakes. But perhaps surprisingly to our achievement driven capitalism, getting it wrong now and again can be very valuable, and that applies in a worldly sense as well as a spiritual one.

James Dyson went bankrupt a number of times before finally convincing the world that his vacuum cleaners were the best they could buy. Estee Lauder, Walt Disney and Henry Ford all had several massive failures before hitting the big time, even though now they are touted as proof of the American Dream. This isn’t an aim of ours as Christians of course, but we can take the lesson from this that failure is a great teacher. Making mistakes is the best way of learning. I’ve found it’s the same with discovering who we are in Christ. We often need to find out who we are not, before it becomes very clear who we are.

Experiencing time face down in the dust gives us the gift of true humility, which is really just being earthed in the truth. We know our limits, our potential, our true worth, our giftings without polishing them with a false shine or dulling them with false modesty.

In truth, it is only when we have fallen so far down and tasted mud, and eaten husks meant for pigs, that we can truly also know and savour the taste of grace. Trials purify us, for they are the birthplace not only of humility, but of faith, and as James also tells us, of perseverance and therefore character. In short, troubles, failures, difficulties, stumbling and falling down are the pitstops on the road to becoming our true selves. Without them we might be wise, but understand nothing of the journey we are all on.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photograph public domain

51: Ignored

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For they have not listened to my words,” declares the LORD, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 29:19 NIV

Believe me that when you start out to be a writer, you foolishly imagine that people will read your work. It seems simple enough: you write words, other people read them. But the world is so market driven and hurried now that without the right contacts or advertising, you are unlikely to find many people with the time or inclination to pay your writing any attention, however much you may believe you are the next Charlotte Bronte or Steven King. Thank you for being one of those who does take the trouble to read.

Fortunately for everyone else, ignoring my blogs, books and articles doesn’t have the same consequences as ignoring God’s words. This verse is an explanation of why awful things are going to befall the people of Israel. Not listening to God is very hazardous to your health. It is also foolish, for who else can tell you all you need to know? In those days, God spoke mainly through his prophets, and though the Lord still does this today we have the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of course available to all believers, and so as well as the Bible to speak his words, we have an intimate and astounding relationship with the Lord on offer. Within that treasure we can hear and receive all manner of amazing encouragement, direction and blessing, especially if we take the time and trouble to learn how to lean into the Lord and tune into his wavelength.

As a mystic before I am anything else, it is the listening that defines the rest of my life, including how I live out my faith. Loving the Lord gets easier and easier the more time you spend with him, and hearing his voice likewise. Like the sheep that come to know the voice of their shepherd, time in the pasture is our best and richest spiritual seam. We come to know the images he uses, the things he certainly would NOT say, and we gradually become familiar with the calm delight of experiencing the gentleness of a bubbling brook that laughs and sings softly underneath the hubbub of the world’s noise. Who would want to miss out on that?

 

Words and artwork © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt