Monthly Archives: July 2016

Landscape of Love 92: Dual Carriageway

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You going to A and I to B, and each in a rush to be at the other’s leaving. Do we storm like juggernauts over the road, juddering the macadam crust? Or like snails, softly gliding over shell, brushing against mollusc flesh, one of us raising our shell politely whilst the other tiptoes its tyres upside-down along the risky underneath? Do we trouble to see the world upside down for the sake of another’s easy passage, or only deal with the surface? Is what stands beside us a blur, whirring past, gone before it’s noticed, faster than the speed of retina? Or do we make sure to smell the blooms and cock our heads to the buzzing within them, catching glimpses of glory and blue-tailed flies?

Text and photo © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Veil of Tears 106: Scorched

Hi all! I took a couple of days’ break for the launch of the new book “The Garden of God’s Heart.” Did you miss me? But now I am back with more from the Veil of Tears. The Landscape of Love will also be making an occasional comeback, mainly on a Friday. Since it is full summer here, “Scorched” seems as good a place to pick up as any…….

 

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When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:8 NIV

Being chronically ill, the sometimes fierce summer sun is too much for me. I put on my straw hat and venture into the back garden, then find I’m wilting and on the verge of a headache within minutes. So most days at this time of year it’s a slow and short stumble about with my camera to get a few shots of the beauty on my doorstep to take back in and treasure, then back to the cool of my indoor world. I can’t imagine how people in hot countries manage and I certainly empathise with poor Jonah, his head searing in the full sun. No wonder he is so angry and irrational (one might even say hot-headed)!

We can get scorched by other things in this life too, sailing too near to the sun as we do in so many ways. We can be hurt by the flames of passion, the thrill of risk-taking, the abuse of substances, the sting of betrayal. So much of life leaves us “once bitten, twice shy,” rubbing our sore pates and shouting “I’m so angry I could die!” at the God who seemingly sent the worm to eat away our protection.

But there is little to be gained from railing at God, though this is allowed, nor from shaking our fists at the weather, or whatever may have glanced us a burning blow. Instead of or as well as this, we need to hear the lesson implicit in the narrow escape. Life may well be trying to get our attention. And frequently our anger is a catalyst to learning something new about our circumstances or ourselves. God is trying to show Jonah that his anger is misplaced, that he should be at least as compassionate to others as he is about his own injuries. How often, I wonder, do we imagine we have been wronged, and seek to rise to anger, when our ire should really be roused by the terrible injustices we know are visited on others?

Near misses should be pathways to compassion, and in Jonah’s case, joy and thankfulness, that things were not far, far worse, both for him and for the city of Nineveh. Sometimes we are nursing a sulking wound instead of thanking the Lord for his great mercies. I have been doing that today, and thinking on this verse has made me smile at my foolishness and turn to God with a grateful heart.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

Landscape of Love 91: Grotto

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Pale blue lady, aqua mantled, kindness gazing out from your alabaster face, carved deep into the rock and our hurting souls. You smile, and the world is changed. Adoring the love on your dappled skin, ripples of reflected grace, the water feels less cold somehow, though we are up to our necks; and the tide is of no concern, merely the sea breathing: in and out, in and out. A caverned womb of healing, where we might be knit together once more, and our stretched sinews feel the call to entwine and relax. We go under and rise again, replenished by the carrier of living water.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from Pixabay

 

Veil of Tears 105: Unwashed

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The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed.” Mark 7:1 NIV

There is an apocryphal story that surfaces on social media every so often of a pastor, newly appointed to a church, and largely unknown there, who turns up at a service a week before his induction disguised as a tramp. He is covered in ragged clothing and he smells. Though one or two people are kind, he is given a wide berth, snubbed and generally made to feel unwelcome, before being asked to leave. The following week he comes in as the new church leader and tells the congregation what he did to shame them into seeing the unwashed with new eyes.

I doubt the story is true, and I’m not sure that shaming is a particularly kind teaching method, but the fact that this could be true, ought to get everyone thinking who participates in any kind of community that professes to have Christ at its centre.

I don’t believe there is any record of Jesus ever being disgusted by anyone’s outer appearance, gender, race or hygiene. The only thing that seemed to revolt him was the stink of self-righteousness that he found most strongly radiating from the religious people of the day, from the Pharisees in particular. He spent time with tavern keepers, lepers, prostitutes, homeless people, disabled people, loose women, the deranged and the possessed. In short, with all those the “good” people deemed unclean and would not associate with.

He hung around with them, befriended them, taught them, healed them and forgave them when it was necessary. He and his crowd of travelling followers, often dusty and sweaty in the Middle East heat, were no doubt a bit wild and unkempt like the prophets of old, like John the Baptist who heralded Jesus’ arrival clothed in camel’s hair and with bits of honeyed locust in his beard. They were social pariahs, not the goody-two-shoes keeping-their-noses-clean puritanical religious elite.

You know what else? I don’t think Jesus’ robe was white that often. I think he probably needed (by our western modern running water standards) more trips to the river (bath/laundrette) and that he and twelve other blokes walking miles across the whole of Judea, with or without the hundreds of other followers of this strange parochial Rabbi, probably sweated and whiffed a bit on occasion. I think some of them probably swore now and again. I think that they were human and I like that idea.

I also think that if we get caught up in constantly cleaning ourselves on the outside and worrying incessantly about whether we are in a state of grace nor not, that we will spend too much time washing and confessing and not enough time relating and laughing with, learning from, adoring and pondering God. Besides which, if we leave our feet dusty, perspiring and tired, and admit they are made of clay, we might just find our Saviour-friend taking them in his hands over a bowl of water, giving us rest from our toil and removing the burdens from our striving shoulders.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

Veil of Tears 104: Asked Too Much

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“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread–only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it–and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.” 1 Kings 17:12-13 NIV

How would you react to this strange request from a wild prophet? God wants your last meal. Not only that, but to steal the very food from the mouth of your only child. Like Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac, here is another seemingly strange test given to a person of faith, requiring total trust in the providence of the Living God.

In some respects, the widow of Zarephath is asked both less and more than Abraham was. Less, because she and her son, starving in this besieged town, are going to die anyway, so this last meal is symbolic more than anything, it wasn’t going to save them. But it was going to buy them a few last precious hours, and that desperation is not something any of us simply reading this story should underestimate. More, because this command comes, not from the mouth of God, as it did for Abraham, but from a wild and woolly man of God fresh in from the desert, who, frankly, could just have been mad, who made little sense and who probably hadn’t washed in quite a while.

So often in the Bible, women have to receive God’s commands second hand, like Eve in the Garden of Eden, and decide for themselves whether to take it as truth or not. This is what happens when exclusion becomes part of any religion. Well, this amazing widow obeys immediately. Does God give us that special and abiding grace to act, right when we need it? Does he sway our hearts when it is a choice between his life or spiritual death? Perhaps he does. The amount of faith we sometimes need often seems unearthly.

And this act of utter obedience also brings untold blessing. Like the magic porridge pot in the children’s fairy tale, the flour and the oil continue to pour and flow to feed the widow, her son, and Elijah for as long as they need. A miracle has come to save them, and in the strangest form. For sometimes God comes to us odd guises, dishevelled and whiffy, desperate and defiant, but always making some strange unnatural sense in a deep place that cannot help but be fired into action, and warmed to faith. When we hear and obey that voice, the blessings are great and beyond our understanding.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 103: Incarcerated

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So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained.” Genesis 39:20 NLT

Today is Nelson Mandela Day (18th July). Whenever I read about people like Joseph who were imprisoned on false charges or unfair accusations or lies, or even those who have committed small crimes but been given horrendous sentences, I think of those 27 years of imprisonment that Mr Mandela underwent. He must have, like Joseph, and like Jeremiah in his cistern, have wondered if he would die there, the hope of release must have seemed forlorn and unlikely.

Others of us are imprisoned in different ways of course, in abusive relationships, tough marriages or in bodies that make us feel less than human. Many of my friends with severe M.E. are living in a world of one room, weak as they are, unable to feed or wash themselves, let alone get outside. I see my wheelchair as an enabling thing, but then, I am not confined to it all day like so many people, who perhaps feel imprisoned.

Still others of course, feel imprisoned by debt, by circumstances, by their pasts, or even by guilt and regret. There are so many things that can make us feel that desire for liberation from the chains that hold us back. And many of my fellow Christians will proclaim that by Jesus’ blood we are free, we are saved from all these bondages. And that is undoubtedly true in a whole heap of ways. But knowing that is not always tantamount to securing the tangible reality of it. And some of us are kept in our small or difficult circumstances, indeed in our real prisons or penitentiaries, for a very long time, long after we have come to faith. This is not because the power of God is not working in our lives, but because it is working unseen. Invisible miracles happen in prisons of various kinds every minute of every day.

Rays of sunshine can penetrate the heart wherever we are. Hope can live in the most arid and desperate conditions, and faith can flourish in small and impoverished circumstances. There is fruit still there to be borne. How many times do we hear of prisoners finding Jesus whilst behind bars? And how can we deny that miracles happened in that small cell on Robyn Island, where a peaceful, gentle and wise humility was created from a passionate rebel heart? If we give our yes to love, to God, then powerful transformations can occur in these cells of isolation. The desert fathers and mothers understood this well, self-imposing constrictions, as monks and nuns continue to do today.

Indeed, as citizens of heaven we might well say that our very bodies and our present circumstances are our cells, fidelity to which, as Abba Moses counselled, was the way to spiritual knowledge. “Go, sit in your cell,” he would say, “And your cell will teach you everything.”

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 102: Irritated

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Then he added, “But this is all worth nothing as long as I see Mordecai the Jew just sitting there at the palace gate.” Esther 5:13 NIV

If something rankles us, like the grit in an oyster, it may be a clue to something we need to look at more closely in our soul work, covering it in layers of prayer until it become a pearl of wisdom that we find we have taken on board.   Something that irks is something that needs to be paid attention to. In Haman’s case, Mordecai felt like a fly in the ointment because he was a symbol of everything the wicked man wanted to get rid of, everything that stood in his way to becoming all powerful, a righteous, godly man who had earned respect and was intrinsically honourable. Mordecai was going about his life untroubled by sin or selfish schemes. Haman was working every sly and unholy plan he could think of.

What we hate is a big indicator of what we revile in ourselves. In this case, as in so many sadly throughout history, anti-Semitism is a blaming mechanism that says, these people are not special, because that would make me not-special. These people are not worthy of God’s love and attention, because I must surely be worthy of it. it is a back-to-front hatred of self, masquerading as nauseating pride.

Just as the narcissist is intent on making themselves the centre of the universe to cover up the pain of knowing deep down that they are not, so this Jew-hater wants to rid the world of God’s people in order to rid himself of God, who alone knows his wicked, hateful heart. When we believe we have acted in an unforgivable way, we sometimes seek the harm of the One who might forgive us, rather than the reconciliation that might be offered. This is the fruit of guilt and it soon escalates into greater and greater crimes against love.

But if we take the things that we are transferring onto others, if we offer the misplaced and difficult hurts, grievances, pains that seem to make no sense, the bruised ego especially, into prayer, and lay it honestly before God, things will change.

Yes, it is hard to look at oneself truly naked in the realm of heart and soul, but it can be done gradually and with some self-compassion. Once the road of shadow work is embarked upon, these irritations, whether they are seemingly small niggles or larger, more obvious rages, can teach us a great deal and be the catalysts to quite astonishing transformations. The more open we can be with our maker, the deeper he can pour in the balm of his grace. And if that sounds intimate, it is because prayer is just that. God can be closer to us than any lover, and he loves to help us and set us right, to have us turn our tear-stained faces back to him.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 101: Worthless

 

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Stop trusting in mere humans,

who have but a breath in their nostrils.

Why hold them in esteem?” Isaiah 2:22 NIV

 

Having spent a great deal of the last twenty years unable to do very much at all besides ceiling gazing and cross stitch, I have had a lot of time to perfect feeling worthless. I looked at myself with the world’s eyes and saw only a sick body and a tired mind, a broken heart and nothing much to look at, a person who was too ill to interact with anyone, take very much in or give very much out.

But deciding to stick life out and to continue loving God and my family started to change that perception. It happened slowly, over a long period of time. I found that the deeper I went into prayer, the longer I spent with my Lord, who professed time and time again to love me, the more I could look at my sorry self with kinder, even transformed, eyes. I could learn to look at myself through holy vision. Here was not a useless, social pariah, but a seed, broken on the ground. She only needed some tender care, to be watered and fed, to feel the sunshine of the saviour’s heart-love and grace, to begin to become renewed.

I am not a great deal better physically than when I was at my worst. In some ways, my condition has deteriorated. I can still be defined as a disabled person, as an invalid, in-valid, and no doubt by some people as a waste of space, as a nonentity, a drain on the system. But my head and most importantly my heart are clearer, and the Lord has been bringing me out into new kinds of life. He has spent precious time with me, him deep in my soul and me safe in his heart. It has been life-giving, soul-nurturing, full of unearthly wonders. It has been painful and many parts of me have been rent or refined, given up, lost or changed. I am different, and yet no more or less precious than I was at any other time.

And it is not that I now consider myself worthy of God’s love, or that I look at my former self (a new former self is born and passes every minute of the day) and find her wanting. It is that I know that God looks at the heart and yes he sees the potential, but he also sees the right now, and he loves what is, what was, and what will be all at the same time. He has no more love for one stage over another, in the same way that a parent loves their child for as long as they are theirs to love, whether baby, child or adult, including into eternity. He loves each one of us and esteems each one of us because we are his. He loves us before we grow, he loves us even if we choose not to grow.

Love does not measure or count. It is not tapping its feet with impatience. Love waits, yes. Love endures, yes, but it does not change its nature or its fervency based on any kind of criteria. Love just loves. And once we realise that, it paradoxically makes us eager to become worthy of it, which is the one thing we cannot do! All we can do is seek to love love in return, to co-operate fully with It, to answer both its gentle and its difficult questions with a trusting yes. And then we know that we were loved all the time, and that worth is a foolish, earthly idea that we cannot take into the next realm or the deeper places of our spiritual lives, because worth is a comparative concept. It lays itself against another, or against itself and wants to see which one is better.

Am I good enough yet? It cries. Am I now loveable? What do I need to do? And the answer comes back, you will never be, you always were, and nothing. And I imagine it will most likely take a lifetime for these truths to sink in, especially for those of us told by the world that we contribute nothing, and are valueless. Love tells us plainly, we are priceless. And that is the truth.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Landscape of Love 90: Circus

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The plates spin and the sweat beads on the brow under the harsh yet inadequate lighting. The speed of each circle on its axis all within a greater ring, enclosed and concentrated, the fear, the tension, the potential for ceramic disaster feeds contagion, and the audience all hold plastic chair edges with clammy curled fingers. To one side of this manufactured solar system, something star-like catches my eye, bright Middle Eastern warmth clothed in white. Up, out of my seat, flown to in outrageous love and melded with, heart to heart. Everything else flung to the purgatory of periphery. Here is the centrifugal force pinpointed, centred, begun. Here is the life-changing, heart singing, joy-giver. Here is the main attraction and the ringmaster, in whom all things hold together. Knock those plates flying! Come as partying Greeks and dash them to the ground! Spin and struggle and juggle no more! Hold fast only to the one thing that matters and be love, oh be love!

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from Pixabay

 

Veil of Tears 100: Aging

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in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed,” Ecclesiastes 12:3

It seems appropriate to pause on our hundredth day of looking at human misery and hope and wish ourselves a happy “century” by looking at old age. Here we have dear Eccles again, with a humorous metaphor of the aging body as a house or mill that is slowly coming to a frail halt. The limbs begin to shake, the back bows, the teeth are few, and the eyesight is not what it used to be. No it is not much fun getting older.

And yet… the Bible also tells us that there are compensations:

Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness,” (Proverbs 16:31 NIV) How different from the world’s insistence that we dye away every sign of grey and trim every unruly hair! The worldly, fleshly view places all the value and glory on the young, the good-looking, the fit and healthy, but it misses the treasure as always, of wisdom and insight and experience. We are forever asking questions about how to “do” church better, what vision to follow, how to be better disciples of Christ. Do we stop and ask the advice of those who have seen far more than we have, who have watched trends come and go and who have settled into a deeper place untouched by the ungodly ways of shifting culture?

Not all older people have chosen the path of wisdom of course, and one can find many who are entrenched in bitterness or so set in their ways that there is little good advice to be gleaned from their conversation. But so many have wonderful stories, almost whole lives to share with us, if we will just take the time to listen, to really listen, to watch the gleam in the eye and see the years fall to one side as they speak their histories and tales.

Another advantage to getting older is that we start to care less about the opinion of the world and of others, we hear the critical voices far less, and this can set us free to hear the deeper, more affirming word of God in our lives. It really can feel like a liberation to realise that we are no longer beholden to this temporal kingdom and can look further into an eternity that begins now and is all about love and encouragement. And sometimes, just sometimes, we meet an elderly person so close to that newness burgeoning within them, that their skin is translucent, not with age or frailty, but with becoming. And that is a signpost to heaven.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay