Tag Archives: Bible

Landscape of Love 96: Well

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Here is our shortcut to the underswell, our drawing up of the sweet holy water, the bucket swaying seductively with its load of comely coolness. And the holy man wipes the sweat from his forehead and sits half shaded, so we cannot quite make out his face, as he asks for someone else to serve him. We sashay over, unabashed, until meeting those thirsty eyes makes an honest woman of us. And all of us fall at those feet, pour out our fragrance, weep on them, dry the sweet sinless flesh with our dusty hair, and run to fetch clean, pure water, that we both offer up and drink down, and which sets us free from all unholy desires. We no longer hold our chin up, but level, no longer sink into the sand in shame, but see our worth. We leave our brazen boldness behind and seek to be desired differently, stumbling in our haste to tell of this treasure, thirst slaked by meeting the Truth face to face.

 

© 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 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

Veil of Tears 95: Double-minded

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But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:6-8 NIV

When I was younger, I used to get frustrated by the wishy-washy prayers I would hear in church, in prayer meetings, or prayed over the sick or the suffering. Something in me would balk, not at gentleness or acceptance, but at the sheer lack of expectation. I haven’t been well enough to be a regular church goer for some years again now, but I get frustrated still if I hear the same lacklustre attitude coming out of my own mouth, and fight to set it back on a course of faith.

It is not that I think fervour will cause a prayer to be answered more quickly, nor that flowery words or long speeches or lots of amens or proclamations (these rile me most of all) will be of any use, as though God were withholding something and just needed his arm twisted a bit. But what matters in prayer are not so much the words we use, but the heart we are believing and meaning them with.

If I am asking for healing, but actually deep down I believe God to be a rather strict and heartless person, then I come with low expectations of an answer, if any. That’s not going to stop God acting, but it will affect how often and with what perseverance and faith I pray. Likewise, if I believe myself to be unworthy of any answered prayer, God will still act, but it does stop me asking. All we need to come to God with is faith the size of a mustard seed. Far worse than either of these scenarios is the heart that doubts because it is saying words it does not mean at all, because all is for show. Honesty in prayer (as in all life) is the best policy.

One of the most heartless prayers in my view is the one that is all about the person praying, and not about God or the person they are praying for. It is the one that is self-centred in intercession. It is the prayer that says look at me, I am being holy now. I am so close to God, I’ve got this. I know exactly what God wants in this situation, in this person’s life, and I’m going to proclaim the reality of it over them until it manifests. If it doesn’t work, (as though prayer were an electric circuit and they the qualified electrician) it’s not my fault. We have authority given us through Christ, but it is to be exercised in wonder, flowing from him, not dispensed by us. This prayer comes from the heart that will never say, I don’t know, rarely if ever say, I bow to your will, and does not understand the value of waiting, gentleness, or grace and cannot accept no as an answer.

But the most double-minded, literally (dipsychos in the Greek!) is that prayer which cannot decide which kingdom takes precedence. It is as though the person praying it has one foot in each camp, of faith and doubt, of heaven and earth, and shifts their weight unceasingly from one to the other. It is not always obvious to someone else listening, but God hears the whole. It will go something like this….

Out loud: ”We know Lord that you can heal us.”

Inner voice: We do? Do we? What about Dave, he didn’t heal Dave that time he had a bad leg.

Out loud: “so we ask for you to heal so-and-so’s leg.”

Inner voice: Well, you know, it’s worth a try.

Out loud: “But if you don’t/ if you choose not to heal, we ask for the strength to bear it for so-and-so”

Inner voice: That’s better, then I won’t look a nitwit when nothing happens. And I can smile at so-and-so and go home.

Basically, the type of prayer James is warning us about is the one that cannot make up its mind. No-one has certainty one hundred percent of the time in their faith. But to be so unsure in the faithfulness and goodness and generosity of God , although still a better prayer than nothing, is not likely to move heaven or earth. And let’s face it, we have all prayed like this at some time or another, and we all hear these kinds of prayers a lot more than we’d care to admit. The trouble is such tepid and wavering faith tends to have a weakening effect on those around it. So let us guard our hearts and minds against feeling split in two, and ask in faith for heaven always to have the stronger voice in our prayers!

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

Veil of Tears 90: Abandoned

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I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.” Song of Solomon 5:6 NIV

One of the hardest facts of life is that people move on. They may feel they’ve outgrown us or we them, or that there is too much distance or difference between us and them for any meaningful continuation of a relationship or friendship. Sometimes of course it is us doing the leaving behind.

Often these partings are the culmination of a slow demise, a difficulty communicating, or they may come after a break of trust. Other times it is a selfish move onto something or someone else who seems better, and we feel left behind, discarded, abandoned and alone, and often broken-hearted.

If we are abandoned and don’t see it coming, we can feel caught totally off-guard. It can feel like a catastrophe, as though the world were coming to an end. If it is the end of a marriage or relationship, it can also feel like a bereavement, as though half of us is missing. Like someone whose partner has died, we may well keep turning around to talk to someone who isn’t there. Devastated doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Some of us are abandoned by parents, either when very young, and put up for adoption, or later by needing to go into care. In the first case we probably don’t find out till later in life and have a great shock and a lot of questions to deal with, and in the latter, it must feel like the world has crumbled under our feet.

Even If we haven’t known any of these greater abandonments, we have surely all been left behind by someone we trusted or thought was our friend. However shallow or high the drop, the fall (not to mention the landing) is desperately hard. But perhaps at some point we can look back and see our abandonments with different eyes. Hindsight and time are great healers of course, so that is easier to do the longer it was ago. Maybe we can see a rescue or a release instead of a desertion. Maybe that relationship, that friendship or bad parenting was crushing us.

If I had not been abandoned myself many years ago, I might never have come to understand that greater and safer relationship in my life that I have with God. What a calamity that would have been! I will never make light of what I suffered in the aftermath of my heartbreak nor what any of us go through when we are cast aside, but I will begin to slowly and circumspectly rejoice that I have received instead a new heart, still scarred, but joined to my Lord, the living loving God of mercy who will never leave or reject me. To rejoice too in relationships that were made stronger in those years when I was at my most broken, and in the new ones that have come since.

It is certainly true that God can use all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose, as Romans 8:28 tells us. And we learn through these painful leavings and partings, whether of lovers or friends, that there is really only one person to be utterly relied upon, who will never leave us or forsake us.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Landscape of Love: Temple

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A roof of sky upheld by babbling Babel columns, their ends curled over into Doric swirls, like out-of- reach cinnamon buns, or unruly Grecian ringlets. Parthenon now standing open to the elements, pagoda green-roofed and tiled with Turkish slipper corners, or the one remaining wailing wall and the courtyard: empty but still bustling with the echoes of chords, both whipped and sung, the deep voices thrumming and the strange Jewish rabbi furiously whirling like a processional David, pent up expression dancing its way across the stone slabs, robe ribboning, decorum long flown, chased doves flapping up into the air, a forehead with beads of holy sweat caught glistening globes in the last rays of sun as true prayer finally finds its way home.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from Pixabay

 

Veil of Tears 88: Undeserving

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And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ “ Matthew 25:30 NIV

The parable of the talents from which our verse today is taken, is a difficult one for us. It seems to speak of a different way of doing things than seems fair. We are not used to the idea of someone being punished for having been afraid to act. And yet, perhaps the worthless servant’s real crime is to have judged his boss instead of doing his job. We are probably all guilty of that particular wrong!

But how awful to find ourselves denied the good things and rewards that others are given. This parable speaks to me of the difference between those who take what life gives them and try to do something with it, however hard a taskmaster circumstances seem to be, and those who don’t think it is their job to do very much except judge others harshly, expect payment for nothing and make excuses for having lived a life without any abundance to show for it.

If we live our lives under a curse of entitlement, doing nothing with our gifts and using nothing to bring abundance, expecting our existence to bring us rewards, then we will receive nothing in return. It is a sad state of affairs, but if we are this immature and lazy with our spiritual gifts and with the love of God given to us, then it is impossible for God to let us into the overflowing wonders of life in his kingdom, because we will not be able to use or understand them. It is for this reason, I believe, that such a person will be condemned to the outside, the Gehenna, the rubbish pit, rather than able to enter the New Jerusalem. Not that he or she is not allowed, or even necessarily judged morally wanting, but because they have stayed unable to make anything of goodness and love, and will not yet be open to its glories.

Selfishness is then, probably the worst thing we can suffer, because it leads nowhere and to nothing. If we close ourselves off and centre our being on our own wants and think nothing of others, then we will have learnt nothing at all. Reaching out, helping, loving and giving, this is where God’s kind of treasure lies. And paradoxically the more we give, the more we receive. This is not about earning our place in heaven, nor is it about being condemned for all eternity, as some might counsel. It is more about cultivating an awareness of the needs of others, in order to become mature and fulfilled ourselves. In order to become larger, better, to grow and flourish, this rooting in love is necessary. If we choose not to give, then we will find ourselves diminished and relegated to our own smallness.

We have all failed on this one, let’s not kid (pun intended!) ourselves. When Jesus separates us into sheep and goats, which is the next part of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, who amongst us can say that we always gave when there was a need? But we are told that most of our good deeds are unknown even to ourselves! I wonder then if the worthless servant and the goats are the parts of ourselves that need to be acknowledged and purged. Middle Eastern sheep and goats look very similar, when you think about it, so this is no easy task. Just as Jesus says the wheat and the tares must grow up together so that the good in the harvest remains unharmed, perhaps the same is true of the differences that exist even within each individual. These motives and ways of being are what the Lord needs to separate, to put aside, to deal with, in the crucibles of testing as with dear old Ebenezer Scrooge (above), so that the parts of us that cannot see heaven will die off, and the parts of ourselves that are capable of seeing and hearing, can then walk forward with our God, in this life and then in the next. Perhaps, in the end, this is about what needs to be left behind and understood as of no worth, before we can progress further into the Lord’s heart.

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is tended receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless, and its curse is imminent. In the end it will be burned.” Hebrews 6:7 NIV

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo used under creative commons license

Veil of Tears 87: Unheard

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“Even when I call out or cry for help,

he shuts out my prayer.” Lamentations 3:8 NIV

 

To feel heard is a very basic human need. We all want to be listened to, to know that our needs and desires matter. This is perhaps especially so when we are talking to God, the one person we are told we can count on, who will never let us down. And yet, so often, we feel that we are talking away to the Almighty and no-one is on the other end of the receiver. “Are you really there at all, Lord?” we ask, or “What’s the good of my sitting here just talking to myself?” We convince ourselves that we are truly alone and maybe even, like Jeremiah in the verse above, that God is deliberately shutting us out, as though he had his fingers in his ears and were singing “nah na na nah na” like an obstreperous toddler.

But perhaps by now in this year’s journey we are becoming aware that just because it feels like something is a certain way, does not mean it is truly like that. Appearances are deceptive, and so are our emotions and our often selfish ways of looking at and experiencing things. I have found that as my prayer life has grown and matured, I am able to complain differently to God, including when I feel unheard. I can be confident that the very real pain or sorrow I am experiencing or expressing is not being ignored, that it is okay to feel it, as long as I know that what I am really doing is getting it out of my system.

God is never out, never not there, he hears and sees it all. He is always paying attention. He is always aware of what is going on in my life, and not just because I tell him about it. There is truly no danger of my being more informed about my world and my problems than God is. And yet God’s understanding and ours can feel very far apart. The solutions I would like can seem obvious and I would like them to be immediate. And yet I know that heaven doesn’t work like that. So I sometimes need to just say that it hurts to have to wait, or that it hurts to feel that God isn’t listening, because he seems to my human perceptions to be so slow to act.

And I believe God is okay with all of that. He knows our smallness and our limitations and our breathtakingly selfish vision. He is patient with us as the most loving parent to a frustrated child who is simply not capable of understanding why the mortgage has to be paid first before she can have her pocket money. We can snuggle into God at the same time as we are throwing a tantrum or sobbing or sulking, and it is okay. It is really fine, and even healthy. Just as long as we remember somewhere deep down, that we are love, that there is a plan, that there is a loving, wise, all-knowing God, and that we are not her.

All is heard, taken on board, our pain will be processed with grace, and we shall be comforted and consoled. It may not happen at the same time as we are angry or confused or lost or frightened, but it will happen. And from my own experience, I have to say that, like the analogous child I just mentioned, it is often beyond us at the point of deepest upset or frustration, to be comforted or consoled, or to have anything explained to us. Pain, especially when it has even the tiniest (and even justified) root in self-pity, acts as a barrier between us and God, partly because a small piece of us wants to be cross for a while. Letting it out is okay. And a sleepy face streaked with tears is always precious to a parent, and our ultimate father-mother will gather us up and kiss our cheek at just the right moment.

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17 NLT

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay