Tag Archives: Christ

Creating Encounter in Colour: Black Forest Gateau (Schwarzwaldtorte)

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We walk through Grimm’s forest tales, peering into witch’s ovens and shaking our heads at young princes on brave steeds as they charge headlong into thorny frontiers, wonder at young maidens sleeping in glass coffins and follow, eventually, the long trail of breadcrumbs that leads us out into the open air. We breathe long and deep, pondering whether or not we have just entered or left reality.

Broken bread leads us, as it always does, to some kind of Kirche, and since we are recently passed through gloomy Austrian pines, to kirsch, oozing into chocolate cake, all of it softening into a dark deliciousness, a velvet plateful of baked flour and alcohol, akin to the mystery of communion.

Is this richness too, a picture of life in all its fullness, and the bleeding of fermented cherries a reminder of how many horrific stories there are, written to prepare children for the dangers that lurk behind close-camped evergreens, or to remind adults that we too, need to be wary of gung-ho princes and apple sellers? And as I think on the syrupy deep morello red drizzle soaking into cocoa, mixing sour and sweet, am I a warning to myself on the perils of an overactive imagination?

This sermon in the Kirsche Kirche Küche has left us glowing with Glühwein, drunkenly drenched by Spirit, flammable for God. A powerful combination of taste sensations, warmed here out of the cold depressing zeitgeist, and aware of another kingdom, where burgundy deep plum aubergine liqueur and plain brown sponge sing to us of flesh and blood, and the possibility that heaven might be sumptuous glory, a melt-in-the-mouth savouring and a colour to get lost in, sustenance so rich we can only be treated once in a while, as we also embrace the poverty of daily bread.  These two, as far and near from one another as fairy stories and liturgy, everything made holy by our cosmic Christ.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Photo from Pixabay

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Creating Encounter in Colour: Soft Gold

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The cool gold creeps its way across the grass and stone. The dew sparkles, the shadows recede, for they too, must obey the rules of death and resurrection, now fading and passing out to let in the sun. The light seems weak at first, but this is only the sweet gentleness that kisses the world awake and nudges at the edges of the shore, so that everything remembers how to glisten in new mercies before the whole tide comes rolling in.

Soft light breaks into an outpouring of bright light that cannot help but give the best and whole of itself: the sky by noon blindingly adazzle; the ground seared by the seal of golden approval, that having caressed every blade of grass awake, now deluges its heart of gold upon the entire garden. No wonder Mary, who knew him so well, seeing him coronaed in brightness, thought him first a gardener.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Photo from Pixabay

Happy Easter!

I hope you have enjoyed this Lenten journey through my reflections, photos and art. Here we are on the day of Resurrection, and I wish you a very Happy Easter!

God bless you,

Keren x

 

Three Days Later

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Blood curdles into the grain

Mixes fresh with old

Responding, the sap sings

Though long dead and now discarded

Roughly hewn and unplaned

Yours the only carpenter’s hands

It has ever known

 

Sings then, and rises

Green shoots writhing

With untameable life

Curling, encircling the rusting nails

Budding in split beams

Filling the cracks with flowers

Rising from wooden wounds.

 

Art and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Lent 39: Good Friday

Good Friday from Ramanand Dao small

Blackness of sky, redness of agony, bloodied sun, cracking clouds.  There is no doubt to anyone who has ever stood at the foot of this dark shape, looking on this tortured man in perfect obedience, that this is the centre of the universe. Here is the fulcrum of history and the turning point in all relationships. This is where the questions are asked and you are never found wanting, unlike those who have fled but will return. The women, and the man who loves you, becoming a new family at your nailed feet, churched by the anguish of love.

Art and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2018

At the Name of Jesus, Advent 2

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father–the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father–he will testify about me.” (John 15:26 NIV)

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you.” (John 14:16 ESV)

(Advocate, sometimes translated as helper, comforter or counsellor, is parakletos in the Greek of the New Testament, and means the one who stands beside you in a court of law)

47: Vengeance

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It was for me the day of vengeance;

the year for me to redeem had come.

I looked, but there was no one to help,

I was appalled that no one gave support;

so my own arm achieved salvation for me,

and my own wrath sustained me.

I trampled the nations in my anger;

in my wrath I made them drunk

and poured their blood on the ground.” Isaiah 63:4-6

 

The prophet Isaiah speaks to us about “the Day of the Lord” which seems to roughly equate with the idea of Judgement Day. The day when the Lord will judge and punish and set things right. It’s a difficult concept for Christians, so used as we are to hearing about grace and redemption and atonement. But for the Israelites a day of vengeance was a powerful and often much desired thing.

And we might say too that so many terrible atrocities have happened, that surely they must be righted somehow, paid for? And maybe we try to imagine that Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished that redemption. But then we think about Auschwitz, Nagasaki, the Khmer Rouge, genocides, rapes and tortures, and we think, that is paid for? That is healed? We wouldn’t doubt the power of the cross out loud mind you, as I seem to be doing here (I’m not, by the way, read on), just in case someone gets the wrong idea or doubts our faith, you know. Because Jesus did it all, didn’t he?

Then why does Revelation talk about the end times the way it does, in violence and judgement? And why this prophecy, where the right arm of God wreaks his destruction? And why does Isaiah move straight from this visionary figure dressed in bloody robes into praising God for his kindness and compassion?

We clearly need to find a way to reconcile the crucified Christ with the avenging Christ. Or to accept that we in our small minds cannot cope readily with the seeming paradox. But should it surprise us that the God who loves paradoxes contains so many of them himself?

We struggle with an angry, triumphant Messiah. We are often taught that Jesus is meek and mild, the Good Shepherd, tending his flock, playing with children, finding the lost. And such he is on one level. But he is also the One to whom all power and authority has been given and he is coming again in clouds of glory to judge. And lest we forget, he had no problem fashioning a whip out of cords and chasing the moneylenders out of the Temple. We wonder at the rabbinic saying, “God is not nice. God is not your uncle. God is an earthquake.” And yet such he is. But as Elijah discovered, he is also in the soft, still voice after the earthquake.

Two ideas may help us here, particularly when people dismiss such passages by saying we are living under a new covenant now where all is forgiven and no vengeance is necessary. Well, yes we are, but John’s vision in Revelation shows that the final battles are still to come.

One is that I know, with a certainty I can’t put into words, that kindness and compassion are what motivates God. Always and without exception. He does nothing that is not for the ultimate good of those he loves. And by that I don’t mean some chosen few, but all living things on this earth. I also know that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was, is, a universe-changing action. It was more powerful and all-encompassing than our feeble words can express and our brains know how to hold. More than salvation, more than redemption, more than atonement (huge as these things are), this was a fulcrum event in space and time that began to solve everything.

Yes, what happened on the cross, God’s beloved dying in obedient love for this world, was like the epicentre of God’s grace earthquake. Its power will never stop echoing out, transforming and healing all things. And by this we can see that sometimes God’s answers are bloody and that they have yet to come to full culmination. When heaven comes to earth, all will be accomplished. The victory is already assured, but we are told that heaven will be birthed here and should expect labour pains. If we read his word at all or keep our eyes open in this life, we know that redemption often comes by suffering and resurrection requires death. So we also know that God does not look at death the way we do. And that both wine and blood, the trampling of grapes of wrath and of nations, are methods in the Old Testament that seem to find their own redemption into grace by the sacrifice Jesus made. That gall, that vinegar of the Lord’s anger was turned into the pouring out of blood, of a new kind of wine.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyattt

Photo Philip Jackson’s “Christ in Judgement”, Chichester Cathedral

 

40: Put it Away!

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if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear. 16You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.” Job 11:14-16 NIV

So here is some of the rest of Zophar’s speech to Job, who is sitting, sick, boil-covered and grief-stricken on the dungheap of terrible suffering. Zophar’s logic is that Job couldn’t possibly be suffering this much as an innocent, he must have done or be doing something terrible. As soon as he turns from his wicked ways and repents, everything will suddenly go right with his life.

Sadly, this is still a nonsense that gets thrown around at the sick and the hurting today in church. I know, because I’ve had this boomerang hurled at me enough times. Put the sin away from yourself and suddenly all will be well. Well I say, put that self-righteous, ignorance away and I might be more inclined to listen to you!

Of course habitual sin is bad for us, and of course no-one is without sin. But when Jesus’ disciples see a blind man begging at the roadside, and ask, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents?” Jesus treats the question as the nonsense it is. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:2-3 NIV To the Lord, every piece of suffering is an opportunity to put things right. It is an opening for grace to be encountered, not a time to talk of blame or sin. God answers Job’s suffering with encounter, and Jesus does the same with the man born blind. Encounter for this man brings healing, but it also (maybe even more importantly) allows this man to become an evangelist. He turns out to be a very vocal and courageous supporter of the gospel, defying the leaders of the synagogue and even his own parents to tell the truth about Jesus.

I don’t pretend to know a great deal about healing, it’s a very complicated subject often, but I believe that with God, encounter and healing are always about wholeness. God doesn’t deal with us in bits, the way that our modern medical systems are geared to do. If God heals you physically, he will most likely heal your purpose and your being, and I think this is why he says to so many that he heals, “Your sins are forgiven you,” not because it was their sin causing the harm, though sometimes holding in hurts can cause us great bodily, mental and emotional grief, but because the transformational work he does treats us as entire, complex and spiritual beings.

In any case, most of us who are genuinely seeking God, like Job, and hopefully those of us in church, find one of the toughest things to do is forgiving ourselves (hence perhaps Jesus’ reassurance), we really don’t need any help looking for inner or “hidden” sins. If you are sick a long time, believe me, you’ve done a lot of soul searching already.

Equating sin with punishment in this life is to not understand the grace and the goodness of God. The Lord is all compassion and mercy and loving kindness. The greatest barrier and the greatest help to healing in the gospels is faith or lack of it, and usually this is the faith of the person or people praying for the sick, as it is also in James’ letter. We are scripturally more at liberty to blame our intercessors when healing doesn’t come, rather than those being prayed for. But blame in all its forms is to rather miss the point. Zophar and the rest of Job’s “friends” do this rather spectacularly. Suffering that presents an opportunity for God to be given glory is just not on their radar. I wonder if it is on ours?

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Artwork “Put it Away!” by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

 

27: Giving up our gods

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So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.” Genesis 35:2-4 NIV

Purifying ourselves ready to worship the Lord is an age old ritual. Outer purification can be a symbol for the cleansing of our hearts or our inner world. In this case, Jacob feels that building an altar to God isn’t something he and his household can do without first ridding themselves of their foreign gods and the symbols of occult protection which were traditionally worn in the ears, made of gold and imprinted with images of sun and moon gods and so on.

In Christian circles we tend to be at the extreme end of a spectrum of feeling about such things these days. We can either be quite blasé about the strange ways people use talismans and amulets, thinking small pagan rituals harmless, or we can be completely over the top fire and brimstone in our reactions, bandying the word heretical about and condemning any practice that has a sniff of paganism about it, even in our ignorance, those practices which have been taken on board or transformed by the church. Somewhere in the middle might be more sensible.

Social media is full of adverts as I’m sure you know, and because a lot of my time is spent talking about spiritual matters, I do get some rather bizarre tailored ads, including those for pagan bookshops, witches’ groups and tarot cards. These I avoid like the plague, because I know however harmless they look, they are not compatible with a life that follows Christ. In his service, I am not going to focus on demonology, divination, curses or spells. I cannot serve two masters. And whilst we might say that that is an obvious split, there are those who try to walk both paths. It cannot be done. And Jacob knew this.

But what Jacob also knew was that it was not only superstitions and occult practices that needed to be banished from his household before they could come before the Lord, but also everything they held as gods. I imagine that a lot of the gold earrings were the only valuable things that some of his servants owned, so to give them up to be buried under a tree was like asking us to take our life savings and pour them into the sea! But if our hearts or vows or loyalties are tied up anywhere that opposes the Living God, then they need to be cut loose. These might be things like obsessions, or reliance on fashion, looks, money, power or pride. These things tie us to wrongdoing just as surely as the practicing of any dark arts. Only then, when we have given up our false gods and manufactured idols, including the imagined strength of our own egoes and independence, can we build the altar of our lives truly dedicated to the one true God.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

 

18: Pressed into Service

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A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.” Mark 16:21 NIV

Have you ever been shoved into the fray, given something to do you had no desire to do, finding yourself in the centre of a drama you thought was nothing to do with you? Pity Simon of Cyrene, likely a Jewish trader minding his own business, suddenly thrown into the greatest story ever told.

Was he near the front of the crowd to see what was happening, and next thing he was the thing that was happening? Had he heard about Jesus and the amazing things that were being claimed about this miracle maker? Was he passing on the trade route, used to being respected and then suddenly identified with this troublemaker simply because of his race? That is a story that has been played out time and time again in history, I suppose; the wrong colour skin, the wrong gender, the wrong creed, in the wrong place at the wrong time. And yet. I wonder if Simon might have looked back later and remembered his sudden encounter with Jesus joyfully.

Imagine if the saviour you first came into contact with was a beaten one. A bruised and bloody mess, covered in wounds and spittle. Would you still give him your life? Or do we all hanker for a clean cut, clean shaven, pristine saviour in a suit and tie, with perfect white teeth and a sensible hairstyle? Suppose the first thing he did in his brokenness was to have you carry a heavy load? So heavy that it made your shoulder burn and cut into your flesh? Would you still want to serve him? Would he still win your heart, God struggling and failing, falling and allowing weakness to shine?

Perhaps sometimes we are surprised by the ways Jesus enters our life, how he turns the strangest, even the vilest circumstances into holy encounter. For Simon, ever famed as the carrier of the cross, this seemingly chance pressganging led him into being the first (albeit unwilling) sharer of Christ’s sufferings, and no doubt he followed the rest of the story and watched, bent and sore from the load, and burning from the indignity, as a softly spoken Jewish brother was killed by a vicious regime, and at the same time, whether he knew it or not, saw God turn meekness to majesty, tragedy to triumph, death to life. Nothing would be the same ever again.

 

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo by Jesster79 on Wikimedia used under creative commons license.