Tag Archives: faith

Lent 34

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Happy is a word that rarely belongs here in the roar of the storm, in the eye of the hurricane. Can we, then, be content? With all that racket and all that spume? The salt water constantly crashing up into our eyes and ears? Perhaps not. But neither can we sit here on this surface and be bobbed about so furiously and hold onto anything, not faith, and certainly not our breakfast. So what may be done, and what peace may be found? The temptation is surely to dive into the water and drown our sorrows, falling into the deep sleep of silent waters. And yet you say, we may sleep here in the stern, curled up in cushions and coats, oblivious, and let you take the rudder. The answer then, is not peace, but trust.

Art and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2018 (“Wake,” in pastels, using a reference photo by Cindy Frendt with kind permission)

64. Atheist (Empathy, Lent 5)

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Thinking about all the people I might struggle to identify with, and you might be surprised to find that in some ways, atheists are not too hard for me to have empathy with. God, the knowledge of his existence and goodness permeates, well, everything in my life, and so trying to think of a world, of even a breath, without him, simply doesn’t compute. And yet, I have a deeply analytical, logical mind, and can totally see how, without encounter, that might lead to deep, humanistic thoughts.

Two of my favourite writers, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, were atheists; they were also admirably compassionate people. Whereas Sir Pterry did teeter on the edge of agnosticism on occasion, Adams described himself as a “radical” atheist.

I will let him speak for himself today: “God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and we’ve now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining. So I don’t think that being convinced that there is no god is as irrational or arrogant a point of view as belief that there is.” (excerpt from Adams’ interview with American Atheists in 1998)

Adams had a vast intelligence, but as I’ve said in other articles, genius can blind us to spiritual truths. There is not much point arguing God’s existence by logical means, though many have tried. His existence is extremely logical, that isn’t the problem. The problem is that the type of mind that wants to have God proven logically, is not prepared to take evidence of heart and soul into account. Any apologist who leaves out the heart of the matter is diluting God to the point where he might be explained away. And that can lead to all sorts of problems, as Adams ironically (and aware of the irony) well knew….

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bog-gglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: `I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’

`But,’ says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’

`Oh dear,’ says God, `I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.

`Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets

himself killed on the next zebra crossing.” (from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams)

It can be hard to respect and empathise with a viewpoint so different from one’s own, but a sense of humour, respect and dignity, are vital, as is remaining calm. Passion is often misunderstood.  Besides stupidity (like denying the age of fossils), there is nothing more damaging to a logical apologist’s argument, than the tell-tale steam coming out of her ears.  In my view, we are always better off living love as our witness of God’s heart.

If you would like to read my article “The Blindness of Genius” you can find it here http://jellyjots.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/the-blindness-of-genius.html

 

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

 

Landscape of Love 97: Churchyard

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Ancient of Days, yew circles the holy ground and stands sacred guard. Her hollowness disguises fullness, and even her dank rotten places are teeming with abundant life; jewelled scarabs and luminescent fungi adorn the lightning wounds and tend the darkness. Toothed fort of the dead, domino headstones re-etched by lichen look ready to fall after centuries of marking mounds of mourning. And life, undeterred, springs up in grasses and buttercups, golden grails full of dew, bluebells ringing out the hours, a carpet of prayer covering the crypt.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 107: In the Dark

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So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” Daniel 6:16 NIV

At the time of writing, my heart is heavy because of several swords of Damocles that are hanging over myself and my loved ones. They are things that will decide our futures, where we live and how we live. If the sword falls one way, we might find freedom, another, and we’ll be trapped or hurt. Things aren’t exactly going to plan. My plan that is. And I think of Daniel, about to be thrown into the lions’ den, and though of course his peril was far greater than ours, I wonder if he thought along similar lines. “This wasn’t really how I imagined it would be, Lord, to follow you, to pray so fervently for your people, and care about their well-being, and end up preparing to be torn limb from limb.”

“Is this really your plan?!” We cry in out in our hearts. “Is this seriously the best you could come up with?”

And we think and feel like that because we can’t see what God can see. Because it does look back to front and topsy-turvy, and it really does hurt. And waiting for lions to devour us is pretty scary. But, suppose God is even greater than we imagine, and the lions are going to have their mouths shut by an angel he sends? And then our faith will be even stronger, and our blessings more obvious to count, and our gratitude deeper and set on wiser foundations.

So no, I can’t see in the dark whether there is an angel standing guard or not. I don’t know if those mouths are shut tight or bearing glistening sharp teeth at me, jowls slathering at the thought of tearing the flesh from my bones. No more do I know why the Lord keeps us in the dark so many times in our lives. But I do know that I can trust him, whatever happens. I do know that even when Nebuchadnezzar’s guards roll that stone across the mouth of the den, with me on the wrong side of it, that my God is the one who knows how to rescue me, and that he has a history of setting his hapless beloveds free, of calling them out of caves, of shutting the mouths of lions and opening the mouths of tombs.

©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 98: Disappointed

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They are distressed, because they had been confident; they arrive there, only to be disappointed.” Job 6:20 NIV

When we get to our destination, and after all those hours travelling, that tearing of hair and yelling at the kids, having spent weeks washing and sorting the right laundry, waiting around in airports, and we find the hotel is infested with cockroaches, we are disappointed by circumstances.

When we put our all into something, maybe our heart into writing a poem, and no-one notices, worse, someone gives us harsh criticism, or we put our best efforts into a friendship and the friend ditches us at the first sign of someone who is better connected, we are disappointed by people.

When our dreams are tied up in frazzled nothing days where there is no time and we can’t get motivated, or the procrastination or our own self-doubts stop us from even thinking about beginning, then we are disappointed in ourselves.

And when our prayers seem to go unanswered and yet more difficulties come, and there is only silence where we were hoping for loving words and affirmation, then we can also find ourselves disappointed in God.

Hopes and dreams are wonderful things, but they are also deeply painful, concealing as they do, great pits of despair and disappointment which we fall into time and time again, the golden boughs above us laid as if purposely criss-crossed above the top of the hole, luring us into expectation and letting us fall flat on our faces. Life really can feel like that a lot of the time.

But the Lord does not give us hopes in order to cause us to fall into despair, and he does not give us dreams in order to have them break our hearts when they arrive in a different form to the one we imagined. Our God is a God of “endurance and encouragement” (Romans 15:5) and though often he works through miracles, we see over and over again in the Scriptures and in our lives, that he works far more frequently through the process of blessings. A growth and a blossoming, with all in its rightful place and season.

If the Lord gives us silence, or a no, then that is in some unfathomable way, what we need right now. It is sometimes, of course, that our own emotional pain is so loud we cannot hear over it, or through it, but where the silence is God’s, it is sent gently and with love. Perhaps it is an opportunity to exercise faith and patience, or an invitation to simply sit and learn to listen in a different way. Maybe it is a direction in itself to see the Lord in other things, to experience him in his creation, through other people, in our own actions and self-love, in liturgy, in any number of different ways rather than in the ways to which we have become accustomed and which are now, not enough on their own. The Lord is always wanting his relationship with us to become deeper, and wider, greater, more and more full, and more centred around his Trinitarian personhood. There are many times in our spiritual lives where a painful epiphany needs to move that forward. At such times, disappointment can be a catalyst, like a stick of dynamite that shifts some rubble and allows us to enter a new place, a new level of intimacy, a new room, perhaps of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. We are downcast, disheartened, and so we move deeper into God, into that one necessity, that one being who is love, and who will, at the end of the journey, never ever disappoint us.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

72: Horrified

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Fear and trembling have beset me;

   horror has overwhelmed me.” Psalm 55:5 NIV

Even if I were well enough, you could not get me to watch a horror movie. I hate the portrayal of violence and gore, and am hopelessly easy to frighten. But different things horrify different people. My husband can watch the scariest films and barely bat an eyelid, the same with my stepson. Zombies, vampires and axe-wielding maniacs are merely entertainment to them. As, for that matter, are axe-wielding zombie vampires. But if any spiders are in the house, it’s me who deals with them.

Phobias are horrible irrational fears that can turn our palms sweaty in an instant. I get like that if I see a photo of a great white shark. Okay, slightly more dangerous than a house spider, but the fear is still rather irrational if it is started by a photograph and if it makes me then check under the duvet for possible marine marauders before I will get into bed.

But the horror that is overwhelming David in this Psalm is the horror of betrayal. Someone close to him has turned and become “bloodthirsty and deceitful.” No wonder this has completely taken the wind out of David’s sails and left him cold and shaken. People who betray our trust and cause us harm are far more horrifying than anything that lives in the ocean or that has eight legs.

And David’s hope? What does he hold onto with those sweaty hands to get him through the panic and the tremors? Faith – which can also be weak and trembling, but nevertheless beats any horrors, real or imagined, as long as it remains our anchoring point in life. “But as for me,” says this frightened man of God, “I trust in you.”

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

71: Beleaguered

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He has besieged me and surrounded me

   with bitterness and hardship.

He has made me dwell in darkness

   like those long dead. 

He has walled me in so that I cannot escape;

   he has weighed me down with chains.” Lamentations 3: 5-7 NIV

 

Never one to mince his words, Jeremiah accuses God of the very harshest treatment. If we have been through dreadful times, or ever felt surrounded and overwhelmed by problems and difficulties, then we can surely identify with how the prophet expresses his frustration.

Ever since we married, my husband and I have felt besieged by ill health, redundancy and troubles. It takes all our limited strength to keep going and to hold onto our deep and consoling faith. We certainly feel that we are walled in, weighed down and under siege. But somehow, the occasional supplies are being brought in, our creative work sustains our spirits and our tiny garden and bonkers cat remind us that there are things even in all this to lift us and speak to us of the goodness of God.

And we feel the stress, and the strain to attempt to see light in the darkness. And we are exhausted and sometimes hopeless. But we hold onto the Lord and his promises, as Jeremiah too, will do once he has got his misery off his chest, and we will hope that even in the dank airless tomb that these verses describe, we might soon hear that clear and loving voice, calling, “Come out!” and be loosed into new life. Perhaps we may even look over our shoulders at these tough years in wonder as they lie in pieces like a shattered cocoon, suspecting that the transformation we have undergone might not have been possible without them.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

13: In the Pit

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“So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.” Genesis 37:23-24 NIV

Joseph was used to being the favourite, with his father Jacob especially. The seed of favouritism had been planted with Rachel his mother, who had been Jacob’s favourite wife. His half brothers hated him and plotted against him, partly out of envy, partly because the young Joseph hadn’t mastered the art of tact. He knew he was special, and he didn’t see much point in hiding it. He had the gift of prophecy through dreams and shared his future greatness with all and sundry.

What a shock it must have been to this confident, cheerful and naïve seventeen year-old boy, to be thrown into the pit by his nearest and dearest! To be suddenly left alone in the cold pit with no way out, ridiculed and relieved of the mantle of his father’s love. This was only the beginning of his suffering, and the suffering of his brothers by their guilt, and the pain and heartbreak for Jacob, who mourned him greatly, fooled into thinking him dead (Rachel had already died by this time).

For those of us who are blessed to grow up with loving parents, secure in all we say and do, looking forward to the future we’ve been led to believe will be marvellous, there is a deep sting in being suddenly left very much alone and helpless. When every prop and favour is taken away from us, when we find ourselves flung into a pit by the very people we were sure loved us, what is left to sustain us?

This is a journey I see a lot in those whose hearts are for God. The Church is good at nurturing the first seeds of faith, great at proclaiming things over us, repeating the prophecy from Jeremiah for the whole of Israel over us as individuals: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) and generally making us hope to be history makers and world changers, with lives full of health, blessing and prosperity, because all the bad stuff has been paid for on the cross, right? So we don’t have to suffer any more! But without negating the power of the cross, this is a childish message on its own.

We are not so good at preparing Christ’s young disciples for the prospect of hurting, brokenness or plans going awry. We don’t explain that sometimes life is crushing, and so many times I see Christians who are bewildered, angry and even side-lined because their lives have become hard. The mantle got taken away and no-one climbed into the pit with them, and no-one preached to them on Romans 8:17 “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (NIV)

We can feel, at such times, that we have been left to rot. And yet, it is right at these times, when he is all we have left, that we have the choice before us of whether to trust God or not. It may take a while, years maybe, before help finally comes. We may, like Joseph, then find we’ve been sold to slavers, seemingly out of the frying pan and into the fire, the first part in a twisting tale of epic proportions. Or we may, like Jeremiah, find an Ebed-Melech, servant of the King, willing to come and gently lift us out of our cistern. Either way, God’s purposes and plans will win out in the end. But there may be a hard road yet to tread.

If we have been there, perhaps we should train ourselves and our brothers and sisters to be on the lookout for any dark dungeons, and to peer into the murk as we pass them, calling out, and remembering to carry sturdy rope with us at all times.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

 

12: Testing, Testing.

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“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Genesis 22:2 NIV

God gave this instruction to Abraham, and it took three days for Abraham, Isaac and their servants to reach the intended mountain. Three days for Abraham to think and weep at this strange command, not that we are told anything about his feelings at all in the scripture. But how long that journey must have seemed! I wonder at Abraham’s faith and I also wonder if he got any sleep. There seems to have been no remonstrating with God, no attempts at bargaining, just total obedience.

I often think I’ve given God everything and that I love and trust him so much that I would never withhold anything from him. But I know it isn’t true. I withhold my character and my heart from him all the time when I act or think wrongly, or when I am selfish, and if he asked me to sacrifice someone I loved very dearly (including my pet) I would balk at the command. I only have the little faith I’ve been given, and know that anything I do get right is God working through me, his love or wisdom flowing on, perhaps despite rather than because of me.

For Abraham and Isaac, as so often in the Bible, three days separate deep dark deathly hopelessness and resurrection blessing. When it is clear that Abraham will truly withhold nothing from his God, God blesses him with great promises for him and his descendants.

Most of the Bible translations call this story “Abraham Tested” though of course these headings are not in the original Hebrew, just place-markers for us. I am not sure that we gain much from such a description. The Living God is not a capricious tester of faith. I don’t think that he tests, so much as refines us. We don’t get marks out of a hundred for how we react to difficult circumstances or the things that are asked of us. Instead, these trials are just as much a loving opportunity. God isn’t playing games with us.

This episode with Abraham and Isaac is clearly a picture of the sacrifice that God will make for us much later on, giving us his only son, and sacrificing him to a much more brutal and drawn out death than this poor ram had to suffer. No, there is nothing withheld here on God’s side either and this alone should help us to see that this is no thoughtless whimsy on the Lord’s part. All he does is done with purpose and with our best interests at heart. For some reason, this journey up the mountain with a heavy heart, but one which trusts the goodness of God above all things, this is something Abraham needs to do before he can come into a still deeper blessing from the Living God.

I believe this man of amazing faith spoke truth when he declared to his son that “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” (verse 8 partial) and that he was on the lookout for a substitute all the way, knowing the goodness of the Lord. But when none such appeared, he still trusted that obedience was the way forward. I cannot imagine how either he or Isaac felt, and I don’t pretend to understand why it had to be so dramatic and difficult, but I do see that it is willingness, obedience, trust and the giving over of everything dear that takes us further into God’s heart.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com