Tag Archives: grace

Lent 40: Easter Saturday

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Here you are again then, Lord, between the worlds. As from conception to birth, womb and tomb, you are sandwiched twixt life and death, neither one thing nor the other, and yet both at the same time. As yesterday, you span both east and west, height and depth, making the sign of the cross with your Spirit. Today with you in Paradise and at the same time hearing your voice and the rattle of your keys in the dungeon doors of hell, all encompassing, omnipresent, everywhere Love, you are. Thank God nowhere is safe from your unleashed, unstoppable Grace.

Art and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2018

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Lent 15

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Your glow is what transfigures you. Not the dull earth below, which is your substance, your normality, your humility, but the light that finds you. For it is not for you to shine, small lifeless orb, dull creature, but yours to be shone upon. And the light that finds you, loves you, and stays with you, riding above your self like lustre in orbit, a soft swirling snowstorm of grace, holding you beyond touch.

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2018

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

Veil of Tears 94: Harsh Words

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With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” James 3:9 NIV

Don’t you just hate that saying, “Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but names will never hurt me,”? It is the most ridiculous lie to instil into children. Name-calling and vicious words wound us just as much as if they did physical harm, and the injuries can take far longer to heal. In addition, the wrong word spoken to us, if we take it on board, can turn our course as surely as the rudder in James’ analogy can turn a whole ship.

Harsh words about my painting from a teacher when I was six stopped me investigating art or the possibility of my own creativity being at all worthwhile. It took nearly forty years to undo that particular sentence’s power over me. A few words are all it takes to break a relationship irretrievably, or to hurt someone so badly that they will never recover. It is also all it takes to hurt ourselves, for once words are spoken or written (and read) they cannot be unsaid or rolled back into our mouths.

In ancient times people spoke words as spells or incantations, believing words to have power. In the Bible we see people and God speaking blessings and curses over others. It is a solemn and precious thing to be able to have an effect on people’s lives by pronouncing truths and promises on their heads. We can say it is all mumbo jumbo, but whatever we hear about ourselves will mark us in some way, especially if it is said by people we love, or who profess to love us. Harsh words, ridicule, insults from a parent or grandparent, or (perhaps inevitably) siblings, are most likely to cause us real pain and form a barrier not only in those relationships but between ourselves and our own sense of self-worth or belonging. Gossip, lies, slander and the tabloid press are also power tools for hurt, causing swathes of untold damage.

Unkind words hurt us right at our very core. They unbalance our confidence, make us doubt ourselves and our value, push us into thinking we are somehow less than others or that we are unsightly or blemished, either outside or in. And because the wounds are invisible, they often go unnoticed and therefore unhealed. Half the time we accept them as truth so deep down (especially if they tap into similar lies told us as children) that we don’t even know that we are swallowing more lies. These untruths are like knots that we need help to untie.

As God’s people, we must pour out gentle words, affirmations and blessings and encouragements, where there have been nasty or vitriolic or untrue things said. This is part of our kingdom work, to heal the world with our tongues. To be the difference, to sing the praise of our fellows in their likeness to their heavenly father. To help each one of us make that connection, so that we can see that we too are lovely. To reteach one another our loveliness as poet Galway Kinnell has it.

When God speaks his love over us of course, we may rely on it, for God’s word always accomplishes what it sets out to do (Isaiah 55:11) and so we can also depend upon his promises, his character and his goodness. For God’s words are always truth and always working for love. Likewise, our speech should be tempered wherever possible with gentleness and grace. There is no more important time to ask ourselves “What would Jesus do?” than when we are about to open our mouths.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

82: Bullying

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Because the LORD had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.” 1 Samuel 1:6-7 NIV

It seems right to think about yesterday’s text from Peninnah’s point of view as well, since we might argue that being a bully is just as much a way of suffering in our human condition as being the victim of such behaviour. Bullies are suffering in a way that causes them to inflict pain. More often than not, I wonder if they feel disenfranchised or impotent in some way, so that they desire to gain power or a sense of belonging. Bullies often work in groups, as a gang of cruel girls did to me at school, and are also very ego-driven, building themselves up by bringing others down.

Peninnah feels threatened by Hannah’s piety, and by her husband’s clear preference for his other wife. Perhaps it is hardly surprising that she lashes out at her rival for his affections. Doubtless she is frustrated and feels powerless to change anything about her situation, so she uses the one thing she can lord over Hannah, the fact that she has had children. When we are hurting, and we feel the need to lash out, we use the weapons we have to hand, and the weaknesses that are in plain sight, rarely considering the pain we might inflict.

We also pass on traits from one generation to another, and I believe this fact of life is what the Bible calls curses “from generation to generation.” And we also learn behaviour from our parents and guardians. If we have been abused or bullied at home, whether by adults or siblings, we are far more likely to become bullies ourselves. We’ve learnt that this is the way to get what we want, or to feel empowered. As one of my favourite tv comedies, Blackadder, would have it, the Prince insults the butler, the butler kicks the cat, the cat chases the mouse, and the mouse bites Baldrick.

I remember that as a child when I was going through a phase of having spats with my elder brother, I used to take this out on the boys at school, karate chopping them at every opportunity in the style of Miss Piggy. It made me feel like I had some power in a situation where I didn’t, because my brother was much bigger than I was. Fortunately, I remember one of the boys sticking up for himself and asking me how I would like it, and then showing me how much it hurt! Perhaps if he hadn’t made me stop and think, I might still be being a Muppet.

Adult bullying of course is harder to change, since those opportunities for mind-changing are tougher to bring about, and the behaviour is ingrained. “I’m hurting,” says the ego, “and feeling small, so I’m going to take it out on other people and make myself seem bigger than I am.” Bullies do need to be held accountable. It’s the only thing that will help us, in the end, to see the error of our ways. Truth is our way to freedom. But they also need to be heard. Perhaps expressing themselves in a free and non-judgemental environment where anger and frustration are given space rather than immediately condemned, might be helpful. Of course not everyone wants to give that space, and not every bully would be able to take advantage of it, nor are many people prepared to change. But accountability done with love feels like the way forward. “What is this really about?” and “How are you feeling?” can be powerful breakthrough questions asked from a place of generous vulnerability and grace.

Perhaps if Elkanah’s two wives had sat down and had a real heart to heart, they might have discovered that their common enemy was the patriarchal system they were enduring, and helped one another somehow to bear their various pains. But injustices, like stones dropped in water, send out many ripples, and it is only grace that can truly heal such wounds.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

 

Image used under creative commons as advised by Yahoo image search

52: Stumbling

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

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

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

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

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

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photograph public domain

16: Savage Wolves

 

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“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” Acts 20:29 NIV

Paul’s parting from the Elders of the Ephesian church, whom he summons to himself at Miletus before leaving on the next leg of his journey to Jerusalem, is a tearful one. He is keen to warn them with this prophetic word, even though it means telling them that some of these wolves will rise from among their own number. He is being hounded by the Jewish persecutors (of which he used to be one) who will soon jail and kill him. He knows the end is near, and yet his thoughts and worries are all for this church he has spent three years teaching and loving. And this is not a new fear:

“So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Acts 20:31 NIV

Jesus too, talked about wolves that would rise from amongst the flock, wearing sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Even in the midst of our Christian communities, we need to keep our eyes peeled for danger, for wrong teaching and for those who would lead us astray or attempt to do the devil’s work for him. I suppose that it is in the fold, in our places of safety where we are most likely to let down our spiritual guard, even at the same time as we worship or receive instruction. Here, right in the centre of communion, we can be at our most vulnerable. And as the Church and her members know to their cost, abuses of power have been all too common.

But we must remain gentle and open at the same time as being wary, for our innocence shines out the beauty of God, and our gentle hearts available to all are a powerful testimony of the Lord’s grace. Jesus told his Disciples, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16 NIV

Please be shrewd as my readers. I have no training in theology and I write mainly from prayer and my own study. I hope there is wisdom buried in my words. Be wary of those who are vehement in their preaching though, for self-proclaimed mystics like myself will lead you astray, if we ever do so, entirely without intent. The Ephesians, and us through them, are being warned here, not of the ignorant or mistaken, but of the deliberate, subtle turners of hearts, bringers of fear, those who would delude and persuade us to disbelieve the goodness of God, the power of his Grace, the fullness and inclusivity of the Gospel; to doubt the wisdom contained within Holy Scripture.

Shrewdness, awareness means using our brains, our hearts, our instincts, and above all the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It does not mean throwing out hermeneutics, study, self-disciplined prayer, contemplation or thought, for the Lord gave us intelligence for a reason. I think that as well as being wary around our own known weak areas, the main things that should ring alarm bells in us are when people display characteristics that are ungodly: undermining, ridicule, gossip, judgement, division, fear and smugness. When there is a temptation to take sides, to point, to feel superior, to hold a grudge, to fall into self-righteousness instead of God’s grace, those are the hot breaths of the wolf and his or her ways.

And so today I can finish with the advice from one of my favourite verses, let truth and beauty be our guides:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 NIV

 

Text and artwork ©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

151: Snowfall

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I feel a tingling in the air that crackles at the ends of my fingers. I sense an electricity in the universe of love that vibrates my heart strings in a cadence of hopefulness – even in the midst of despair. It is like the sense of iron in the air before a thick snowstorm, or the bright whiteness of clouds about to burst with hail. That deep, magical half-light that is going to sparkle on some treasures and keep others in the dark. It is the crack in God’s voice as he speaks with love in his throat. It is the yearning expectation of every heart and heart’s eye looking to him in the midst of dreaded and dreadful times.

And the fear falls away as we look up into cavalcades of soft flakes, white covering blessings, crystal masterpieces, icy wonders, and we know and we see, and we cannot count them, only receive, and we hold out hands made holy by the cold light of heaven falling down to earth. We open our mouths and let the frozen breath of God the Father melt on our tongues into the Host of his Son, by the Holy Spirit who dances in the fizz of transformation, in the transubstantiation of ice into living water. And thus in this place of death we are given life and the thaw of our hearts begins. Life is beginning again. Taste the sharpness of blood, and see the world covered in a blanket of loving mercy.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015

 

 

144: Waterfall

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The curtain calls, and I long to push through to the other side, out of the cavern and into the light beyond. But endless years hold me here and the fear of getting soaked prevails. Veils of cascading current, collected teardrops fallen from clouds of burden, here released into flow that intrigues my fiercely beating heart. Could I really come forth and join in the droplet dance? Is there a place for a human form amongst the pearls that leap joyfully from on high? May I stand, then, drenched in downfall and saturated by silver light?

Then I will dare, I will risk the chill and the wetting, I will rend the perfection of the membrane and be born again. I will stand and lift my head, open-mouthed to the flow and laugh with outstretched arms inside rampant rivulets of grace.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015

 

Day 117: Sunshine

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The heat of the sun beats down on the wicked and the good. My grace working like beams of light. My glory-goodness too rich for some, sheltering Jonah-like under their unappreciated plant-parasols, or under handkerchiefs with knots tied at the corners to remind them that the world is flat.

All this brightness and need for shelter is too much for one head, let it flow on to others so all may bask in the heat of my love; my love that withers sin and tests earthly patience and understanding. Let Nineveh too, have her share and be glad.

  

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015