Tag Archives: humility

Lent 32

 

Springing Forth from Jess Fletcher small

Time then, to take stock of the value of things. What means more to your aching heart? The rough touch of tree bark, cracked and ancient, carved by the trample of a million ant feet and the sporadic chewing of glisten-eyed deer? Or the place on the ladder you have worked so hard and so long to reach? Which foothold is more solid? Isn’t it better to be near the ground, feet on God’s good earth, than with your head in man-made clouds that blind you to the true nature of things? I love you so much, I will let you decide.

 

Art and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2018

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168. Brown (colour 13)

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Brown is another generous colour, like black, forming the background to so much of life, soil and branches, humble and grounded. Yet it is also a colour God has honoured, being the colour of nearly all skin in varying tones, protecting our soft innards, and the colour of wood, which bookends our lives. Brown is the crib and the coffin, the manger and of the cross.

text and photo © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

 

 

 

 

Landscape of Love 92: Dual Carriageway

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

Text and photo © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

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

50: Idolising

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King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide,a and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” Daniel 3:1 NIV

The culture of celebrity is a huge deal these days, but at least none of the walking egos that deign to grace our tv screens and magazines have gone to quite the lengths of King Nebuchadnezzar to persuade people to worship him. I’m sure there are some celebrity “personalities” who would like to have a 90-foot statue of themselves built out of pure gold, but fortunately none of them have gone that far just yet. Give it time and one of them will.

The scripture itself doesn’t specify that the statue is of the King himself, only that he sets it up and requires its worship, so it may in actual fact have been a statue of one of the Babylonian gods. But for our purposes let’s imagine it was of Nebuchadnezzar. Was this pure ego, or was it a canny way to discover those amongst his people who would not fall down and worship at his say so? Was it a way of controlling the populace? State religions have always had that dubious honour.

What might that do to a person’s spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health, to be literally idolized in this fashion? I truly dread to think. And yet, we all do this to some extent. I mock the famous people I think are egotistical above, knowing full well I am no better than they. What right do I have to set myself up as judge over their behaviour? All measuring and judging comes from a place of smugness, or self-righteousness, or of a desperation to imagine ourselves better than someone else so that we can proclaim ourselves worthy or entitled. This is how the ego defends itself. And if the world tells you that you are right, by making you a king or an heiress or a billionaire, if the world watches your every move and records your image constantly, then this may well feed your grasping ego to the point where it nears bursting with pride, and where it feels completely natural and right to feel superior.

Religion can have similar effects. We only have to look at the Pharisees to see that. And there is an ugly kind of salvation smugness that believes itself now so incapable of sinning that it happily looks down its long nose at everyone else’s moral behaviour, and usually through a microscope. Let us never forget then, not even long enough to write a scathing opening paragraph, that we are each a child of God, beloved beyond ideas of merit, and that each life and path is so different that it is impossible and ill-advised to fall into any comparison. As soon as we do that, we start building that golden statue in the coldness of our hearts.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay of a golden statue of Buddha in Urumqi, China, not disparaging Buddhism, just wanted a picture that shows the scale of a large gold statue and surprisingly there aren’t that many about. J

21: Woe is Me!

21 woe jentsoi MF

Woe is me! For I have become as when the summer fruit has been gathered, as when the grapes have been gleaned: there is no cluster to eat, no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.” Micah 7:1 ESV

Are you waiting for something, searching for something, unable to find it? Have you been praying for relief and none comes, that elusive hope dulled and despair taking its place? What a perfect description of such despair this verse in Micah is! All the good grapes are gone and the poor have been in to take the leavings, so that as you arrive there is not one left. As you come along hunting for that one good thing, there is nothing. Everyone else, it seems, has had what you wanted and there is none left for you.

This is how we feel when we are poor, and those around us are buying new things and having holidays. This is how we feel when everyone else has a job and we have been unemployed for a long time; unwanted and marked out for misery. This is how we feel when all our college friends seem to have their next steps and careers all worked out and we are drifting in a fog of unknowing. This is how we feel when a friend is having her fourth child and none came along for us, and we feel this despite our joy for them. It is not jealousy, but it is like we are the opposite of special. Like we and all our hopes have been cast off into the dust, and not one of the things we were hoping for have shown up.

Unkind people will call such feelings a “pity party”, and tell us to “pull our socks up” and that we have “first world problems”, or that there are “plenty of people worse off” than we are. Oh, how I loathe those phrases! Sometimes, especially with good reason or when we are low or suffering from depression, it is good and healthy and okay to say, “Woe is me!” The Psalms are absolutely full of such honesty. God values it and hears us and he does not tell us to shut up and count our blessings or pull ourselves together. He is all compassion and understanding. At such times I am sure he longs to gather us to himself “as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,” (Matthew 23:37 partial, NIV).

Here’s a little thing I have learned over some difficult decades: suffering is personal. It is not relative. It cannot be compared. My pain is my pain and yours is yours. There is no measuring stick. You feel what you feel. And today the love of my life is incredibly down and he is hurting, and nothing I can do can make it better, and our finances just got dealt another unkind blow, and so I say, “Woe is me!” and it’s okay. Such outbursts need to be short-lived of course, else they can fester and lead to self-pity, with manifestations across the spectrum of pride, from entitlement to self-loathing.   But self-compassion, cried out and genuine, can be related to as good emotional sense and spiritual honesty, leading us back to our own helplessness and to the feet of the source of all true help. And God hears, and he hurts with us, and his company is good to have at such a time.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

7: Toothless

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“He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.” Lamentations 3:16 NIV

In this chapter of Lamentations, we find some of the most downcast descriptions of human misery the Bible has to offer. A prophet tormented at seeing his words come to pass, taken into exile with his people by the Babylonians, Jeremiah is beyond sorrow. And though he sees under the old covenant, all punishments righteously coming from God’s hand, he is also able to hope in God’s ultimate goodness, like Job, who said, “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him…” (Job 13:15 partial NIV).

Jeremiah has no way to fight his enemies, he is remembering all the terrible things he has seen, and the afflictions he has partaken of. It must indeed have seemed like his very teeth had been ground away, that all he had left to eat were stones, all he had to fight with were bleeding gums.

It is the toughest lesson in life, to sit face to face with our own powerlessness. But in a turn of faith, it is also the place where all is changed. Because it is not until we can face our true nature as dust, not until we are grounded in humility (humus=earth) and ground into our smallest particles, that we can finally look about us like toothless infants and see that all the control belongs to God. Once the acceptance of that truth comes we become strangely powerful ourselves, because we are his, because we know that we can rely on his words and his teeth to save us.

For it is whilst he is meditating on all this suffering and brokenness that Jeremiah comes to the far more well-known verses from this chapter, the conclusion that,

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” 

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; 

it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Lamentations 3:22-26 NIV

It is also good to remember that without the lament, we do not find the hope. The one lived through becomes the other, and we serve a God who delights in transformation, even turning a vile death on a cross into a universal victory. Yes, the world should beware those ground into the dust, the toothless and the weak. We are people of the living God.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

154: Hollow Tree

olive tree in garden of Gethsemane by Susan v mills Mustard seed for reflection dead centre but new life springing up from the roots.

Seeming death, only the edges of the circle remain, a circumference of thin bark and wiry wood. Gnarled by twisting winds and anni horribili, it is a miracle standing. But the frailty we see is connected to humble earth and living water by a network of strength weaving through the soil, touching bed rock and finding underground springs. Roots of life, branches long lost in the battle finding renewal here, upside down, running counter to all you hold wise.

Depths you will never see are tapped here and the empty core flows with currents of holy breath. Far from empty, the trunk is simply focussed enough to stand back in a ring of awe, making space for the sacred sap to wend its way. And at the outer edge of the garden, a redoubt of young trees wells up from the strength of roots born of sacrificing the centre.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015

 

Photograph by Susan Mills, used with permission. This is an olive tree growing in the Garden of Gethsemane, which is dead in the centre, but whose root system is alive and thriving, young trees growing all around from the roots. It speaks volumes to me.