Tag Archives: Jacob

110. Spots and Stripes (Juxtaposition 10)

DSC00499

Some of us pool our tears, some of us let them streak our faces. Either way, we cannot sit forever in our letting go. Next to each other, circles and lines call out one another’s foolishness, and at the same time speak of every form there is, if they work together. Marking our flocks, like Jacob’s mischief, we collect all the patterned fleeces and leave the plain ones, looking for richer stock and a fuller, more textured life.

text and photo © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

Advertisements

Veil of Tears 108: Wrestling

108 wrestling pixabay men-83501_1280

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” Genesis 32:24 NIV

Wrestling was quite popular in the UK when I was small. Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy were what passed as celebrities back then, which really just meant they got to open supermarkets and appear on Tiswas. They seemed like gentle, wobbly giants to me, and whilst partly staged, the matches were not at all like the colourful over-the-top theatre that we now see in the WWF so popular in the States.

Wrestling with ourselves and with God often seems less dramatic than you might imagine as well. It can feel dark and lonely, those long nights where you are not sure if you are in a half Nelson with yourself or your maker. Where you are so tired, so worn out by the fight, that your aching spiritual muscles don’t know if they can take the stretched pain any more. And at the end, when day finally breaks, you may be left unsure if you have encountered God or not, unsure what his parting words may mean, and finding yourself with a lifelong limp for your troubles.

But to be sure, every genuine and determined seeker after the heart of God will experience such troubles. We will wrestle with our conscience, with our desires, with our ideas about who God is, and perhaps most of all with our egos.

And whilst we sit and lick our wounds, or nurse our confusion, or feel the dull ache in our thigh, we may find we too have come out of the other side of the night with a new name, a reconciliation on the horizon, and a new identity as an overcomer. Interestingly, it is our ability to overcome which is also the reason we are given new names by Jesus in Revelation.

Might our new names be fit for celebrity wrestlers, I wonder? But the ring in which we continue at times to struggle has no cameras, no bunting or fans, no glitter-spangled leotards (thank God), no energy for chutzpah. Instead it is endurance, sticking it out, holding on in the dark, keeping the faith, hoping against hope for our blessings when life has bodyslammed all the wind out of us, these are the ways to real victory, though the fight takes its toll and the dawn light may at first seem cold.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

78: Unattractive

78 unattractive lightstargod pixabay gerda-1417288_1280

Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel had a lovely figure and was beautiful.” Genesis 29:17 NIV

Unusually, I wrote this piece before I had a Bible verse to illustrate it. Normally I start with the verse and let it speak to me. But maybe this was providence, for I could not find a single reference to a person describing him or her as unattractive, ugly or not beautiful. Isn’t that wonderful? There is a lot of sexism recorded in the scriptures, and yet women’s beauty is never doubted. Even here, where one sister is preferred over the other, weak eyesight is the worst thing that can be levelled at Leah. In our appearance obsessed society where women especially are taught to constantly find fault with the way we and others look, I found this refreshing.

Feeling unattractive is a horrible thing which can affect anyone, and an insecurity that billion pound industries rely on to feed their unrelenting pockets. If we feel unattractive, then we feel unwanted. We think that no-one will have us, will want to partner us in life, or that the partner we do have is just making do with us, as indeed was Leah’s pain, and we’ll come back to that another day. It feeds fears and jealousies and inadequacies that ruin lives and make us ill.

The world has become so intent on marketable outer beauty now that we tend to forget how to see other ways that people are good to look upon. Some people just shine, whether it is with gentle quietness or raucous laughter, with softness or sassiness, with joyful exuberance or calm delight, with graceful elegance or sweet stumbling clumsiness, there is no end to the ways that real beauty presents herself, regardless of gender.

A voice and how it sings, the way a lock of hair persistently falls over a forehead and will not be tied back, the mole at the side of the mouth, the crow’s feet that crinkle up with every grin. These are the things that endear us to people, their idiosyncrasies, their differences, not the things that we all have in common and certainly not some awful Stepford Spouse homogeny that insists on boring symmetry, flatness, paralysed muscles and careful lack of feeling. A face and a body are places to live out our character, our sex appeal, our true selves, the expression of who we are. Our integrity is what draws people to us. If we imagine that reaching for some marketed ideal of size, shape and smile is true attractiveness or true beauty, we are living and believing a lie.

True beauty is slightly off centre, a little skewed, a bit cracked, lived in, enjoyed. It takes up as much room as it wants to and it sashays or slinks or skips, depending on how it feels. It does not pander to the beholder, nor does it realise how wonderful it is. True beauty lives and moves and has its being in the Lord, in freedom, in being itself.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

 

27: Giving up our gods

27 giving up our gods mf milza

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

 

13: In the Pit

13 in the pit nicksumm MF

“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