Tag Archives: Jeremiah

Veil of Tears 103: Incarcerated

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So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained.” Genesis 39:20 NLT

Today is Nelson Mandela Day (18th July). Whenever I read about people like Joseph who were imprisoned on false charges or unfair accusations or lies, or even those who have committed small crimes but been given horrendous sentences, I think of those 27 years of imprisonment that Mr Mandela underwent. He must have, like Joseph, and like Jeremiah in his cistern, have wondered if he would die there, the hope of release must have seemed forlorn and unlikely.

Others of us are imprisoned in different ways of course, in abusive relationships, tough marriages or in bodies that make us feel less than human. Many of my friends with severe M.E. are living in a world of one room, weak as they are, unable to feed or wash themselves, let alone get outside. I see my wheelchair as an enabling thing, but then, I am not confined to it all day like so many people, who perhaps feel imprisoned.

Still others of course, feel imprisoned by debt, by circumstances, by their pasts, or even by guilt and regret. There are so many things that can make us feel that desire for liberation from the chains that hold us back. And many of my fellow Christians will proclaim that by Jesus’ blood we are free, we are saved from all these bondages. And that is undoubtedly true in a whole heap of ways. But knowing that is not always tantamount to securing the tangible reality of it. And some of us are kept in our small or difficult circumstances, indeed in our real prisons or penitentiaries, for a very long time, long after we have come to faith. This is not because the power of God is not working in our lives, but because it is working unseen. Invisible miracles happen in prisons of various kinds every minute of every day.

Rays of sunshine can penetrate the heart wherever we are. Hope can live in the most arid and desperate conditions, and faith can flourish in small and impoverished circumstances. There is fruit still there to be borne. How many times do we hear of prisoners finding Jesus whilst behind bars? And how can we deny that miracles happened in that small cell on Robyn Island, where a peaceful, gentle and wise humility was created from a passionate rebel heart? If we give our yes to love, to God, then powerful transformations can occur in these cells of isolation. The desert fathers and mothers understood this well, self-imposing constrictions, as monks and nuns continue to do today.

Indeed, as citizens of heaven we might well say that our very bodies and our present circumstances are our cells, fidelity to which, as Abba Moses counselled, was the way to spiritual knowledge. “Go, sit in your cell,” he would say, “And your cell will teach you everything.”

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 87: Unheard

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“Even when I call out or cry for help,

he shuts out my prayer.” Lamentations 3:8 NIV

 

To feel heard is a very basic human need. We all want to be listened to, to know that our needs and desires matter. This is perhaps especially so when we are talking to God, the one person we are told we can count on, who will never let us down. And yet, so often, we feel that we are talking away to the Almighty and no-one is on the other end of the receiver. “Are you really there at all, Lord?” we ask, or “What’s the good of my sitting here just talking to myself?” We convince ourselves that we are truly alone and maybe even, like Jeremiah in the verse above, that God is deliberately shutting us out, as though he had his fingers in his ears and were singing “nah na na nah na” like an obstreperous toddler.

But perhaps by now in this year’s journey we are becoming aware that just because it feels like something is a certain way, does not mean it is truly like that. Appearances are deceptive, and so are our emotions and our often selfish ways of looking at and experiencing things. I have found that as my prayer life has grown and matured, I am able to complain differently to God, including when I feel unheard. I can be confident that the very real pain or sorrow I am experiencing or expressing is not being ignored, that it is okay to feel it, as long as I know that what I am really doing is getting it out of my system.

God is never out, never not there, he hears and sees it all. He is always paying attention. He is always aware of what is going on in my life, and not just because I tell him about it. There is truly no danger of my being more informed about my world and my problems than God is. And yet God’s understanding and ours can feel very far apart. The solutions I would like can seem obvious and I would like them to be immediate. And yet I know that heaven doesn’t work like that. So I sometimes need to just say that it hurts to have to wait, or that it hurts to feel that God isn’t listening, because he seems to my human perceptions to be so slow to act.

And I believe God is okay with all of that. He knows our smallness and our limitations and our breathtakingly selfish vision. He is patient with us as the most loving parent to a frustrated child who is simply not capable of understanding why the mortgage has to be paid first before she can have her pocket money. We can snuggle into God at the same time as we are throwing a tantrum or sobbing or sulking, and it is okay. It is really fine, and even healthy. Just as long as we remember somewhere deep down, that we are love, that there is a plan, that there is a loving, wise, all-knowing God, and that we are not her.

All is heard, taken on board, our pain will be processed with grace, and we shall be comforted and consoled. It may not happen at the same time as we are angry or confused or lost or frightened, but it will happen. And from my own experience, I have to say that, like the analogous child I just mentioned, it is often beyond us at the point of deepest upset or frustration, to be comforted or consoled, or to have anything explained to us. Pain, especially when it has even the tiniest (and even justified) root in self-pity, acts as a barrier between us and God, partly because a small piece of us wants to be cross for a while. Letting it out is okay. And a sleepy face streaked with tears is always precious to a parent, and our ultimate father-mother will gather us up and kiss our cheek at just the right moment.

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17 NLT

 

©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

51: Ignored

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For they have not listened to my words,” declares the LORD, “words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,” declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 29:19 NIV

Believe me that when you start out to be a writer, you foolishly imagine that people will read your work. It seems simple enough: you write words, other people read them. But the world is so market driven and hurried now that without the right contacts or advertising, you are unlikely to find many people with the time or inclination to pay your writing any attention, however much you may believe you are the next Charlotte Bronte or Steven King. Thank you for being one of those who does take the trouble to read.

Fortunately for everyone else, ignoring my blogs, books and articles doesn’t have the same consequences as ignoring God’s words. This verse is an explanation of why awful things are going to befall the people of Israel. Not listening to God is very hazardous to your health. It is also foolish, for who else can tell you all you need to know? In those days, God spoke mainly through his prophets, and though the Lord still does this today we have the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of course available to all believers, and so as well as the Bible to speak his words, we have an intimate and astounding relationship with the Lord on offer. Within that treasure we can hear and receive all manner of amazing encouragement, direction and blessing, especially if we take the time and trouble to learn how to lean into the Lord and tune into his wavelength.

As a mystic before I am anything else, it is the listening that defines the rest of my life, including how I live out my faith. Loving the Lord gets easier and easier the more time you spend with him, and hearing his voice likewise. Like the sheep that come to know the voice of their shepherd, time in the pasture is our best and richest spiritual seam. We come to know the images he uses, the things he certainly would NOT say, and we gradually become familiar with the calm delight of experiencing the gentleness of a bubbling brook that laughs and sings softly underneath the hubbub of the world’s noise. Who would want to miss out on that?

 

Words and artwork © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

36: Lament

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I will weep and wail for the mountains and take up a lament concerning the wilderness grasslands. They are desolate and untraveled, and the lowing of cattle is not heard. The birds have all fled and the animals are gone.” Jeremiah 9:10 NIV

 

Laments are something we don’t really do in the western northern hemisphere any more. I think this speaks volumes about the illusions we surround ourselves with. We seem to think that because we have more that we feel less. We seem to understand the world and our emotions in terms of satisfied stomachs and libidos, instead of realising that our hearts are deeper and more easily affected than that.

There are a lot of things to lament, and the loss of wildlife, as in the prophecy above, might well be one of them. Our so-called progress has come at a very high price. We might then, sing or pen a lament about the cruelty to animals, the intensivity of farming or consumer culture, or the oppression of the poor that marks our modernity. We might, in the UK today, sing a lament about the way the junior doctors and the NHS are being treated by the government, or about the rise in use of food banks, or about the refugee crisis.

We need also to sing personal laments, songs of our own misery, not to wallow in the sadness, but to express it. We all have griefs in our lives, and our society does not teach us what to do with them. Some will affect us for the rest of our lives, a loss, a bereavement, an assault, these are things that should be lamented, for those powerful emotions stuffed back down inside will squash our inner selves and suffocate the joy that longs to well up to counter them.

Lamenting is healthy and about giving voice to truth. The Psalms teach us the very best ways to lament, for even in desolate sadness they always come back to a hope in the Living God. Our feelings must never rule us on their own, they need to be tempered by reason and love. This is precisely why they need expression. Our stiff upper lips need permission to wobble a bit and let go. There is no sense in pretending all is well, no medals in life given out for telling everyone everything is going swimmingly when you feel like you are drowning. Let it out, let it go, express it, hear it, learn from it. Repeat if necessary, whenever you feel overwhelmed, especially if you are grieving, which is a never-ending process in many ways. But like breath, don’t hold it in.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

public domain photo, the Wailing Wall, Jerusalem

22: Target Practice

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Will you never look away from me,

or let me alone even for an instant?

If I have sinned, what have I done to you,

you who see everything we do?

Why have you made me your target?

Have I become a burden to you?” Job 7: 19-20 NIV

 

When Job speaks these words he is beyond rock bottom. He’s had everything suddenly taken away from him: his children; servants; livestock; livelihood; reputation; health. He has nothing left but his God, so he speaks out his anguish. The truly amazing thing about Job is that he never curses the Lord, despite even his wife advising him to. He only asks why, because the wisdom that has been handed down to him says that disaster has befallen him as a punishment, and yet he knows that he has not sinned. Even the religion that he has practiced all his days is no comfort to him, it makes no sense in the face of his huge suffering. All he has left is what he knows in his heart, that God must be good.

He is hurting and broken and sick, and wants to be left alone. He wants God to avert his eyes and let him die. No wonder he feels that God is using him for target practice. He wants the pain to end, he wants to crawl into a hole and be done with life.

As with Micah yesterday, I want to point out that this is not self pity. It is a normal, reasonable, grief-stricken reaction from Job to what is happening to him. It should pull at all the heartstrings of our compassion and make us want to come and sit silently on his dung heap with him and help him keep the vigil of tears and outrage and broken-heartedness. Instead of which of course, Job is visited by friends who do not know the value of silence or understand his suffering. More on that another day.

The feeling of being targeted is a horrible one. We can be targets for bullying, insults, mockery, lies, abuse, perjury, theft and assaults of all kinds. When these things happen we too might want to crawl away and hide, even from the eyes of God. But as the psalmist tells us (Psalm 139), and as God declares to Jeremiah, there is nowhere where this is possible. “Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the LORD. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the LORD.(Jeremiah 23:24 NIV)

The answer to Job’s first question is that God will not leave him alone. God never leaves us alone or turns his eyes away, despite all the times it might feel this way. The difference between wanting to hide from God and wanting to be his dwelling place is really one of trust. None of Job’s questions are answered the way he (and we) want them to be. For the answer is not theology, not a detailed explanation of why suffering exists or why it is visited on some of us in bucketloads, nor does God present Job with a neatly packaged understanding of his own life and its errors and hardships. No, God’s answer is not explanation, but encounter. He shows Job who he is. It is, perhaps strangely to us, all he needs. It makes sense to me that seeing, hearing and experiencing God’s majestic goodness leaves us able to trust him, and live without those reasoned, helpful answers that we long for. God’s presence is overwhelmingly enough and more, and it shows Job that he is a target only for the love, faithfulness and mystery of God and his holiness.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Cartoon by Gary Larson, which I had to use, as it fits so well, but I’ve no idea where to apply for permission, since his work is so successful all over the net, I will hope to be forgiven this once. If you haven’t come across him, do check out his work, he is my favourite cartoonist ever. 🙂

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

 

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

146: Cistern

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Here lie the dead, the broken bones of former prophets, those heads so full of passionate words now skulls beneath my feet, where my own skin is crawling and taut, treading as gently, as reverently, as I can in the dark. Here is mud and far worse, knee deep and stinking, the refuse of the city tossed in daily. My cell is by royal command, no-one dares speak to me as they hurry past, hoods pulled tight across mouth and nose.

For this at least I am grateful, to be left alone with my thoughts, nothing impeding my soul-cry to the God who put me here. This is the reward for obeying the fire in your throat, you see. And perhaps my God-servant friend will come and rescue me, or perhaps I will die here and join my kin, sinking down into thirsty delirium: the irony of a parched prophet in a dry watering hole. But wait, here are footsteps of my gentle Ebed-Melech, and God has even remembered the soreness under my arms, and living water will again flow here in this place.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015