Tag Archives: Jesus

Veil of Tears 97: Frozen

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Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased.” Exodus 15:16 ESV

Fear and terror can be numbing. We use the word “petrified” meaning turned to stone to describe that feeling of being so frightened that we can’t even move; we say we were so scared that we were frozen to the spot. Like a rabbit in the headlights, the fear overpowers us and although our only hope is to move, we simply cannot do it.

There is a phenomenon called sleep paralysis which is surprisingly common. This is where we wake during the night to find that we feel weighed down and unable to move. It is very frightening, but is a neurological paralysis caused by the body’s own self-defence mechanisms. It is put in place to stop us acting out the dreams we are having during REM and actually is quite normal. It is just frightening when it carries on over into waking. But it does pass and is usually nothing to worry about.

Likewise, the frozen reaction to fear happens for a reason. It is an age old response to overwhelming danger, the third option after the well-known “fight or flight.” If neither of these options is possible or credible, we may freeze. It is a lot like playing possum, a way of trying to convince the threat that we are not there, or not alive, or not worth chasing. Victims of violence often feel ashamed that they froze when attacked, but in actual fact, they were beyond their rational selves and only doing what the ancient survival programming was telling them to do. Sadly though, the frozen experience can become an ingrained part of the trauma.

Thank God that we serve the Lord who knows all this and made us just as we are. He understands the parts of us that need healing and knows that there are times for keeping still, things too scary to be faced, parts of ourselves and our histories we need to protect ourselves from, things that cannot be outrun. Gently he will lead us to the cure.

Like Aslan breathing warm life into the statues frozen in front of the White Witch’s palace, he comes with a gradual freedom that will enable muscles to move again; hope that will help us find the determination and courage to stretch, and an abundance of grace and mercy that as we take it in, will enable us to forgive, to begin again, to come back to life.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Veil of Tears 95: Double-minded

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But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:6-8 NIV

When I was younger, I used to get frustrated by the wishy-washy prayers I would hear in church, in prayer meetings, or prayed over the sick or the suffering. Something in me would balk, not at gentleness or acceptance, but at the sheer lack of expectation. I haven’t been well enough to be a regular church goer for some years again now, but I get frustrated still if I hear the same lacklustre attitude coming out of my own mouth, and fight to set it back on a course of faith.

It is not that I think fervour will cause a prayer to be answered more quickly, nor that flowery words or long speeches or lots of amens or proclamations (these rile me most of all) will be of any use, as though God were withholding something and just needed his arm twisted a bit. But what matters in prayer are not so much the words we use, but the heart we are believing and meaning them with.

If I am asking for healing, but actually deep down I believe God to be a rather strict and heartless person, then I come with low expectations of an answer, if any. That’s not going to stop God acting, but it will affect how often and with what perseverance and faith I pray. Likewise, if I believe myself to be unworthy of any answered prayer, God will still act, but it does stop me asking. All we need to come to God with is faith the size of a mustard seed. Far worse than either of these scenarios is the heart that doubts because it is saying words it does not mean at all, because all is for show. Honesty in prayer (as in all life) is the best policy.

One of the most heartless prayers in my view is the one that is all about the person praying, and not about God or the person they are praying for. It is the one that is self-centred in intercession. It is the prayer that says look at me, I am being holy now. I am so close to God, I’ve got this. I know exactly what God wants in this situation, in this person’s life, and I’m going to proclaim the reality of it over them until it manifests. If it doesn’t work, (as though prayer were an electric circuit and they the qualified electrician) it’s not my fault. We have authority given us through Christ, but it is to be exercised in wonder, flowing from him, not dispensed by us. This prayer comes from the heart that will never say, I don’t know, rarely if ever say, I bow to your will, and does not understand the value of waiting, gentleness, or grace and cannot accept no as an answer.

But the most double-minded, literally (dipsychos in the Greek!) is that prayer which cannot decide which kingdom takes precedence. It is as though the person praying it has one foot in each camp, of faith and doubt, of heaven and earth, and shifts their weight unceasingly from one to the other. It is not always obvious to someone else listening, but God hears the whole. It will go something like this….

Out loud: ”We know Lord that you can heal us.”

Inner voice: We do? Do we? What about Dave, he didn’t heal Dave that time he had a bad leg.

Out loud: “so we ask for you to heal so-and-so’s leg.”

Inner voice: Well, you know, it’s worth a try.

Out loud: “But if you don’t/ if you choose not to heal, we ask for the strength to bear it for so-and-so”

Inner voice: That’s better, then I won’t look a nitwit when nothing happens. And I can smile at so-and-so and go home.

Basically, the type of prayer James is warning us about is the one that cannot make up its mind. No-one has certainty one hundred percent of the time in their faith. But to be so unsure in the faithfulness and goodness and generosity of God , although still a better prayer than nothing, is not likely to move heaven or earth. And let’s face it, we have all prayed like this at some time or another, and we all hear these kinds of prayers a lot more than we’d care to admit. The trouble is such tepid and wavering faith tends to have a weakening effect on those around it. So let us guard our hearts and minds against feeling split in two, and ask in faith for heaven always to have the stronger voice in our prayers!

 

©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

93: Discrimination

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My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2: 1-4 NIV

 

James reminds us that we are meant as gospel people to be with those at the edges and the bottom, we are not to be friends to the oppressors, but to the oppressed. We serve an upside down kingdom, where the first shall be last and the last first. As followers of Christ, therefore, we should always be on the side of the voiceless and the suppressed, with those who are discriminated against, whether for the colour of their skin, their indigenous identity, their gender, their sexuality, or for any other reason.

I remember Archbishop Desmond Tutu telling of what it was like to come to England when he was a banned person in South Africa, to take refuge from the regime of Apartheid. He and his wife would go up to police officers in London over and over just for the pure thrill of being called “Sir” and “Madam.”   That makes me proud. It also makes me a little sad as racism once again seems to be on the rise in this country. There should never be any question of which “side” we are on with these issues of love and hate. Love must always be our guide, and God’s love is never exclusive, so nor should ours be. It is for everyone.

The church should always be such a refuge, where people can come to be valued when they are not valued or esteemed anywhere else. Homeless people ought to be treated like kings and the well-off or well-known free to serve and relieved of any great expectations other than being themselves.

Judgement for any reason, maybe especially for the outer appearance, or the obvious things like wealth and gender, is simply not part of who we are, nor should we need, in church, or in any realm of Christian life, to suffer it. We are called to serve one another, not to look one another up and down, and no-one should ever feel the pain of racism, sexism or ableism, homophobia or the sting of anyone else’s pride or self-righteousness. As Paul also teaches us, we are one body and each part should be honoured equally, and more care and attention paid to those parts which are reviled by the world.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

Landscape of Love: Temple

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A roof of sky upheld by babbling Babel columns, their ends curled over into Doric swirls, like out-of- reach cinnamon buns, or unruly Grecian ringlets. Parthenon now standing open to the elements, pagoda green-roofed and tiled with Turkish slipper corners, or the one remaining wailing wall and the courtyard: empty but still bustling with the echoes of chords, both whipped and sung, the deep voices thrumming and the strange Jewish rabbi furiously whirling like a processional David, pent up expression dancing its way across the stone slabs, robe ribboning, decorum long flown, chased doves flapping up into the air, a forehead with beads of holy sweat caught glistening globes in the last rays of sun as true prayer finally finds its way home.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from Pixabay

 

Veil of Tears 88: Undeserving

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And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’ “ Matthew 25:30 NIV

The parable of the talents from which our verse today is taken, is a difficult one for us. It seems to speak of a different way of doing things than seems fair. We are not used to the idea of someone being punished for having been afraid to act. And yet, perhaps the worthless servant’s real crime is to have judged his boss instead of doing his job. We are probably all guilty of that particular wrong!

But how awful to find ourselves denied the good things and rewards that others are given. This parable speaks to me of the difference between those who take what life gives them and try to do something with it, however hard a taskmaster circumstances seem to be, and those who don’t think it is their job to do very much except judge others harshly, expect payment for nothing and make excuses for having lived a life without any abundance to show for it.

If we live our lives under a curse of entitlement, doing nothing with our gifts and using nothing to bring abundance, expecting our existence to bring us rewards, then we will receive nothing in return. It is a sad state of affairs, but if we are this immature and lazy with our spiritual gifts and with the love of God given to us, then it is impossible for God to let us into the overflowing wonders of life in his kingdom, because we will not be able to use or understand them. It is for this reason, I believe, that such a person will be condemned to the outside, the Gehenna, the rubbish pit, rather than able to enter the New Jerusalem. Not that he or she is not allowed, or even necessarily judged morally wanting, but because they have stayed unable to make anything of goodness and love, and will not yet be open to its glories.

Selfishness is then, probably the worst thing we can suffer, because it leads nowhere and to nothing. If we close ourselves off and centre our being on our own wants and think nothing of others, then we will have learnt nothing at all. Reaching out, helping, loving and giving, this is where God’s kind of treasure lies. And paradoxically the more we give, the more we receive. This is not about earning our place in heaven, nor is it about being condemned for all eternity, as some might counsel. It is more about cultivating an awareness of the needs of others, in order to become mature and fulfilled ourselves. In order to become larger, better, to grow and flourish, this rooting in love is necessary. If we choose not to give, then we will find ourselves diminished and relegated to our own smallness.

We have all failed on this one, let’s not kid (pun intended!) ourselves. When Jesus separates us into sheep and goats, which is the next part of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew, who amongst us can say that we always gave when there was a need? But we are told that most of our good deeds are unknown even to ourselves! I wonder then if the worthless servant and the goats are the parts of ourselves that need to be acknowledged and purged. Middle Eastern sheep and goats look very similar, when you think about it, so this is no easy task. Just as Jesus says the wheat and the tares must grow up together so that the good in the harvest remains unharmed, perhaps the same is true of the differences that exist even within each individual. These motives and ways of being are what the Lord needs to separate, to put aside, to deal with, in the crucibles of testing as with dear old Ebenezer Scrooge (above), so that the parts of us that cannot see heaven will die off, and the parts of ourselves that are capable of seeing and hearing, can then walk forward with our God, in this life and then in the next. Perhaps, in the end, this is about what needs to be left behind and understood as of no worth, before we can progress further into the Lord’s heart.

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is tended receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless, and its curse is imminent. In the end it will be burned.” Hebrews 6:7 NIV

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo used under creative commons license

83: Injustice

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When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” 1 Peter 2:23 NIV

Turning the other cheek, as Jesus counselled us to do, is a difficult teaching for many of us. As a former doormat, I used to let people not just walk all over me, but grind their muddy boots into my soul as well. It took me a long time to realise that this was not what the Lord was recommending. We should not seek out suffering, nor is it wrong to protect ourselves from hurt. Boundaries and self-defence mechanisms are necessary tools for getting through life. But when we are insulted or treated badly, it is our reactions that should mark us out as different.

The reason for this, as I have come to understand it, is that whatever is happening to us in the earthly, we maintain as God’s children, our integrity, which is eternal. Julian of Norwich saw in her understandings from the Lord that our true selves are incorruptible and stay close to God’s breast all the while we are alive. Nothing can touch or harm them in any way that will impact the eternal, the true and manifest wholeness and perfection of them. So although suffering hurts us of course, it cannot hurt that unreachable self whom God keeps close. This is why Paul (or whoever the writer of Hebrews was) said “What can man do to me?” echoing Psalm 56 amongst others. It seems we might answer, “Well, quite a lot, actually,” but when we remember that this same man had been beaten, stoned, jailed, shipwrecked and persecuted for following Christ, we must take these words seriously.

For my own part, I think that any kind of insult or abuse loses its power over us when we bear it with gentleness. So yes, we call injustices what they are, and as far as possible we protect ourselves and others from ill treatment, and from inflicting it. Systematic abuse must be escaped and challenged whenever possible, this righteous anger and action is also part of following Jesus: we stand up for widows, orphans, and speak for the voiceless. But where it is appropriate and we are able to, turning the other cheek can be an effective tool for the gospel. It was certainly when I bore the bullying silently and without redress that my school peers got bored of tormenting me. “For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God,” says Peter in his first letter (chapter 2, v 19) and he is talking about the severe injustices borne under slavery.

This bearing with the sorrows of today with quiet dignity because we live in the knowledge of eternity (whilst owning our own wholeness and integrity kept safe within the bosom of our God) is the heart of gospel living to this man who walked closely with Jesus. It might rankle with us today, but there is a deep and precious wisdom and a powerful witness in patient, gentle endurance, especially when paired with forgiveness, and Peter, for one, believed it changed those hurting us.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

60:Thirsty

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Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” John 4:6-7 NIV

 

Noon in the Middle East is fearsomely hot, I imagine, so no wonder Jesus was tired and thirsty especially after a long walk. It’s hard sometimes for us to remember that God incarnate took on board everything that being flesh means. We have so much art that gives our saviour haloes and clean white robes that look fresh from a washing powder advert. We struggle to imagine him dusty, exhausted and longing for a cool draught of water in his humanity.

So thirsty is Jesus, that he foregoes all protocol, not that protocol was exactly something he ever bothered with, and talks to someone female (shock horror) and who is also not a pure virgin or chaste wife (double shock horror) and who is not even (triple shock horror) Jewish. The quadruple shock horror is that she is also a Samaritan, and for a Jew, let alone a Rabbi, to speak to a Samaritan woman, well it is hard to convey just how badly Jesus is breaking the rules here.

When the disciples come back, their jaws pretty much drop to the ground. But Jesus is tired and thirsty and he sees, not only an opportunity to get some much needed water, but a chance to change a life, and through that, many others. In short, he sees that the woman before him is much thirstier than he is.

How long has she sought for the something that will satisfy her? On her fifth serious relationship, this is no youngster, but most likely a middle aged woman with a lot of life experience and a shed load of disappointments behind her. I think she is probably thirsting for a taste of real love, and of integrity. A dose of truth. Probably too, she thirsts to be seen as a person, rather than as an object of either lust or derision. We all know the cruel names given to women who’ve been unlucky in love, or passed around as playthings. We don’t need to say them again here. But we do need to see the way Jesus does. He sees the heart. He sees a genuine seeker, he sees a whole human being in need of a long cool drink of living water. And so the woman at the well, whom history tries to negate by not even bothering to record her name, becomes the first evangelist, and two great thirsts are slaked at Jacob’s Well.

 

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14 NIV

 

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

54: Two by Two

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They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the LORD shut him in.” Genesis 7:15-16

We can sometimes be forgiven for thinking or feeling that there is little place in life (and perhaps especially in church) for those who aren’t part of a couple. “Two by two” seems to be rather a mantra in a lot of church families I have known. Single women and men are sometimes seen as subtly undermining the status quo, and if they have chosen to be single, looked upon as rather odd. If on the other hand they are looking for a partner, they can be frowned upon as a distraction or worse still, a threat. I have known attractive single women who have been made to feel very uncomfortable, as though they must watch their step and their dress so as not to upset or tempt any of the males in the congregation.

Widows and widowers may meet with more patience, but are still seen as different, and those who are divorced or separated (often through no fault of their own) can feel so isolated and judged as to feel almost like pariahs. Obviously this is only in extreme cases, but the sense that singleness is not quite right is subtly palpable very often, and probably partly a reflection of the way society urges us all to pair off, partly a natural inclination to want others to be the same as the majority, and partly impressed upon us by teaching from Scripture. And yet, at the same time as celebrating marriage, Scripture is actually tremendously supportive of the single life.

Many great prophets stayed single, as did Jesus of course, and his Apostle, Paul. Paul even tells us that the single life is a superior state (1 Corinthians 7: 32-35). We are told in no uncertain terms to be kind and generous to widows (and widowers by default, we must remember in Biblical times women on their own had no respectable way to support themselves) and God uses and blesses the unmarried just as often as those with spouses. In truth, though we might think of Adam and Eve, and of the animals heading into the ark two by two, there is a greater variety of comings together and fallings apart going on in the Bible, since it is, amongst other things, a history of humanity and the behaviour of God’s people is possibly more often a warning than it is a prescription!

The truth is that every kind of relationship status you can think of is present somewhere in the Bible as it will be with us, and we need to be more realistic about the different forms families can take and less prescriptive about pairing people off. Neatly two by two with the door carefully shut behind us isn’t going to happen, nor is marriage everyone’s ultimate goal.

Perhaps we would do better to embrace and celebrate singleness and family in all its forms and advantages, without perpetuating yet another divide in God’s household. I feel that diversity is something to be welcomed. I know it can feel very challenging to our dualistic mindsets, where some of our comfort and certainty comes from defining ourselves against things, or setting up norms and calling things “other,” but I wonder if part of us all becoming true community means that we need to drop our severe outlines and instead embrace the whole spectrum of what it is to be a human being, loved by grace.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

photo from morguefile

 

53: Priorities

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But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” Matthew 8:22 NIV

This is a puzzling verse, I think most of us would agree. It seems, on the face of it, devoid of compassion. And yet Jesus was often puzzling. He spoke in a figurative way that confuses us just as it sometimes did his disciples, though culturally this frame of thinking was usual to find at that time in a spiritual teacher, as it ought to be now, perhaps! Does Jesus really mean the man should leave all responsibility for his dad’s funeral?

I think this is about priorities. Jewish and Muslim burials need to happen within 24 hours of the person’s death, and so this man’s loss was extremely recent. He’d probably barely taken the news in, was still reeling from it. And Jesus says, no, don’t be concerned about that, following me is more important. Following him is more important, more urgent than the funeral of your nearest and dearest? Yes.

And Jesus also speaks from a place of absolute knowing the difference between life and death. Death in his understanding was not the enormous separation from life that we conceive it to be. For him, it was simply another state of being; several times he refers to the dead as “sleeping,” and of course was capable of raising the dead back to life. When you have come from eternity, perhaps these transitory differences are less fundamental and less tragic than they seem to us. And yet Jesus is not without compassion at other people’s grief throughout the gospels. We see how terribly moved he is by Martha and Mary’s grief even though he knows their brother Lazarus will soon be brought back from the dead.

I can’t help thinking, when I call this verse to mind, of Therese of Lisieux, who followed her calling to enter a convent despite the fact that her father couldn’t cope with losing the company of yet another child and was heartbroken afterwards. His mind broke too and he ended up in the local asylum. Yet still Therese went, there was no question of her returning home, of breaking her vows, and so she went on to become a revered saint and a doctor of the church, influencing and helping millions through her writing, life story, prayers and her “little way”. Likewise, we see Isabella in the bard’s Measure for Measure counting her eternal life more important than her brother’s earthly life, as she refuses to sleep with the Duke in bargain for Angelo’s release. I read this at university with a group of non-Christians, and they simply could not understand her refusal. I could see where she was coming from, but they just thought her selfish.

I am quite certain that Therese loved her father dearly. I am sure that she felt great anguish for him, but I also understand that there was a greater claim on her heart. Her elder sister, Celine supported him and Therese wrote to them and prayed for them. It must have been so hard. But both these women, one real, one fictional, are looking at things from an eternal perspective, seeing life as the smaller part of existence, and making decisions with heaven in mind. I think that is what Jesus is urging us to do, too.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo public domain from pixabay