Tag Archives: sacrifice

94. Intelligence (Empathy, Lent 35)

95 yaffle not cf

I’ve always been very bright. It has, at times, been a quality that has made me feel very visible, or even odd, and certainly frustrated. I struggled to understand why other people couldn’t grasp what I was saying, was horribly bored at school, and found myself trying to think of shorter words for things (especially with boyfriends, who did not seem to like my brains very much).

Although it is a wonderful thing to have, it also made me seem older than I was and people would assume I was emotionally mature as well as intellectually clever, when actually this was not the case. And just because I was clever didn’t mean I was practical. I could write a great essay on physics, but fail to get the back off a plug.* Perhaps the worst thing of all was that cleverness became the one thing I could rely on, my one gift, the source of any and all pride. So when after university I got terribly ill and succumbed to brain fog, barely able to put two words together, unable to read or decipher signs, I struggled with my identity. Who was this daft, slow, mixed up aphasic? Well, she was me too.

And when I began to recover my clarity for short periods, and then God presented me with the task of writing, what should I begin to lean on again but my intelligence? It was bound to happen, and having had to live without it for so long I wasn’t going to give it up very easily. And yet, that is exactly what God asked me to do. I had to give him my one specialty. He didn’t want, it seemed, for me to write plots with more smarts than Billy, or to dream of the Booker Prize. He wanted me to write from the heart. I remember a prayer time vividly, where I had to hand my brains over. I metaphorically watched them crack off from me, the way ice falls from a glacier, and saw them drift off on a flow of water.

And because I did that, because I gave them up and let them go like he’d asked me too, he returned them to me. But just as it is when we give him our hearts, and they return renewed, so my intelligence seemed changed. It had an entirely new focus and character. It was like my cleverness was not about me anymore. Not about making me look good, or feel superior, or special, nor any of the things it had, perhaps understandably, meant to me before. Now it was like my mind was living for God as well as my heart. I feel much happier, more integrated about this. When I use my intelligence now, it is to aid my readers understand my meaning. If I use a big word, it’s because (and only because) it is the right word to use.

I look compassionately on my school girl self, desperate for praise and trying to scramble to stay at the top of the heap in something (Lord knows it was never going to be P.E.) with her big brains that didn’t know what to do with her or where to take her. She was only doing what the world told her she should. And the me of now can have compassion on my current self as well, especially when I am misunderstood, or folk think I am being wordy or precious. It’s okay to use my God-given brain, and it’s especially okay to use that God-given, given-back-to-God, God-re-given brain, for the things he had planned all along.

* This endearing (to others) and infuriating (to me) trait continues. I just had to ask my (also very bright) husband to help me take a new camera case off its cardboard mount. Failure took me ten minutes, success for him, five seconds.

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 temporary photo copyright Oliver Postgate/BBC

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

 

12: Testing, Testing.

12 testing testing ram wiselywoven MF

“Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love–Isaac–and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Genesis 22:2 NIV

God gave this instruction to Abraham, and it took three days for Abraham, Isaac and their servants to reach the intended mountain. Three days for Abraham to think and weep at this strange command, not that we are told anything about his feelings at all in the scripture. But how long that journey must have seemed! I wonder at Abraham’s faith and I also wonder if he got any sleep. There seems to have been no remonstrating with God, no attempts at bargaining, just total obedience.

I often think I’ve given God everything and that I love and trust him so much that I would never withhold anything from him. But I know it isn’t true. I withhold my character and my heart from him all the time when I act or think wrongly, or when I am selfish, and if he asked me to sacrifice someone I loved very dearly (including my pet) I would balk at the command. I only have the little faith I’ve been given, and know that anything I do get right is God working through me, his love or wisdom flowing on, perhaps despite rather than because of me.

For Abraham and Isaac, as so often in the Bible, three days separate deep dark deathly hopelessness and resurrection blessing. When it is clear that Abraham will truly withhold nothing from his God, God blesses him with great promises for him and his descendants.

Most of the Bible translations call this story “Abraham Tested” though of course these headings are not in the original Hebrew, just place-markers for us. I am not sure that we gain much from such a description. The Living God is not a capricious tester of faith. I don’t think that he tests, so much as refines us. We don’t get marks out of a hundred for how we react to difficult circumstances or the things that are asked of us. Instead, these trials are just as much a loving opportunity. God isn’t playing games with us.

This episode with Abraham and Isaac is clearly a picture of the sacrifice that God will make for us much later on, giving us his only son, and sacrificing him to a much more brutal and drawn out death than this poor ram had to suffer. No, there is nothing withheld here on God’s side either and this alone should help us to see that this is no thoughtless whimsy on the Lord’s part. All he does is done with purpose and with our best interests at heart. For some reason, this journey up the mountain with a heavy heart, but one which trusts the goodness of God above all things, this is something Abraham needs to do before he can come into a still deeper blessing from the Living God.

I believe this man of amazing faith spoke truth when he declared to his son that “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son,” (verse 8 partial) and that he was on the lookout for a substitute all the way, knowing the goodness of the Lord. But when none such appeared, he still trusted that obedience was the way forward. I cannot imagine how either he or Isaac felt, and I don’t pretend to understand why it had to be so dramatic and difficult, but I do see that it is willingness, obedience, trust and the giving over of everything dear that takes us further into God’s heart.

©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.