Tag Archives: spiritual journey

64: Lukewarm

63 lukewarm  cc yahoo search Meh_cat

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16 NIV

It is quite possible to coast along these days as a professed follower of Christ. One can simply be seen to do all the right things, baking for church sales, singing in the choir or worship team, tithing, going to Bible study, etc. etc. and you could have a faith tinier than a mustard seed, or none at all, and no-one would know. These are all good things to be doing of course, and perhaps it’s not surprising that in our surface-obsessed culture there can easily be style without substance even in the place where we are meant to be living out the true meaning of life.

It is more surprising, perhaps, that such lukewarm attitudes were already to be found in the first century in the Laodicean church. In a time and culture where being a Christian could get you killed, it seems quite odd that the Lord should chide any of his followers for being tepid in their faith. But it seems from my research that Laodicea wasn’t persecuted in the same way as other churches at the time, and perhaps this, coupled with the riches they had that Christ goes on to talk about, had left this group feeling complacent, self-sufficient and therefore quite akin to a lot of our own faith communities in the western “developed” world today.

Staying ambivalent and comfortable is very tempting when there is nothing pushing us to be different or shaken. And yet the heart of the gospel is to be counter-cultural, and Jesus said that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul and all our mind (Matthew 22:37), indeed with our everything. Following Jesus is an all or nothing venture. It isn’t something we hang up in the wardrobe along with our Sunday best to harbour mothballs for the rest of the week. If it is, then we really have not understood our calling to be disciples. Loving Jesus means being willing to do the work we are given, where we are chosen to do it, and often involves sacrifices and worldly discomfort and disappointment.

People who are apathetic about God are the hardest to persuade of his love. It is the comfortable middle classes who see no need for a saviour, and that appears to have been the problem in this church nearly two thousand years ago. Human nature does not change very much! Even atheists have a kind of religious passion that one can engage with, but an agnostic or a tepid believer is often happy sitting on the fence, dangling his or her legs over each side, hedging their bets and perhaps picking and choosing the bits of Scripture that they find easiest to live with. They are the people who hold the spread of the gospel back far more than any persecution, and there is a bit of them in all of us.

That bit of us that doesn’t want to be challenged, that wants to read a cosy book about how easy life is supposed to be, wants to hear about gentle Jesus meek and mild, to sing about a personal saviour but which will avert its gaze from a bloody crown of thorns and go pale and indignant at the thought of sharing in the sufferings of Christ and glazed and distant at the idea of falling into the mystery of love.

Let us then, come back to that first flame of love, and fan it with our deepest longings for God, so that there is no danger of his finding us distasteful!

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo on Yahoo used under creative commons license.

 

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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

 

24: Jammed

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“During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Exodus 14:24-25 NIV

The Egyptian charioteers were expert drivers. They had the best chariots and horses that money could buy (and slaves could build or train) and they were used to being the victors. They had had the upper hand over the Israelites for so long, it must have been one heck of a shock to find themselves on the receiving end of God’s wrath.

When we are used to being the best at something, it can be a literal as well as metaphorical jolt to suddenly find our wheels jammed or clogged (one translation has “twisted”). At such times we need to be clear about where our reliance is founded. I remember feeling like this during my first attempt at university, where I first got ill in 1990. I suddenly felt as though someone had jammed the brakes on, like my brain was clogged with cotton wool, like exhaustion was waiting for me round every bend, and the wheels of life, well, they just weren’t turning.

And the glandular fever I was later diagnosed with (which precipitated my M.E.) was not the only jolt. Used to being the clever clogs, I found there were people far brighter than I was, and that most of the people there were not there to learn, or to save the whales, or for any reason akin to my own motives, but to get the right degree to earn them the most money, to drink themselves stupid and to generally be hooray henriettas. I was bewildered and disappointed. Had I been well, I might have rallied and found some like-minded folks. Ill as I was, I didn’t stand a chance of coping, and six weeks after starting what I thought would be a new dream, I was back home with my parents feeling dreadful, and staring failure full in the face. I felt like the wheels on my chariot weren’t only jammed, but had fallen off.

A juddering halt like this in life is heart-breaking and soul-destroying. But it is also an opportunity, especially to re-evaluate. Sometimes our wheels need some repair and recalibration. Wheels on cars have to be rebalanced every so often, and ours in life are the same. My priorities in life had to change, because I’ve never been well since, but I did manage to go to a much more open-minded university and begin a completely different degree a year later. And who knows who I might have become if I’d just gone sailing on into the fray? Would I be a writer or an artist now? Would I know the Lord the way I do? I doubt it. One thing I do know is that ifs and buts, maybes and what ifs do us no good, and can keep us just as stalled as broken hopes.

Retreat is sometimes our best plan. It certainly would have been the most sensible option for the Egyptians. When what normally carries us forward is spinning in the mud getting us nowhere, it could well be time to get ourselves off the battlefield for a while, and take the chariot in for a service. Finding a new balance, and a more reliable set of wheels.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

14: Death Warrant

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“In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” 2 Samuel 11:14-15

Evil begins slowly but surely and escalates out of control almost on its own. This murderous letter, delivered by the loyal hand of its victim, had its beginnings in sloth and boredom. For King David decided to stay at home in the Spring, instead of traditionally going off with his armies to war. Was he tired of killing perhaps? Was he weary of fighting? Bored and with nothing to do, he wanders on the palace roof and lusts after a woman he can see bathing. How easy it must be to look down on the rest of the world as your own from the top of a palace! We all know the rest of the story. Bathsheba is sent for (you don’t refuse the King), she gets pregnant; David racks his brains and does everything he can think of to get Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife so that the child will seem his and get David off the hook. But Uriah won’t play the game, and he ends up dead for his integrity. David, avoiding the killing of war, ends up committing adultery and murder.

 

Life and death are incredibly unfair often. But fairness is more of a human concept than a divine one. Our God is not as interested in fairness as he is in justice. David will be made to answer for his crimes, but others will have to live or die because of them. Free will has a high price tag attached to it. David is one of God’s favourites, a special and anointed friend of the Living God, picked out for an amazing relationship with the Lord, and yet he too was capable of being sucked into a vortex of sin.

We talk, in the Church, of falling from grace, of backsliding, we are aware that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners, and that we walk on as redeemed sinners. All is indeed paid for, but our sinful nature still overtakes us, and the need to constantly turn back to the Lord, renewing our vows and our loyalty, this is a process that we have to repeat again and again, but it is also one we can do under the new covenant in a joyful instant of remembering God’s goodness and mercy, and one we can receive without performing any penance (though I understand and respect why the Catholic Church still uses this idea). I like to think of this process as a pendulum, swinging back to the centre over and over, and the movements becoming smaller and smaller as we remember God’s heart more and more swiftly, until we appear to have stopped altogether. In reality we are turning back to God so quickly that he becomes the centre of our stillness. This is humility. It does us good to confess our sins to one another as James advises, to those we trust, and also to do so before God in the prayer of examen, so that we can turn the tide of the smaller sins before they swell into a flood of wrongdoing that threatens to overwhelm us and those we seek to harm.

We are so expert at covering our own tracks and building ourselves up in our own minds, that if we are not careful, we have spun a web of intrigue for the saving of our own faces and egos before our feet hit the floor in the morning. This service to ego and to our own pleasure-seeking is a certain choosing of death, and not just for ourselves, for the choice between life and death is one we make every moment and flows out into the lives of everyone around us. The Lord is the giver of life, and we are his children, so let us be channels of life and of love.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com

186:Bayou

photojock MF bayou

Penny’s dreadful digging expedition started here in the swamp, alligators abounding, bounding to the sound of their mistress hollering across the dark and clammy water. Strange silhouettes close in, a gruesome grove, roots and branches all bare alike and smoothly snagging. What shadows slink in the slimy water? There are things here worth fearing more than fear itself, toothy, sharp and insidious, working their way into the stagnant pools of our unawareness. Beware bewitched river sidings, where one may lose more than a sense of direction, and be plagued by fiercer biting things than gnats, grinding our will to live down into sticky, stubborn sluggishness.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from morguefile.com

 

181: Theme Park

181 bigal101 mf Theme Park

If we built a park themed around God, would we make it loud and brash? Would the colours be garish and the neons bulging from their tubes? Would we forget to add the gentleness, and the soft gurgling streams of girlish giggles? Would the rides for the meek and the poor in spirit be left desolate and empty, everyone heading for the thrills and spills of history-making roller-coasters? Would we make everyone queue in order of importance, checking tickets, counting costs?

Shall we, in this life, ever stop, climb down, brush the doughnut crumbs from our priestly robes and look at the rides we have built, seeing the people going round and round, up and down on well-travelled iron rails going nowhere new? Shall we find the thin and dusty ribbon way that winds between the carousels and dodge the dodgems of fatalism and steel ourselves against the desire to buy pink, oh-ever-so-unreal-bright-pink fluffy candyfloss wisdom that melts on the tongue, and free ourselves from the need to win a prize, even if it is only a goldfish, swimming, like us, in precarious plastic?

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from morguefile.com

 

180: Minefield

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Cautiously, tiptoeing through the tulips, dancing in slow motion on eggshells, we might attempt to cross. But the skulled signs are everywhere and the risk is known. This emotional no-man’s land is well mapped. The wounded have come back time and time again to warn us. Don’t tread there, where angels fear to meet the unholy ground even with bronzed sandals shaking off stardust. There are some things which must not be said, even in a worried whisper, not in this house of cards.

No, instead, we must let fear prevail, and sidestep every accusation, lest the harpies swoop down, talons at the ready, shrieking in artificial hurt. And might we beat them away and continue, and find that, bloodied and forlorn, we reach the centre and see a creature to be pitied, encircled by explosives, and not so very different from ourselves? Might the ceasefire then be sounded, and a hand reached out, expecting to be bitten, breath held, as seconds pass and hopes rise, and a touch is begun, light as air and wanting, somehow to connect?

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from morguefile.com

175: Rope Bridge

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Dare I take the first step? Dare I lean, let my weight fall forward onto so much air, with only a board between us? Is there enough courage, enough momentum to cross this way? I do not know. Holding the twisted hemp, eyes closed, inching onwards, knowing the two islands must meet somewhere in the middle, over nothing. I keep on and shuffle, mindful of nothing but the movement, and the wind determined to shake my already faltering heart, limp limbs desperate to buckle, tears welling, only grim purpose and angels pushing me now.

Who hung this pendulum, this swaying, swinging cobweb thread? Who fastened each plank and took the leap of faith into calling this a bridge? What is so great about the other side anyway, that I must garner every molecule of bravery and swallow my faith so it pounds in my lungs? And will that other clifftop soon meet me with outstretched hand, coaxing me into its palm, promising me safety? Yes, it was that voice which beckoned me, that soft, still call of love. I slide my petrified feet and move ever closer to home.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016

Photo from morguefile.com

132: Trail

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Am I blazing, as I walk this long forgotten path? Am I on fire for the one I follow and those who will come after? Is this a flaming place, too holy for sandals, where the grass of the field closes over my head and each step is carefully placed for fear of disturbing some serpent, crushing some snail; soil untrod, new and virginal? Am I then, a pioneer, processing out from the centre, a spiral wanderer, heart beating more loudly as the thrum of urban traffic fades away, the edges calling me?

Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2015