Creating Encounter: In the Waiting

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Today is Pentecost Sunday when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered in a house in Jerusalem, traditionally thought to be ten days after Jesus had ascended to be with the Father. Ten days and nights of waiting must have seemed a long time. It must have been a strange time, too. It was so generous of the Risen Christ to spend time with them all over a forty day period before his Ascension to make sure they were all certain of the truth.   I wonder if he had only given them fleeting glimpses, there might have been moments or hours, especially when they were trying to sleep, when this band of people would have wondered separately if they had been deluded. Had they really seen the Christ risen from the dead? He made sure they had had ample opportunity to test it out for themselves, to see and even feel his wounds, before doing what he must have longed to do, to take those hard-won battle scars home.

It was almost too amazing to contemplate. And yet, that is exactly what they had time now, to do. To think it all over, to mull, cogitate, meditate on all that had happened during their time with Jesus, and to think on how the Scriptures had been fulfilled. It must have been a time filled with the wisdom of hindsight.  “So that’s why he said that!” “I wondered what he meant by that, and now it is becoming clear!” A time of sharing wisdom and ideas, a time filled as well with “What now?”  Because they all knew they’d been told to wait for something, but they didn’t know what.

Jesus had told them, “ ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’ “ (Acts 1: 4-5)

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is when we say the Church was truly born. But I find that short gestation period when the worshippers all met together and prayed, just as fascinating. Those in between times, those waiting times, those times when we are holding on to faith that God will act but have no real idea of what he will do. Those times probably tell us more about where we are spiritually than how we react to outpourings of blessing.

I’ve read a sermon recently where Peter was criticised for backwards thinking in using some of this time to replace Judas with another disciple. But I think that if nothing else it showed great faith, because he was already preparing for the existence of the Church. He was already acting so that all he could do was in place. He knew that this was just the beginning.

In my life, it is a time of waiting on God. It has been for years, but right at this point there are a number of things which may or may not bring great change. Whilst it might seem like living in Limbo, or being sat motionless in the doldrums, the best way I can hold on to my faith is by preparing. I don’t know what for, any more than Peter truly did, but I can put as much in place as possible, so that when God moves, I know I won’t be totally ready, but I can be getting there. Like an athlete who knows there is going to be a competition, I can exercise and practice. Like a chick who has no idea what flight is, I can still follow that instinct to prepare to flap my wings and start venturing out along branches. However still the wind might be now, God is always about to breathe.

 

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Art Exhibition for M.E. Awareness

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Hello lovely readers! Something a little different this week, as I’ve been too exhausted to organise this AND write a blog post.  You are invited to an online art exhibition running for a week to raise awareness for this hideous illness that has stolen 22 years of my life. Artists with M.E. like myself, many of whom are housebound or bedridden, will be contributing pieces over the seven days.

12th May is M.E. awareness day when the M.E. community, our allies, friends, family and carers will be asking why so little is being done to help discover what the cause of the disease is, and what might alleviate or even cure us. We need governments and health services to take us seriously enough to invest in research and support. We need to be seen and heard! One of the campaigns running highlights just how many of us are hidden away, housebound or bedridden, or living half lives, often in a world of one room.

#MillionsMissing #CanYouSeeMENow?

To view the exhibition, click on the link below and then on “Discussion.” Thank you!

https://www.facebook.com/events/249755015596764/

 

picture from Pixabay.

Creating Encounter: In the Bathtub

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If we can welcome God into anything at all, can we even ask him into mundane things like bathing and showering? I believe we can.  It’s not that long since Maundy Thursday, when we remember Jesus washing the Disciples’ feet. Many churches and Christian bodies choose to commemorate this act of love by having the priests or ministers do the same for members of their congregation or the local community. But this act of Jesus, done on the same night as those feet would, in almost all cases, run away and even betray him, is also an act of cleansing and of grace.

Jesus knew what was going to happen. He had tried to explain it many times to his followers. Still he chose to symbolically show this band of men that his servant heart could reach down even to touch and minister to their dusty smelly feet, and if that was possible, then maybe their Lord and ours might even condescend willingly to cleanse our dirty but contrite souls.

Washing for me has been an exhausting and difficult business since I got ill over twenty years ago. I’ve not been able to bathe myself or wash my own hair since my last relapse over two years ago, and so I have to rely on my husband to do it for me. We have a system that’s working okay, and a bath cushion from social services that can lift me in and out when I am too weak to even do that. It is hard to have no independence in any area, but this one is particularly galling.

I used to enjoy a long hot bubble bath, or, back when I could stand for long enough (before I was ill) an invigorating power shower. I would love to be able to do those things again, unaided, and feel really clean and fresh every day. If I could, I don’t think it would be something I’d ever take for granted, much as anyone who has had to live without running water could also make gratitude a great part of their ablutions.

As it is, love washes me. Love patiently helps me in and out, washes me gently, dries me with care. I am blessed to have someone love me in this helpless state, and to do so without any hint of pity. Vulnerability and dependence both generate a deep humility and gratitude. Every time, it reminds me of the kind of love that God administers to us by his grace and I am so thankful. Yes, it is difficult, and yes, I pray beforehand that we will be helped, because it is so exhausting and I always feel nauseated by the physical effort and hot water, but because each time an uncomplaining kindness is extended to me, this too is made an encounter with our loving God.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Creating Encounter: Sculpture

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I have an unlikely ambition for someone as weak and disabled by chronic illness as I am; I should like to sculpt. I have ideas for wood, stone and bronze, that would be pieces of interactive art. I don’t know if they will ever be a reality, and if I ever did have the space and resources, it would be most likely that someone else would have to do the lion’s share of the work. Nothing is impossible with God of course, but some things do seem so far removed from likelihood as to be, not so much pie in the sky, but as we say in our house, flan on the moon.

What is the appeal of sculpture, and how might we let God teach us through it? I think that the idea of carving a substance until it is exactly the shape it ought to be, the one we envisage in our minds or imaginations, is a great analogy for understanding how our Father shapes each one of us, if we will allow ourselves to be moulded by his artist’s hands. The Bible speaks of him as the potter, with us as the clay, and we can take great hope from this idea, knowing that when God throws a pot, no matter how it initially splats on the wheel, or how lopsided it might look during the spinning, when the master is done with us, we will be perfectly ourselves.

The same is true if we see God as the great sculptor, finding us as a slab of marble and hewing us into some kind of rough shape before chipping away and then smoothing us out into the shape that was hiding in the grain of the stone all the time. Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” as well as, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Perhaps when we learn to see with God’s eyes we might be able to perceive the angel that is standing before us in the marble of our fellow human beings, and even occasionally to glimpse them in the mirror. For some reason, God has decided that our true selves are worth setting free, and however hard it is to let him keep on working upon us until that image arises out of the raw material, it will be worth it in the end.

Maybe we might even consider the work of kenosis or self-emptying as giving God free rein with the chisel, and accept that a great deal needs to be let go. Once our outer defences and ego are chipped away, maybe an angel might step out into the light. For God, that beautiful person was there all along, and the layers that trapped him or her, were no barrier to his sight.

For the first forty years of my life, I doubted there was a writer hidden away in me. For the first forty-four, I had no idea I was an artist. Do you think one day God might uncover the sculptress too? What wonders are hiding in you, that might be set free by heavenly hands chiselling away at your earthly rock?

 

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Creating Encounter: Story

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Two writer friends, Amy and Fiona, asked an interesting question on social media this week. Will there be books in heaven? My first response was to think, of course, but no Jeffery Archer. Which just goes to show how quickly our instincts fly to exclude those we don’t deem worthy. But I think that probably it is God who chooses the stock for the libraries of heaven, just as he decides who gets to sit where at the feast.

As a writer myself, and someone who was an avid reader when I was well, I can’t imagine an existence without books. When I was tiny, nothing was so magical as sitting cross-legged on the library floor, transported to another world. We are wired for story, and it has a deep and presiding influence in our lives and learning. We learn about good and evil from fairy stories, whilst myth and legend help us to understand life by stretching overarching narratives across it, like skin on a drum frame.  Archetypes, heroes and villains are all helpful tools for navigating reality, and story can be both fiction and non-fiction. We talk, don’t we, about Bible “stories” and we read about the lives of famous people and saints formulated as story in biographies and autobiographies.

How we narrate our own lives, how we tell our story to ourselves and others, is a hugely important thing. We might see ourselves as victim or hero, and more often than not, write a triumphal narrative into the facts, whether it exists or not, because we need to have hope that it all works out in the end. Meaning is the mainstay of a human life, and story gives it to us.

What heaven is like, is something we can have great fun imagining. I feel sure that whilst we are coming home to God when we die, and finding union with his loving being, that we are also going, on some level, to keep becoming more truly ourselves, and that implies that there will continue to be an element of growth. Story, learning and creativity will always play a part in that.

When God has been gracious enough to give me glimpses of my heavenly future, I have always been doing something creative. Embroidering altar cloths as I minister to the broken, or kneeling on the back of a lapis lazuli sky, etching intricate patterns and words into its surface.  We serve a creative God and I think this reflection of who he is in our beings will be part of what is next. Added to which, I truly believe that the stories I have written have been given to me during the stillness of deep prayer. They sadly have the mark of my human expression that cannot capture God’s heart well, but they feel like a holy endeavour.

If we ever, like Richard Dawkins, begin to think that story is superfluous, and that fiction is about lies, rather than heavenly magic, we might do well to remember that Jesus chose to teach us, not by dissecting the universe into facts, nor by preaching clever theology, but by telling stories.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Creating Encounter: Fishing

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Personally, I’m not a fan of fishing, I am a vegetarian and I find angling a bit cruel – even though many people have told me the fish don’t feel anything, I’m not so sure. So I was a little surprised when I asked for a subject for the creating encounter blog today and God said “fishing.”

A lot of the men in my life love fishing. My Dad went fishing with his own father, in a boat made by him, and those times are some of his best memories. It was a time of closeness and bonding. Sharing that experience out in the middle of a lake was somehow calming and tender. And though my brothers all went fishing with my Dad when we were young, I don’t remember ever being asked. It was clearly a male activity, done to get out of the “female” space of home. Odd really, the things we are conditioned to think. I’m sure lots of girls and women enjoy fishing, but certainly in those days, and even a little now, we didn’t get invited to the party.

It’s rare for people to just sit and be still in nature whilst doing nothing. We are not able to just “be” and so having a fishing rod with you at least gives you an excuse for sitting quietly. Fishing can also be a good excuse for some alone time. Another thing we don’t get enough of. My husband used to take himself off fishing as a child, and sit reading, with no bait on his hook, just to get some peace and enjoy some solitude. These quiet places can be full of encounter with God.

Jesus’ first four disciples were fishermen, although doing it for a living of course is something quite different. Fish seem to have an important role in the lives of him and his friends, not surprising when they lived near to the Sea of Galilee, and so close to the Mediterranean. Jesus knew where all the best shoals were, which fish happened to have just swallowed several coins, and how to multiply just a few of them into enough to feed a multitude. It was also what he was given as his first post-Resurrection meal, and what he cooked the disciples for breakfast on the beach the day afterwards.

When Jesus called Andrew, Peter, James and John to follow him, he told them he would make them “fishers of men,” and of course the early Church used the fish as a symbol of their faith.  Perhaps he knew even then that some of those to come after would catch heavy nets full at revivals and altar calls, and others would do their fishing (as I prefer to) sitting with just one fish at a time, allowing it space, getting to know it, and letting it swim its own way in the current of the gospel. There are lots of ways to encounter God, to tell people his Good News, and to become closer to him near to those creatures who have learned to live, move and have their being in something much greater than themselves.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Creating Encounter: In Nature

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I don’t manage to get into the outside world much. I mostly live in the bedroom, propped up with pillows during the day. Today my legs had the good grace to carry me out to our small patio, and there I stayed a few sweet moments to be in awe of the pale pink cherry blossom against the silver-grey sky. It is early Spring here and it was wonderful to see so many bees buzzing around the translucent beauty of the flowers.

One of the honey bees dropped almost vertically out of the sky and landed on a blade of grass, obviously in need of a rest. I (perhaps foolishly) knelt down to be with it. Here passed a delicious minute of grace, sitting with a bee. I watched it breathing in and out, watched as my cat gave it a curious sniff and hopped backwards, watched as it gathered its strength and washed its tiny face with its front legs, and watched as it made itself ready and flew upwards and off as quickly as it had arrived.

Yes it was painful, and taxing, getting up again, yes I’m glad my plastic patio chair was there to lean on, and grateful I was only a few feet from the back door. But I’m also glad to have shared time in the life of one of God’s tiniest creatures, encounter with any one of whom is a glimpse into the heart and mind of the creator.

Often such time is a gateway into contemplation, or simply awe, which we can then take back into our “ordinary” time as spiritual food. As with any kind of prayer, I find that, given a willingness to be still, or quiet, to observe without expectation, to be childlike in our sight, we are often given a special gift to take into ourselves. God can feed my hungry heart in just a brief interlude in the day, and it will be something I always remember.

It was not until I began writing about this just now that I also recalled that a name God has given me is “the Honeycomb Hermit” and so there is much here to meditate on, and I am not above being taught by an insect how to rest, and how to “bee” still.

Blessings,

Keren

Text and photo ©  Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Encountering God on the Road

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This week we are pleased to welcome Rev Donna Knutson as our guest blogger on the theme of Creating Encounter…..

I’ve just returned from being on the road for over a week. From the Nebraska plains to the hills of North Carolina, a journey I relished as it reminded me of my two years driving or flying to Hendersonville, North Carolina to become a Spiritual Director.  Blackberries hanging from trees and showers raining down from the skies, every afternoon around five. Classes held in tiny mountain cabins and the smell of pine trees coming off the earth.

But, this road trip was about God in a new way this time.  I set out with not much direction, needing rest as my mind was busy and too occupied with family and the world announcements on the news.

Was I looking for something or merely wanting direction or even clarification as to where to step next?

As a contemplative my practice of silence is disciplined and yet…there is always something new to be discovered by silence in an active world. Chaos is no longer a word that brings frustration or even doubt as to where or how God participates, creates, manifests and provides but is a world of comfort and holy encounter.

Chaos is also a word that I found soothing and somewhat adoring as I drove for six days through states and landscapes of similar seasons, but varying degrees of color and new life.  And what is there possibly to see and to encounter of God while driving through mountain passages, by forested hills and down into the valley or way up into the clouds?

Truck drivers with purple cabs and long, long rigs hauling cattle and logs.

Speed limits and rules, barely enforced and yet, it only takes a simple kindness to let a vehicle of such height and magnificence glide by you, and you will understand that we are here to work together while arriving probably at the same time. Gentle release in a world of struggle and conflict.  In a world of “me first” and surrender last.

Truckers hauling weight that seemed to fill every ounce of the road and I so small next to its mass.

Hauling equipment, pieces and particles of people’s homes and people’s lives we will never know of.

Men behind the wheel and tons of steel with huge wheels that come close to my little car as we round the curve, and I pray for ease and passage, as I pray for their safety home.  It seemed so simple to be hours on the road and praying prayers of gratitude, as I did not know where I was going and when I would return.

How could time alone with God while driving my Kia Sportage, Queen, ever amount to such a trusting of the invisible work of my interior being, and yet when I arrived back home in Omaha, Ne. I was in a different place.  Having let go of my expectations, my need to know why I took a trip off into the world and was changed by the road, by the prayers seeping from my heart space; by the willingness to slow down and make room for a living breathing person on the road next to me.  Our directions different but surely, God sitting next to each one of us and our lives changed by the moments we passed one another, whether conscious or not.

Changed by some gentle presence of consciousness that knew how to speak and when to be quiet.  When to drive faster and when to let another go by.

How encountering God on the road for a week, renewed my spirit and relaxed my wonderings.

How watching the movement of cars, trucks, the shift of the grade of the road and the tunnels I drove through, had some power of incarnation that only the heart of another contemplative, might understand.

God is mystery, magnificence and mighty; and with that in mind, we can begin to live again in some unraveled revelation of God within and God around us.

Beauty and Blessings,

 

Donna

 

Text ©Donna Knutson 2018    Photo from Pixabay

Donna’s book of poetry and reflections “Finding God on Mayberry Street” is available on Amazon

Creating Encounter: Silence and Stillness

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Silence, or even quiet, is a hard thing to find these days. If you are trying to cultivate more of it in your life in order to find out what lies beneath all the hubbub, you have your work cut out for you. One of the few benefits of being chronically ill and unable to have a job is that I have time, and I have some precious stillness. I think it is impossible to enjoy silence unless you are still, and probably vice versa as well. If you cannot still or quiet your own mind or worries, or even keep your own body still, you are not going to experience real depth in silence or anything else.  And if you have noise all around you, it is going to be very hard to become truly still.

Both are needed for some kinds of God-encounter. I believe after practising contemplative, centring and listening prayer for fifteen years, that it is very much worth the effort. And to begin with, it is hard. We have a lot of barking dogs, boisterous neighbours and traffic where we live, so quiet is a delicious relief when it comes. I’ve needed to create artificial silence using earplugs, and learnt to keep my body in a comfortable position where it is not going to constantly distract me. I used to be able to use a prayer stool for this, but my health has deteriorated, and I now have to pray sitting up in bed.

There are always going to be distractions of course, there are worries and to-do lists and spouses and children and there are aches and pains and that awful nagging guilt that you should be doing something useful, rather that sitting in stillness and silence with the maker of the universe. But in truth I’m not sure that you could find anything more useful to do with any sliver of your time.

Before we truly begin to listen, to see and hear, in encounter with God, these two things need to become part of our routine.  Until they are, life is just a constant stream of chatter, chores and pressure. Yes, as we have already talked about, we can encounter God and be in his presence in all activities, but there is also a need for what we might call “quality time” with God if we want the relationship to grow, and indeed I think out of this flows the ability to reside in him at all other times.

Carving out time and giving him our full attention requires some discipline, but there is no better way to begin to resonate with the frequency of that still, small voice.  The gentle whisper of God needs us to be listening and focussed.  This is, of course extremely difficult for parents or carers of young or disabled children, who take up every waking moment. I think God gives special dispensation where it is needed, pouring out his grace upon us. But determination and desire does pay off. Susanna Wesley (mother of Charles and John) used to take a few minutes to pray, putting her apron over her head. When the children saw the apron was up, they knew to give her that time.

I started with five minutes a day, and gradually wanted more and more.  Never once have I thought, I wish I hadn’t bothered sitting with God today, I could have got so much else done! Of course, the point of this series is to help us understand that there is a multitude of ways to pray and to encounter God, but to “be still and know that I am God,” that is, in my opinion, the best starting place.

Text and artwork © by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Mother’s Day Prayer

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Prayer for Mothering Sunday.

Dear Lord, you are our parent, the best of mothering and fathering. Today we thank you for our earthly mothers but also lift to you those for whom this will be a painful day. We ask you to be with those of us who are pained every day by those things that separate us from giving or receiving a mother’s love; whether that is by bereavement or estrangement, loss or abuse, distance or incarceration.

Lord we pray for those who know the pain of childlessness, of separation or of loss; for those who bear difficult, strained child/parent relationships, and those who feel uncared for or unloved or unappreciated on a day that celebrates things they do not have or have never known.  Lord, gather all those in such pain under your wings as a mother hen gathers her chicks, and give them understanding, consolation, peace, reassurance and protection from further hurt.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay