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

Creating Encounter: Birdwatching

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Having a sedentary life enforced upon me, and being very rarely able to leave the house, even to venture into our small garden, the birds that visit our feeder outside our kitchen window are a spiritual lifeline and blessing of huge proportions.  I don’t think that that Jesus told us to consider the birds only as a lesson in God’s provision and deep care, but also because they are joy-bringers. Our hearts lift and soar as we watch them flying, and to see one of the Father’s bright and beautiful creatures up close is an encounter that opens our heavenly eyes.

When we can look at a bird, however small, and however dull its plumage, and see God’s handiwork, we enable an encounter with the maker of heaven and earth that is transformative. The subtlety of a sparrow’s myriad of brown hues, or the breath-taking iridescence of a starling or pigeon’s neck feathers, or the stunning colours on a goldfinch, are gateways into wonder. This awe has only increased as I journey deeper into being an artist, for the ultimate artist has his masterpieces gliding all around us, and his skills are phenomenal.

Watching birds is also something that pretty much everyone can enjoy. If you have access to a view of any kind, even just one small window can be an entry point for the song and the sight of our feathered friends. Here is one of the pieces from my book “Garden of God’s Heart” to illustrate the point I am trying to make:

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“A bubbly sing-song bird, bright and true, sky blue and sunshine yellow, your only hope of camouflage is high against a summer cloud. But who would hide such a treasure, a darling bud, a chirping, lively flitter between trees, between worlds? Heaven painted you with a lapis hood and cloak, and clothed you in a buttery jerkin, to bring cheer and loveliness to any dreary heart, and hope in goodness to any unbeliever.”

text © by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Morguefile

Creating Encounter: Poetry

 

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A lot of people think of poetry as a sublime art form, a reaching into the metaphysical for eternal truth. They think of Shelley and Keats, of Plath and Bukowski, perhaps not of Pam Ayres and Roger McGough. Poets really ought to be lounging in smoking jackets with eyes shut in imaginative ecstacies, or writhing in the throes of suicidal depression, not normal people with, say, toddlers running around their feet, or standing in the kitchen gazing out of the window at geraniums.

The truth is that poetry is always sublime, even when it is ridiculous, and that absolutely anyone can be a poet, just as anyone can be a writer. It is harder to be a good poet, of course, and completely subjective. One of my very favourite poems consists of two words, is entitled “Fish” and by Ogden Nash:  “Wet pet.”

When it comes to using poetry as a place to create encounter with God, we have some wonderful precedents. I would urge you to take a look at Daniel Ladinsky’s translations of spiritual greats, “Love Poems From God,” which gives us truly beautiful renderings of the verse of poets, mystics and saints.

I personally often write poems at times of great personal distress or ill humour, because I find the writing process cathartic, and prose just doesn’t seem able to contain depths of pain in such a concentrated way. At the same time I ask God to meet me in that pain, and the words therefore often feel like the results of encounter.

Writing poetry can be a form of prayer, and in fact, the central point of this series is that everything can, though perhaps creativity in particular.  If we are ever in doubt that poetry is a holy endeavour, we might read some Gerard Manley Hopkins. For me, he was the master of spiritual poetry.

Poets who frame pain in beauty, like Alice Walker and Maya Angelou (two more masters) are talking in spiritual language for me, even where they are deeply grounded in earthly happenings and visceral words. My husband and co-founder of Lakelight, Rowan Wyatt, is a wonderful poet and I hope he will share something of his process later in this series.

The writing of poetry can also be open to God in the sense that we are trying to find the words to form order out of chaos, matter from the void. Trying to clothe with the flesh of words, things that seem unsayable. We worship the Creator God and the Great Redeemer, who can help us shape our clay even as we work with feeble fingers. Giving God the process, asking him in, dedicating the words that form in the silence to him, all make space for encountering his character and his truths.

To illustrate that I’ll end this piece with one of my absolute favourite poems,

SAINT FRANCIS AND THE SOW  BY GALWAY KINNELL

The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead

of the sow, and told her in words and in touch

blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow

began remembering all down her thick length,

from the earthen snout all the way

through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,

from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine

down through the great broken heart

to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering

from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

 

Galway Kinnell, “Saint Francis and the Sow” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell.

Creating Encounter: Pots and Pans

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My husband is the washer-upper in our house. I used to be able to do a bit now and again to help him, but at the current time am too weak. I can’t stand at the sink or repeatedly lift or wash the crockery. It’s hard for me to not be able to help him, but it is also a lesson in being grateful for him and all the ways in which he takes care of me and our home.

Washing up is hardly a creative pursuit, and like so many things in our daily routine, it is just a chore that has to be done. Even if you have a dishwasher, it needs loading and unloading. So, what does it have to do with creating encounter with God? Is he interested in us to such a degree that we can even meet him in a boring, repetitive task? I believe he is, and Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century French Carmelite monk believed this too. He said, as did his Carmelite predecessor, Teresa of Avila, that God could be found “among the pots and pans.”

Don’t think that if you had a great deal of time you would spend more of it in prayer. Get rid of that idea! God gives more in a moment than in a long period of time, for His actions are not measured by time at all… Know that even when you are in the kitchen, Our Lord is moving among the pots and pans.” – St Teresa of Avila

The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” – Brother Lawrence

It is a question of devotion, of giving every moment and action, thought and deed, over to God, all about where your heart is focussed. It is something that needs to be practised, a gradual process, and a deliberate act. Even in the act of washing dishes, we can choose to meditate on God as potter, on treasures in clay jars, on the act of cleansing and forgiveness, the washing away of sin, on baptism, and so a common chore becomes a gateway into prayer, of setting one’s mind and heart on God. And even if we are not putting in any effort with such thoughts, but simply opening the activity and the time up to God, it is made holy.

And I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to GOD; which I may call an actual presence of GOD, or to speak better, an habitual, silent and secret conversation of the soul with GOD, which often causes me joys and rapture inwardly….” – Brother Lawrence

As we make this spiritual practise every day which Brother Lawrence called “the practice of the presence of God” (also the title of the book in which his thoughts are collated), so we work through frustrations and it becomes second nature to us. We discover a wondrous thing, which is that even Fairy Liquid can become a sacred unction, and dirty dishes the holy articles of the Tabernacle. God is indeed everywhere, and all things belong.

text © by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Prayer Shawls

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One of my ways of ministering is intercession. It started off with lists. Over the years I’ve tended to drop them, because whilst they mean I don’t forget anyone, they do tend to become a bit of a drone, without too much compassion behind the words. Instead I listen to what or who is on my heart and pray for one or two people at a time, though to be honest, the last few years have been so tough, there has probably been as much petition as interceding!

Crochet is a hobby of mine, when my arms are up to it, and when I discovered a book on making shawls for people whilst praying for them, it seemed like two of my favourite things had collided serendipitously. Prayer shawls seem to be more of a North American thing, but it would be lovely if they began to take off here in the UK too. There are various ways of going about it, and of course they can also be knitted (I’m far too uncoordinated to manage more than one hook).

Some people make shawls in a group, some alone. Some pray general prayers over their work and then ask God who it is going to, or wait for an opportunity to arise. They might hear of someone in need of comfort, someone grieving, or spending a lot of time in hospital, for example.  For my own practice, I ask God beforehand who the shawl is for, he and I pick a colour together, and then a pattern, which often have symbolic meanings. I pray very specifically for that person and their loved ones as I work. Because this takes some concentration, it is rather slower than making a normal piece of work, and so I am only on my fifth in about 8 years!

What’s been really interesting is the depth of the prayers when you are working like this with one person’s life specifically on your heart, and also the fact that God chooses, in some cases, people I would not have done if left to my own devices. He knows better than we do exactly who needs our prayers, and so it is good to feel that he Holy Spirit is leading the choices and entering into what might otherwise just be a hobby.

The finished articles might be less accurate than my usual work, even though everything I make tends to have wobbly edges (counting isn’t my strong point), but the recipients are always astonished that someone would do something so time-consuming and thoughtful, especially for them, and that God might have them on his heart.

One friend was diagnosed with bone cancer shortly after I had finished her shawl, but before I gave it to her. I know she has sat wrapped in it many times both at home and during treatment.  My current project, which is turning into more of a blanket than a shawl (I really should have looked more closely at the pattern), is for myself. I was extremely surprised that God wanted me to make one just for me, but although it isn’t quite finished yet, I think all those prayers have definitely helped me through a very troubled time, which also seems not quite over. Maybe without that concentrated petition, it would have been even harder.

Text and photo (me with my first prayer shawl) ©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

If you live in the US or Canada, your church may already have a prayer shawl ministry. Otherwise, this seems a good website, and there are any number of books out there with prayers and patterns.

 https://www.shawlministry.com/