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:

Blue Tit

 

“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

 

Poetry books

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/

Creating Encounter with God

called small by KDW

Our main theme at Lakelight Sanctuary for this year is going to be how we make space for God in our lives. This will include creative and artistic practices, but also how we invite God into the ordinary daily activities of our lives, like eating a meal, walking the dog, doing the chores.

If everything is indeed holy, then we can be sure that the sacred is willing and waiting to inhabit every part of our days and nights, as well as the works of our hands.

We want to be thinking about how to give everything over to God, whether big or small, and whether it is of our choosing or something that has been thrust upon us. We want, in essence, to explore what it really means to become “living sacrifices,” and to “pray without ceasing.” We hope you will join us on this learning journey.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1 NIV)

“Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 ESV)

 

Artwork and text © by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

On Being Six Months Old!

6 months

Our Lakelight website was launched half a year ago on July 21st 2017.  The first blog post went up on 5th August, and we’ve been posting a weekly piece ever since (bar one week due to the dreaded ‘flu!). It’s a good time to stop and think about where we are headed, and to thank all our readers, who have dropped in from as far afield as Canada and Vietnam.

To begin with it became clear that Lakelight is a place for truth-telling, where in our Foundations series we examined with grace, the things we as Church and as individual Christians, could do better. And by better, we mean, with love at the centre. A place, too, for building up good practices now that we have cleared the way by being transparent about our ethos of standing with the poor and downtrodden, and eschewing the comfortable and self-satisfied.

Secondly we feel, with Paul, that it is time to embrace being “scum of the earth” apostles, to be concerned more with heart and soul, and less with the fascia of things –  the shiny white teeth and perfect Powerpoint presentations. Instead we want to focus on being counter-cultural by the virtues of reverence, slowing down, listening, holding space, creating encounter with a loving God, and being aware, even as we say what we believe in our hearts needs to change, that this too, should be done in a spirit of good humour and of edifying one another.  This is our focus now in our “Building Lakelight” series, as we begin to explore positive goals.

Sadly, Keren’s own health continues to decline, and it seems she has less and less strength and stamina than ever. This makes the task of creating Lakelight as a charity, adding more to the website, and planning for the day God makes our sanctuary a reality, a difficult one. But that vision remains in her heart, and we will continue to work towards it, albeit in tiny increments.

We thank you all for your commitment and support and ask for your prayers in growing Lakelight into what it is called to be, by the grace of God.

Keren and Rowan, January 2018

photo from Pixabay

On A Word for the Year

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Lots of Christians now participate in this practice, which began as a non-religious idea. The gist of the whole thing is that you pick a word, just one, that is about what you want to focus on for the year, rather than making a whole list of resolutions that get left by the wayside along with the diet. First mooted by the One Word 365 team, it was then picked up by the Church. In the Christian version, called My One Word, set up by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen, the blurb goes as follows:

The first step is to simply take some time and decide what kind of person you want to be at the end of this year… What are the qualities of the person you want to become? Once you have a list of the characteristics, simply pick a word..”

We choose a word, and use that as an intention for the year.  I’ve done this every New Year since 2015, but with the proviso that the word is chosen, not by me, but by God, and communicated to me by the act of listening prayer.

This year I wasn’t going to do it, but my word came relentlessly anyway. It is “broken.” This highlights the first inherent danger of the practice, which is that without listening in, leaning in to the word that we are given, or choosing it for ourselves, we might miss what it is really speaking to us. There was a heartsink moment with this word, I admit, until God told me that it was about being broken open, about breakthroughs, about hatching.

I’m all for anything that helps us learn to be still and listen to the Lord, and I think this aspect ought to be highlighted in the materials, rather than people choosing their own word, however prayerfully.  Because another danger is that we may well end up choosing or even hearing what we want to hear (and this can happen via our subconscious even in contemplation if we are not vigilant). We might choose a lovely, positive word like “Blessings” and not really let it lead into any soul work.

This given word can be a wonderful point of reference if we approach it with maturity, aware that another potential problem with such focus is that we can end up limiting what God wants to do, and also the time he wants to take to accomplish it. Because, let’s face it, God is rarely in a rush.  Healing and shaping and refining his loved ones often takes decades, if not a lifetime.  So, I go into this New Year knowing that the word God gave me this time last year (and probably the ones before that) goes with me. He’s not done with them yet, and probably never will be, but he understands that I’m a tiny, fairly helpless being and focus can bring good results.

For many people it is a help to have that one word to keep in mind and heart and work or struggle with. When it is done well, God-centred and prayerfully, I’ve seen it be powerful.  But we must also bear in mind that it is a very, very small part of the picture. If you are going to participate, my advice would be, if you are a Christian, to do so slowly, carefully, in prayer and knowing from the start that the focus on this word is meant to be more of an aide-memoire, a remembering of God’s promises for this year, an idea about what HE is doing, not what YOU are achieving. Because control may well be the most dangerous thing of all in this for those following Christ. If we begin to imagine that change is all down to us, as if it were an exercise program or a special diet, we will end up deluded and certainly disappointed.

I think the My One Word movement has the potential to also be an exercise in focussing so hard on one thing that it misses the ONE NECESSARY THING. And whilst I will not discourage you from participating (nor should you feel obliged to take part), I would urge that you take it for what it is, and let the Lord lead you, not despairing if you hear nothing, not being surprised if the year ahead is about more than just one issue in your life, and not limiting God in any way whatsoever. Be open to all that he has for you, but by all means, ask for a point of focus if you feel that one is needed.  If nothing else, your one word may be the conversation starter that you and he need.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

On Passion

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There’s a lot of passion on social media, or at least, there’s a lot of anger and indignation, baiting and posturing that seems like political passion. Real passion about an issue is rare. It is recognisable by both its willingness to understand that not everyone agrees, and a determination to persuade, not by belittling or attacking the other “side,” but by telling the truth in a heartfelt way. It is never about personalities. It is not even about the integrity or otherwise of its proponents, because an argument that holds weight knows that people are fallible. It is about facts, it is about the application of those facts, and it is about seeing consequences that reach further than tomorrow.

Let’s take the environment as an example. The key, of course, is vested interests. People who are passionate about profits are going to be argue till they are blue (or possibly orange) in the face that fracking, drilling for oil in national parks and under ice floes, are good for everyone. Because they are good for them. People who are passionate about saving the planet’s ecosystems, husbanding habitats and saving as many species as possible, know that our vested interests are in the consequences of what we do now, and are about generations further down the line. Real passion is never short-sighted enough to think that it is about personal gain.

What does that have to do with our passion for the gospel? Well it means that if we are truly passionate about Christ, about the will of God, we are in it for the long haul, and we are not out for what our ministry can do for us. For this reason, I am usually wary of any ministry named for its founder/s because it isn’t looking far enough ahead, for one thing. If we truly believe that the Kingdom of God is needed on earth, then we will make way for it, we will do every task allotted to us with eternity in mind, not counting the cost.  And this, I find, is not a popular teaching.

In a Church that struggles to differentiate itself from either capitalism, far right-wing politics, or both, being anything other than self-seeking is difficult. We tend, in the West, to define counter-cultural church as tithing some of our profit to a developing world charity, so that we can sit in our chrome coffee shop eating chocolate cake with gold leaf on (yes I have seen this, yes I have done this, and felt sick doing it) without feeling any guilt. We paid at the office and that’s that. But this is not to be counter cultural, this is to go along with the feel good “we do our little bit” edge of capitalism that dulls our conscience and tells us that as long as we do a little, all is well. The massive chunks that fall into other pockets don’t then matter.  And I am not just talking about money here.

When was the last time you heard a sermon preached on “Even the little you have will be taken away from you?” or on Paul describing apostles (including himself) as “the scum of the earth,”?  The theme of seeking out the poor and taking the good news to them, giving away everything to help others, of real altruism in a hoarding world, runs through the Gospels like Brighton through rock. It’s so plain that we are trying really, really hard if we miss it.

And yes, it turns out that this is something I’m really passionate about! I think that God puts on our hearts, issues we want to shout out about, and people that we want to help. I think these things that make our blood rise and our hearts beat faster are inscribed on our spiritual innards, and if we ignore them or push them away, we might be missing part of our calling.

Courses and books that help us discern God’s will for our lives are always popular, and yet, it is looking at what makes you passionate that will most likely give you the best clue to your ministry, to the difference you could make in this life that you might ever get.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

On Standing

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I’m not much of a fan of blatant spiritual warfare. At least, not the “sound the trumpets, cast the nasties out IN THE NAME OF JESUS, do I hear an amen?” kind of thing. The last time anyone tried that near us, Rowan’s new t-shirt got covered in anointing oil and was ruined. He was quite annoyed that it didn’t come out in the wash. We think it was Mazola. But anyway…I’ve really always done my warfare by standing and resisting. It makes more sense to me. Yes, there are times when we have to be a bit more hands on and actively chase something away. But I find that most of the time, we are on far firmer ground by being quietly confident in our God, and indeed, in knowing exactly where we are standing, rather than trying to claim any more territory.

When the Moabites and Ammonites sent a vast army against him, King Jehoshophat did not jump, contrary to popular belief, nor did he wonder what he had done to anger a bunch of old fossils, but he enquired of the Lord. God spoke by his Spirit through a chap called Jahaziel:

This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.  Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel.  You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” (2 Chronicles 20: 15-17 NIV)

And of course, he was.

This is a pattern that we see over and over again in the Old Testament, and perhaps unsurprisingly, brilliant bible scholar Paul is also fond of the instruction to stand firm and let God do the fighting. Ephesians 6:13 is one of the best examples, leading into the wonderful description we all know of the armour of God:

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

There have been times in intercession, where I have felt led to stamp my feet hard on the ground as I’ve prayed, and I felt the power in this. It is always Spirit-led, and feels almost like a Maori Haka, the pre-battle dance that is more associated these days with international rugby. But in prayer at least, it is a taking of a stance, it says, “this is the line in the sand, and you will not cross it.” I know it might all sound a bit Gandalf (You shall not pass!) but it really does feel of the kingdom. We do not flee, the devil does that, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4: 7 partial NIV). We stand our ground. We know our footing. We have built our house on rock, and we are going nowhere.

Sometimes, in spiritual warfare, we do need to slip away quietly from our enemies, as Jesus did to keep God’s timing right, or we might need him to find us an escape route. But, more often than not, we do not run in, like Peter did just that once, with swords drawn, we simply hold the ground on which we stand, and are all the stronger for it.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

On Endings

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As the year draws to a close, I am conscious that the Lord has been showing me over the last few months that endings are just as important as beginnings. Indeed we cannot have one without the other, just as we cannot have spring unless the winter precedes it.

Like a relationship, perhaps the old year is also something to end well, before we can begin a new one. Sometimes we have a tendency to run headlong into making resolutions and saying good riddance to the year gone by without having processed things that have happened, or examining where we stand.

Maybe it would be a good practice to keep stillness and silence for a while and look back over the year, taking it all to God in a prayer of examen, seeing what needs to continue and what may be safely left behind, learning before we leap onwards.

This is why we had 14 pieces on how we were not going to run Lakelight, before we started looking in this blog at what we are going to be doing. It is important sometimes to clear the decks, set things in readiness, dig out the foundations, and take a deep breath, before anything new can be set in motion.

This is especially true in our spiritual lives. How can we begin to love, if we have not ended hate? And how can we live peacefully, if we are still suffocating in anxiety? Of course, because the world is cyclical, love itself, along with peace, will help drive out hate and fear, but we have to begin with the (beginning of the) ending. There is no resurrection without crucifixion. I have found this palpable in my preparation for the writing ministry I believe I am coming into. I have had to let go of my intelligence, in order to receive wisdom. To loosen the hold on the strings of my ambitions, in order to begin desiring God’s will.

At the heart of all this talk of endings and beginnings is the idea of kenosis, or self-emptying, which Jesus lived out for us by taking on human form. It is another way of talking about humility, of realising who and what we are, in relation to an infinitely wonderful God, and then taking our very small place in the scheme of things.

So, 2017 has been a year of ups and downs, no doubt, for all of us. There have been beginnings and endings. Some people or animals we loved are no longer with us, this year has been the year of their passing. We will carry that heartbreak the rest of our lives. Some problems have started to show their faces, a diagnosis perhaps, or a troubling crack in a relationship, maybe even a doubt in our faith. Many things will never be the same again. Others are just beginning, a new love, a new venture, a new way of seeing.

2017 is the year that Lakelight began to take shape, becoming a website and blog alongside the vision in my mind. I don’t know what the Lord has in store for it or us in 2018, but I will trust in the God who knows our beginnings from our endings, rather than myself, who has trouble telling my elbow from, well, other anatomical parts. Thank you for being a part of this beginning. I pray that you will have a great ending to 2017 and a wonderful beginning to 2018. God bless us, every one!

Happy New Year!