On Not Being Enough

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When you are sick, or disabled, or poor, or lost, or trembling in the dark, or different, the world will begin to tell you that you are not enough. It will whisper at first, saying that you don’t belong, that you are the wrong fit, that you are not welcome. It will be like an evil breeze, a soft harshness that sounds a little bit like truth, and because you do not feel whole, you will give it houseroom. You will let it in and allow it to wander through the corridors, because, why not?, they are dark and dreary anyway, filled with your own pain. What harm does giving in do? It is just another whooshing sound rushing through the emptiness.

When you are hyper and joyful and skyrocketing, or multi-talented or very, very bright, the world will tell you that you are too much. It will say that you are too large, too overwhelming and too loud. It will give you pills and tut at you from unseen corners and threaten you with sanctions and punishment. And you will take the tablets and hide parts of yourself until they begin to atrophy, and the rage that you have done this to yourself will also swirl around inside and make you miserable. You will stop using long words and the hard-earned gleanings of your intelligence, stop making people laugh, and the poem that you are may lose the will to live, and never be spoken.

And the whispers and the breeze, the pills and the disapproval become louder and louder, and the corridors of your mind and the veins in your body may become, then, so full of that negative cacophony that nothing else can be heard.

And because this happens, I am here to tell you something.

You are not too much, you are just the right amount. You are exactly enough. You are not less than or more than, you are you. You are perfect. No, not without sin, not without dark thoughts, not without failings and strange quirks. But these first two are overlooked by love, and the second two only make you more like yourself.

I will not say that you are awesome or stupendous, because I know you will not believe me, and anyway these words have ceased to mean what they should. I will not tell you that you are made of stardust and have come from eternity, because these are things too far away to reach your aching heart. I will say instead that you are loved. You are looked upon with an adoring gaze such as a good mother or father first gives their child. You are held, cradled in a grace that will forgive any misdemeanour, as you walk this strange and fearful journey.

You have missed out on no medals: they do not get awarded in this life. You have not failed to reach the mark: God will always move the target for you and risk an arrow in his already pierced hands. You do not go unnoticed: every hair on your head is known and numbered, every combing monitored. It is only your sins which are not counted.

And here in this resting place of the heart, which is so much larger than it looks from the outside, you are known and comforted and given peace beyond understanding. It will say few words, and mainly it will just sit with you and rock a little back and forth and sing sweet, soft lullabies of understanding which will blow through you like a warming glow, dissipating those ill winds and sharp words. Those mean mutterings will burn up into ashes like scraps of newspaper tossed up into the fire that rages in God’s heart for you. Did you not know that you were the object of such passion?

Here then, lies the truth. At the centre of the holy family, you are welcomed and known. Before the throne of heaven, you are accepted and loved. It is not just that you are enough, but that here, where it matters, we are all beyond measuring.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

On Not Knowing

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At the present time, I have to have some medical tests. I’m not looking forward to them, or the results. When I get them, then I’ll discuss a way forward with my doctor. For now, I am living in a place of not-knowing, full of “what-if?”s and “how-will-we?”s. Like for those poor folk in the Caribbean and Florida waiting to see what devastation Hurricane Irma continues to wreak, the outcomes are all unknown. But I’m finding that being a contemplative is good training for this. I am used to living with unknowns and uncertainties.

“The cloud of unknowing” is the name that one anonymous mystic in the fourteenth century put to the experience of trying to get to know God. Prayer is full of our own ignorance. It has to be, else there would be no room for coming to know God, who is fundamentally unknowable.

Two small paragraphs in, and already we seem tied in knots of contradiction and even paradox. But that’s what living the Christian life with any dedication is like. The depths of our ignorance, when plumbed, can awaken in us a desire to know God more fully. Faith can only really begin to grow in a place empty of our own sense of certainty. It needs space to grow, its own plot or belly in which to gestate. The knowing of God spreads out its wings into that emptied space, and makes itself comfortable. It nests.

We can only make room for obedience when we self-empty and embrace humility, and even suffering, like Christ, who “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 6-7 partial ESV). We can then, beginning this process, say to God, “I do not know what is happening or what will happen, but I choose to trust you.”

All of our not-knowing comes down to the fact that we acknowledge that we are not in control of anything. Control is just another illusion in life, like success and power. The fact is that we do not know what is going to happen in our lives in the next five minutes. And when we first face that, it seems scary. But in actual fact, it is quite a freeing thing, as is getting rid of any falsehood.

We can then see, or decide to believe, that there is only one thing that is by any means certain, and that is the goodness of God. That’s it. His being, his eternity, his character, these are the foundations of any sure and certain hope we have. The same goes for all the wondering on why things are the way they are. This is the reason I spend my whole life attempting to make way for his truths and spend hours of my day rooted in stillness to get to know him better. Because right at the core of everything, whether I have bad results or good, it is the only knowing that matters.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 Picture from Pixabay

On Not Faking It

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The world is full of fronts. Each one of us protects our fragile self by putting up a façade, or wearing a mask. It shows those who interact with us that we are doing okay, that we are some kind of normal, that there is nothing to fear, that we are trustworthy, loyal, kind, happy. Whatever it is that they want us to be. Heaven forbid that the mask should slip or the façade begin to crumble, or the truth come out, that we are not okay, that we are anything but normal (what the heck is normal, anyway?) that we might be someone who will occasionally let you down, once or twice judge you or make a snide comment to a mutual friend that was about you and which was unkind (we regretted it later).

We don’t want you to know that sometimes we might need to lean on you, that we might well be someone you should be afraid of if you want to live in your sanitised theatre of perfection. We might latch onto you and tell you all our problems, and then not bother listening to your sage advice, leaving you feeling annoyed and put upon. We might be one of those awful people who sometimes gets it wrong, doesn’t hang on your every word, isn’t totally together, doesn’t always have the money to pay, isn’t quite making it in life. We might be, in actual fact, behind the slipping, cracking mask, a real, imperfect human being with problems.

We fling a lot of labels around these days, we call people “difficult,” “high maintenance,” “toxic,” and use it as reason to cut them out of our social circle, or our social media circle. Well, here’s a newsflash. People ARE difficult, high maintenance and often toxic. Including me. Including you. We mess up, we need help, we struggle, we think and do bad things. I know that there are those whom we really do have to keep away from, not everyone is able to be friends with everyone else, we are not all good for one another, and of course, some people really are abusive and vitriolic. But they are, thankfully, few and far between, and very broken themselves.

It’s exhausting to always be pretending. Perfection does not exist outside of God, and so to make out that we are anything close is always going to be a lie and a waste of energy. I wonder if we can then, think about admitting to one another that we are fractured and not whole. It’s difficult to trust one another, there is a danger that our vulnerabilities will be used against us, or even ridiculed by some. So yes, we need to guard ourselves a little. We don’t grab a stranger and tell them our life story (unless we are writers), but exercising caution is not the same as building great walls of defence or making a cobweb of fantasies that swirl around us like a vortex, till even we can’t remember what the truth is.

Jesus told us that the truth would set us free, and maybe one incarnation of that is when we give up all the exhausting pretence. Because doing that sets everyone around us free to do the same, doesn’t it? If I acknowledge that I’m not able, I don’t have time, I’m a little frightened, I am not sure this is helping, then you can start to not only accept those “weaknesses” in me, but also admit to having some of your own. And then we can begin to help each other and build one another up. And that’s where community begins.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 Picture from Pixabay

On Not Attending a Christian Conference

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A Story.

Saint Francis lasted longer than I did at the Conference for Christian Leaders “Using Your Influence”. He sat through several speakers and nodded politely here and there, whilst fiddling with the three knots on his long string belt that symbolised his sacred vows. Mostly he kept his eyes shut and just peeked out at the thousands of people seated round him occasionally and then wisely shut them again. Sometimes it is just better to gaze at the inside of your own eyelids. The lights were bright and hot, and the air felt strange in the huge auditorium, full of a pumped up testosteronic excitement that had pulses and egos racing.

After a while though, he did what I had done and wandered out into the corridors where the drinks and vending machines were, and ran the water fountain, cupping his bleeding hands in the stream with clear delight, and lifting the coolness to his tired face. He drank long of the sweetness, and sploshed his face. I had done the same, and then tried to steel myself to go back in, but I just couldn’t do it.

“Hello,” I said from my orange plastic seat, and he smiled, a little warily, in case I was one of them. I even think he looked round for the exits, just in case, and I can’t say I blame him. I didn’t know what to say but words have a habit of forming anyway, and there was certainly a torrent of loud ones being amplified behind us in the main room. “Isn’t it awful?” was what I came up with. He smiled wider then. Did he even speak English? My Italian was not up to much. Poco barely covered it.

For the purposes of my dream or my story, whatever you want to call it, he did understand me. “I don’t know what they are talking about,” he shrugged. “I don’t know what is this productivity, in a church, in God’s house? What is that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I suspected it meant bums on seats, but I wasn’t going to sully this conversation with that thought. “More followers?” I hazarded.

“For them or for Christ?” he asked, bluntly. I loved him even more right then. I laughed.

“Who is counting?”

“Not God!” We both smiled.

“I will leave now. I don’t know why they asked me,” he said, looking small and fragile in the clinical surroundings and artificial light.

“Are you not a speaker?” He shook his head.

“What could I say to this,” he shrugged his shoulders and flung his arms out in a typically latinate gesture, encompassing the whole conference, “To whatever this is? This is no place for God’s fools. We do not belong. We are bleeding and small and unworthy.”

“I know. They asked you for kudos, to make it look like you approved.” That smile again. I knew he could not know what I meant, but he understood the longing in my heart.

“We will leave now. Will you join us?”

“Most gladly.” I did not care where he was going. But, “We?” I asked. He frowned a little, and lowered his voice, though no-one was listening.

“Have you seen a small, odd friar with a far too joyful face anywhere?” I wanted to say, “You mean apart from the one standing in front of me now?” and then realised I could, and did. He laughed. “Si, si, another one!” Behind him I saw a pair of burly security guards carrying out another raggedy Franciscan friar, his brown tunic hanging loosely on his scrawny body, his eyes rather wild but full of joy.

“This one belong to you?” the guards asked Francis roughly. The saint nodded, unruffled, but concerned for his brother. “We found him stealing things from the conference booths. He says he was going to give them to the poor. Didn’t even try to hide them. Is he dangerous?”

“Dangerous? Juniper?” Francis sighed, “Only to himself.”

“Will you vouch for him? I don’t think arresting a monk would look that great with the conference on and all. Especially if he’s with you.”

“We can vouch for him,” I said, “And we’re leaving now in any case.” Francis nodded, and Juniper followed suit, nodding a little too much and too hard, as expected. They let go of him, seemed glad to deliver the problem to someone else, and he slumped down onto the shiny tiled floor. “We ought to make him empty his pockets first,” said one to the other.

“Man, he aint got no pockets, look at him!” said the other, and they sauntered back inside the foyer.

“Oh Juniper, what have I taught you about stealing?” said the great man, puddles of blood now pooling below him from his stigmata. Juniper looked shame faced for just one moment before shedding it in a heartbeat and an exclamation.

“But, my brother, they have so much! Always we have the poor with us. These people will not miss a thing.”

“I know, I know,” and with that we all ambled out of the building for good, the saint, the idiot and the failure, three holy fools arm in arm, knowing that there was no place like home, and that it was definitely not to be found here. When we were safely three blocks away and standing waiting for the train, Brother Juniper giggled to himself and produced from within his stinking tunic a stack of books. Francis rolled his eyes as his fellow friar gave the books to a homeless veteran sitting on the platform.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with these?” she wisely asked. I explained she might sell them to those conference attendees passing through, and gave her a few dollars to use as change, or for whatever she needed. She shrugged, and set up a book stall on the ground. “These stolen?” she asked with a scowl.

“Taken,” said Juniper, “from the Lord’s followers. So they won’t mind.” I rolled my eyes, something Francis had long ceased bothering to do.

“They might mind,” I said, just to warn her.

“Good,” she said warmly. “If I get arrested I will be in the warm and dry. Looks like rain.” Francis, long-practiced, reached out an arm to stop Juniper lifting off his tunic to give to the woman.

“She has clothing, Juniper, and the sight of your scrawny hide is unlikely to give our sister any comfort.” Juniper acquiesced, and the train came, and we got on, not knowing where we were headed, not having any fare, with no plan for how to grow the potential of our churches, just glad to be away from the cold harsh lights and the business mantras and the stench of success.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 Picture from Pixabay

On Not Leading from the Front

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Leading from vulnerability does not usually take place on vast stages, from perfect PowerPoint presentations or from starting with an MBA. Only TED, where what is said is understood to be more important than how it is said, might be a worldly exception to this. But in the body of Christ, leading from vulnerability looks like smallness and suffering and the sharing of bread and delight in the Lord. It does not set itself impossibly high standards which it then fails to live up to, bringing the whole edifice crashing down. It sits with you, laughs with you, cries with you, and tells you about the time it sat in a deep, dark hole, to which it occasionally has to return. Spotlights are entirely absent.

Everyone in “leadership” makes mistakes, lots of them. Here at Lakelight, in so far as we are any kind of leaders at all, we want to be able to lean on you too, and admit our failings and ask for help, to be more facilitators than podium hoggers. Hold us to that, will you, please?

I saw a trailer for a Christian conference on leadership this week and it made me feel physically sick. The words “influence” “management culture” and “productivity” were used and seemed to sum up where the focus of the teaching would be, and I did not see or hear the word “God,” or even “Jesus” once.

Now, I can understand people in church leadership wanting to be good at what they do, to manage their churches and congregations well, to serve them better. There’s some healthy motivation in there somewhere. But everything about that is upside down. Churches have become businesses that need strategies, financing and management. This is a systematic failure and not one of leaders’ hearts. But teaching like this only reinforces this idea of Church as a business model, with a need for growth and targets.

We need change, and we need it to come from the ground up. Like Francis, we need to rebuild the Church. Lots of people are saying this, I’m sure. The body of Christ is an organism, not a franchise. Its needs are therefore organic, and more to do with living water and breaking bread than they are with commercial enterprise. We are necessarily a bit chaotic and vibrant, full of a Spirit who is unpin-downable and who moves mysteriously. We are not a chrome cappuccino machine, we are a cracked and leaky teapot, of more sentimental value than monetary worth. This is automatically attractive to a broken world, which does not need more shine, but more connection.

We need to come back to our roots, to stand with bare feet on the ground, hugging the earth with our soles, digging in to the mud of the ordinary with our toes, so that humility is always our foothold and our imprint.

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 Photo from Pixabay

 

 

 

On Not Being Happy Clappy

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Recently on Facebook I put my status as “Fed up” and added a picture of Grumpy the dwarf from Snow White. What I really wanted to say was that I was feeling heartbroken, depressed, and really missing my parents whom I haven’t seen for six months since they moved to Worcestershire. But social media just isn’t the place for vulnerability, is it? It seems too harsh a place to be real about emotions, as though your heart might just as well be sat on a stainless steel tray under bright lights and prodded by various scalpels wielded by unseen hands. But can we, as Christians, afford to be anything but real? Isn’t time (hasn’t it always been time?) to talk about depression, sickness, mental and physical suffering, poverty, trials and all other kinds of genuine difficulties that many of us face, some of us every day?

It’s not that I’m against a bit of decorum, and we do have to be careful to whom we tell our problems, since not everyone is sympathetic, and words can come out oddly and be taken badly on screen (especially when we are low), it’s just that, well, I wish I could have been a bit more real the other day with my friends. But I genuinely didn’t know how, without looking like I was fishing for sympathy. The truth is, I could have done with some. And maybe the people who would have looked askance at that and passed on by are not really my friends at all.

One of the things I want both Christians and non-Christians to receive from our ministry here at Lakelight is the understanding that living out a life of faith is not all joy and wonder, and that this is okay. A lot of it is, of course, and a lot of that lifting your hands in the air in sheer awe and happiness is perfectly genuine. But we can be in danger of making an idol out of happiness, and also in turn, of making worship all about us, and how it makes us feel.

We can also put ourselves in a position where we are afraid to admit that we are having a bad day, or that we are feeling rubbish, put upon, down, upset, burdened, lonely, weary, or any of the other totally normal human things that we’ve classed as negative. When we do feel those things, there are reasons why. There is absolutely nothing to judge. And yet we do. More often than not, the happy-clappy-let-me-deliver-you-from-the-evil-of-sadness, “turn that frown upside down” brigade exists only in my head and makes me feel guilty for feeling down without any extra help. But when it comes from outside, oh boy does that make me mad!

If you are ever worried that you are not a “good” Christian because you are suffering a bout of depression (whether clinical or not), just take a good look at the Psalms, or the book of Job. It doesn’t get any more heartrendingly real than these writings from centuries ago.

“All night long I flood my bed with weeping     and drench my couch with tears.  My eyes grow weak with sorrow;     they fail because of all my foes.” Psalm 6:6-7

How’s that for a Facebook status? Well, okay, so it’s not wise to share all our woes with lots of people all in one go. Yesterday I shared mine with a dear friend, albeit also over the internet as being housebound means I couldn’t quite get to Vancouver, but it helped a lot. And we really ought to be able to say when we are struggling without fear of reproach. That is absolutely going to be part of our approach here at the Sanctuary. In fact, we will be talking a lot about suffering, because it is such a huge part of both life and faith. And if you are feeling down as you are reading this, or are overwhelmed by one problem or many, you have our empathy and solidarity. You are normal, and you are not alone.

 

Sadly we don’t have the resources to offer one-to-one help. If you need to talk to someone, in the UK please call the Samaritans: 116 123 or go to http://www.samaritans.org

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017  Photo from Pixabay

 

On Not Getting out of the Boat

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(See Mark 4 and 6)

There is a phrase which I see versions of bandied about a lot in Christian circles, perhaps after the title of a John Ortberg book (which admittedly I’ve not read), “If you want to walk on water, you need to get out of the boat!” I see people term themselves “water walkers” and so forth. Where this is about growing courage and faith, that’s great, but it can also be an exercise in completely missing the point.

Does anyone ever say, we need to get out of the boat in order to sink? Which Peter also did, and which is much more character-forming, frankly. Jesus didn’t ask Peter to get out of the boat, nor did he berate the other disciples for not doing likewise.

For one thing, being in the right boat in the first place might be an idea. A great many churched Christians today have very little idea what boat they are in, if they have even the heart to have got on board, let alone the courage to climb out of it. A lot of us are still on the shore, and not even looking in Jesus’ direction. It’s not all our fault, because surprisingly, we aren’t always taught very much about the realities of discipleship.

Most people get shoved out of the boat at some point, and a lot of us are treading water or trying to climb back in. Life is hard enough without pressurising ourselves into leaping into places where only miracles can save us. Peter’s greatest example to us may be, not that he was not afraid to move out of his comfort zone, but that he was not afraid of failure. I don’t think, once he climbed back on board, that he was standing there, dripping wet, crying and bemoaning the fact that he couldn’t keep the miracle afloat for long, I think he was ecstatic that he’d walked on water! He had to embrace the divinity of the miraculous and the humanity of inevitable failure within moments of each other. Perhaps this gave him more insight into the nature of his Messiah. It was not about an achievement, but about learning.

We do all need to try to walk on water perhaps, but only because we shan’t find out who we are or what really matters to us until we fail, and sink, and reach out to grab whatever means the most to us. For Peter, it was an experience, not only of a brief victory, but of seeing his own weakness right before his very eyes and needing to reach out to Jesus. Failure is an immensely powerful teacher (I should know) and the spiritual road we travel as followers of Jesus, if we are truly committed, is strewn with it.

When Jesus was in the boat, earlier, he slept. “If you want a nice rest, climb into the stern” doesn’t have quite the same dynamic pocket devotional/house group session ring to it. But actually, didn’t Jesus say, “Come to me all you who are weary or burdened, and I will give you rest”? Can’t we know ourselves well enough to realise that there are seasons in our lives and faith journeys where what we need to do is not leap into action, but snuggle down there into the pile of cushions/coats and possibly torn fishing nets, and still be disciples? Is sleeping through the storm as courageous and miraculous an act as leaping over the side? Or am I a woman overboard?

Foundations: On Not Getting a Grip

Dear Readers,

One thing Lakelight is likely to be, is counter-cultural. The pieces we share on the blog will begin by clearing away some of the rubble and weeds that need to go before we can start to build the foundations of anything meaningful. We shall be talking as much for a while about how NOT to do things, as how to do them. Please understand that we are not being negative, that rather, space is being created for something new.

 

On Not Getting a Grip

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“Get a grip, Keren!” I found myself saying yesterday. I was suffering from anxiety and it was giving me extra physical symptoms on top of my already difficult chronic illness. I had to laugh at myself, because I’ve discovered over the years that getting any kind of grip, whether on myself, life or God, is not only impossible, but also the wrong way of going about things.

If anything, what I need to do when I feel like that is not grip tighter, but let go! We can be, spiritually, emotionally and physically, a lot like the proverbial monkey who is holding on so tightly to the peanuts in the jar, that she cannot pull her arm out. The more stubbornly we hold on, insisting that all the goodies are ours, or with an infantile faith in our certainty or entitlement, the more time we will be sat on the branch, hand stuck in jar, and unable to enjoy what’s been given to us.

What we need to do is slowly release our grip, let most of the peanuts go, and pull our hand out to enjoy one or two at a time. It’s the same with God, whom we can only grasp or comprehend in the tiniest doses, and it’s the same with the troubles we live with day by day.

Life is very rarely something we can catch by the scruff of the neck and lift up, shaking it till all the good stuff falls at our feet. It’s far more likely to be holding us! Letting go of our illusions of control, of knowing, of thinking we deserve anything, this is actually one definition of faith.

It is in our unknowing, our releasing the pressure on ourselves to perform, our understanding that we aren’t ever going to know it all, do it all, be it all, have it all, that is where our faith grows and matures. It is in scarcity and lack that we come to have an abundance of what really matters, and as usual, the Kingdom of Heaven turns a lot of what we think we know on its head.

So, what did I do yesterday to release the anxiety? I laughed at myself, I breathed long and deep, I had a bit of a cry and then prayed. All of these are good ways of letting go. Letting me go, letting God in; letting myself become smaller, him greater. Me decreasing, him increasing. It didn’t change the circumstances, there were still things to be anxious about, and today is hard too. I’ll be honest (because what’s the point of being anything else?) as I’m writing this there is a part of me that wants to throttle my screaming neighbours. But this too, I choose to let go. Deep breaths.

 

I cannot get a grip

On you Lord, or your ways

My hands clenching around

Branches of knowledge

Just slide down

Covered in oil and honey.

Exhausted, at the bottom

I finally learn

We do not arrive anywhere worth knowing

By climbing, or making fists.

 

 

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017