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

On Not Being History Makers

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There are lots of self-discovery books and courses out there in the wide world. Some of the Christian ones are worth a look. When younger, I found John Ortberg’s “The Me I Always wanted to be” helpful as well as Bruce Wilkinson’s “The Dream Giver,” Joyce Meyer’s “How to Succeed at Being Yourself: Finding the Confidence to Fulfil Your Destiny” and Rick Warren’s ubiquitous “The Purpose Driven Life”. But I would caution people against getting gung-ho about pursuing their identity and purpose in the Lord. For just as it worries me to see churches investing so much time and energy in mission statements and vision steering committees instead of studying Acts and investing in unity, discipleship, mission and prayer; so it worries me too that many spiritual writers seem to think that we need to ask God for a mountain to climb, a hard path to travel or a monster to slay. Besides which, I want to be the me God wants me to be. That might be something quite different than I imagine. And my “destiny” might be to just sit in this room and pray a couple of times a day. It’s not often stuff that would make Cecil B. De Mille drool, is it, this life?

No, the Christian path, it seems to me, is quite hard enough as it is. The Lord and his guidance are easier to find if you approach them with a humble heart, meekly and in the knowledge that if there’s a mountain to climb, he will show you the way to the foothills first. Likewise, if there’s a great task to be accomplished, it will begin most likely in frustration, with a need for faith and trust. Let’s not rush things and ask for great things to do, we shall only fall at the first hurdle and feel like idiots. God shall say gently, “See?” and pick us up from the dust. Only give him your heart and your will, and all shall become clear. These are small and difficult enough beginnings.

Besides which, our destinies may end up looking from the outside, far less dramatic than some modern texts would have us believe. Let us not forget that Jesus described our role in the world as that of yeast and salt; unseen and unnoticed influences for the most part. Yeast works slowly and steadily to change things, it does not announce its presence from mountaintops.   Christians are most noticeable, for the most part, by their absence. A wonderful exposition of this point is found in Dennis Lennon’s book “Weak enough for God to use.”

We are inclined to look over the head of the commonplace, searching for divine fireworks in the night sky. But the Creator loves his Creation and honours it by coming to us clothed in its familiar ordinariness.”

For some of us, the heroics of the day will be getting our elderly mother onto the commode, or biting our anger back when she accuses us of eating the dessert she had half an hour ago and now cannot remember eating. The legacy we leave the world might be the patience and kindness we show when our alcoholic brother has snuck out of the house with our credit card for the fourteenth time. The good example we lead by could be the silence we choose not to fill with raging expletives in front of the children when their new puppy has shredded the cushions again. These might seem like small things, but they are not. It is in these holdings and gentlings, this giving space and forgiveness, that we are being Christlike, rather than in any great visible achievement.

This is why real love is our greatest teacher. Not the romantic ideal of fairy tales, or the apparent perfection touted on the cover of Hello magazine, but the down-in-the-depths, dealing with chronic illness, trying to do our best by people who will never appreciate it, thinking of small kindnesses, saying prayers for which no-one will ever congratulate us, sitting with someone we have never seen before or will ever see again whilst they wait for an ambulance, listening to the same story ten times in one hour from a loved one with Alzheimer’s and smiling with them each time, kind of love. These are opportunities to be ambassadors for Christ, and when we miss them, we miss some of the greatest chances we will ever have to grow in love.

Each tiny act of kindness, of calming our own inner turmoil before replying, of counting to ten and smiling, these are the stones, or even pebbles* on which Christ builds his church. I do not find it helpful when we are made to feel failures because we have not become missionaries in Lesotho or surgeons working for Médicins Sans Frontières, or when we read something that makes us feel like we missed our vocation in life because we didn’t get ordained or write a thesis on transubstantiation. Whilst all those things are wonderful, most of us aren’t going to be doing that. And that’s okay, and we didn’t necessarily get it wrong or miss the way.

We have ample chances each day to live out the love of God, and some of them we’ll miss. Others we’ll hit out of the ball park and no-one but him will see. It is not about being seen. It’s about the loving. And in that loving, we become the Body of Christ, a very real ordinary flesh becoming sacred “transubstantiation” ourselves. We may never be mentioned in the history books, but our names are written in another book, and that one will turn out to be far more important.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

(this piece was adapted from a section in my 2015 book, “Positive Sisterhood”).

 

*When Jesus renames Simon as Peter, he uses the word petros, meaning a small rock or pebble, such as might be found along a road, but then goes on to use the word petra, meaning a mass or foundation of rock, in the same sentence, as the base on which he will build the Church. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18 NIV

 

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