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!

On Christmas

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It’s Christmas Eve, and all over the house, not a creature is stirring, apart from parents desperately trying to wrap everything, get as much prepared for the feast as possible, not wake the kids and make sure everything is perfect. They might flop into bed for a few snatched hours before the children rise bright eyed and expectant, sweet for a little while, but soon to become sugar-fuelled tornadoes.

Christmas has become a sort of monster, a festive mouth yawning wide with tinselled teeth, waiting to devour all our time, money and energy. For many in the west, it has become a time when we are surrounded by abundance, and yet cannot find the peace or the joy at the heart of it all. We know it’s there somewhere, maybe it’s the present that is buried right at the back of the tree, under all the piles.

For others, there will not be enough this year. There might be fewer presents. Someone who should be here is not. A job, or an opportunity may have got lost somewhere along the year, and honestly, it’s a miracle there’s even a bag of sprouts. Others are all alone, facing another special day with only the tv for company and a ready meal for one as their feast. Still others are too ill to enjoy anything, or are in hospital or deployed in another country.

Even for those who seem to have it all sorted, no matter how bright the lights, how big the turkey, how tall the tree, something is not quite right with all this. There is an emptiness at the heart of it all. We’ve forgotten why we are doing  it, and we all feel as though we are missing out.

I think we have been got at by the spirit of Anti-Christmas, which seeks to wrap nothing very much in a swathe of santa paper and glitter, to con us with tinsel, to distract us with bargains until we are dizzy with the meaningless expense of it all.

Oh, we all know what it’s supposed to be about, the joy of the saviour’s arrival, a little baby born in a stable, we know the nativity story and we might even be singing, or watching our children sing, some of the festive carols. We bluster about keeping Christ in Christmas and we bristle when we are made to say Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings, but do we have any real idea why?

The real scandal of Christmas, the truth that the enemy cannot stand, the reason that he tries to draw our eyes away with schmaltz and sparkle, is that the Christmas story is about the upside down kingdom of God. Christmas is about the impossible made real, the scandal of God incarnate screaming his new lungs out in an animal trough, the scandal, really of God’s grace, the foolishness of giving the world his heart on a plate, the unspeakable risk of it, the audacious vulnerability of birthing himself into poverty, into a place where the world will seek almost immediately to murder him: the pouring himself forth into our poor, stricken, greedy, violent lives.

It is ludicrous, and yet it makes perfect sense. Our holy God, accepting such smallness, the infinite restricting himself to the tiny. The Word becoming a speechless child. It paves the way for the Prince of Peace to be violently killed. It tells us that we serve a self-emptying, obedient, impossibly loving God who will risk everything, suffer everything, with us. Immanuel, the incarnation, born of a poor maiden, into a world that can’t even be bothered to make room for him.

The wonder of it is too much for our hardened hearts to understand, most of the time. We never come close to grasping it. We could meditate on it all year round and still be left shaking our heads in perplexed awe.

I don’t know how we can pass up the trappings and frippery of Christmas in order to actually focus on the real gift we are being given. Maybe we don’t need to, some of them, after all, are fun, and Jesus is certainly something worth celebrating! “What about the children?” or “We are doing if for the children!” is what we cry out in defence of our traditions. Well, that’s fine. But lets’ do the right things for the right reasons, for our children. Maybe we can simplify things a little, so that there is more time. Maybe we can give gifts where they are really needed. There are a million blogs out there today that will tell you how. I’m not concerned about that. We can all celebrate how we would like to.

All I want for Christmas is for people to be released from the pressure of the fantasy of the “perfect” Christmas, and into the truth that God is with us and God is for us. God is prepared to burst screaming onto a hay-strewn floor, prepared to learn to walk and talk, prepared to spend time with us, prepared to be vulnerable, patient, loving, kind, generous, in the face of our selfishness, prepared to suffer, prepared to die for us, prepared to give himself up for love even if nobody ever notices or even thanks him. He is prepared to be the child born to a couple far from home behind a hotel. He is even prepared to be the unseen miracle at the heart of a winter feast. May we each of us catch a glimpse of his holy humility this Christmas.  God bless us, every one.

 

”In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

 

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

 

(Philippians 2: 5-11 NIV)

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

On Not Forgetting

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Today is Remembrance Sunday, when we traditionally think on the sacrifice made by servicemen, women and animals in wartime, who have bought the peace we live in at a horrendous price. I am a pacifist, but it doesn’t stop me being grateful, overwhelmed and sad, at the sacrifices that have been made. I have every respect for those who laid down their lives.  This year, it’s all a little more poignant for me, as I am finishing up a novel I’ve spent 2017 writing, set in England during WW1. It focuses on the experience of bereaved women, but the research has been harrowing to say the least.

Another thing that has brought the reality of loss home to me is the recent discovery that my husband’s great grandfather died in France in March 1918. His name was Frank Hunt and his name is engraved on the the Arras Memorial at Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery.  He is just one name among hundreds of thousands of British troops killed of course, but sometimes just that one person and their connection to you, can be a revelation that opens up our compassion, when a heart cannot cope with the legions of deaths from both World Wars and more.

“Lest we Forget” is the constant refrain on Armistice and Remembrance Days. It seems impossible that we ever would. And yet, today we are still dealing with the phenomenon of Holocaust deniers, the rise of the far right, yet again, and the lack of respect on all political “sides”, for those who have fought, been injured or died for their countries. Even the very liberal left have their strange rhetoric about remembrance glorifying war, which is horribly disrespectful, I feel. One can be sad about the losses and grateful for the sacrifice without condoning violence. One can believe war is the wrong way to go about solving problems and yet still be respectful of the suffering of those who went to fight and die, often without any idea of the horrors they were being sent into.

We are still at war of course, a seemingly unending mess of bloody conflicts in the Middle and near East since the First Gulf War began in 1991. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Serbia, Rwanda and all those  conflicts, deemed somehow lesser by the media that we hear little about in our news stories, all the tribal conflicts and border disputes, and in a smaller way in our everyday lives, the wars between race, gender, sexualities, political parties, even church denominations.  Fighting, it seems, is in our blood.

But we should take heart that part of the human condition is also reflecting the Father’s character and the Son’s sacrifice. That wherever there is conflict, there are also diplomats, medics and chaplains. That there are always, somehow, people willing to stand up to evil ideologies and megalomaniacs. That there are always truth tellers, dream-mongers and peacemakers, like Gandhi and Desmond Tutu, as well as social activists seeking to bring about a lasting and level playing field, like Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day.  And when we remember the millions of people who have died in war, both military and civilian casualties, as well as those affected, traumatised, injured or bereaved because of conflict, we do well to honour their sacrifice, their losses and their journey. If we deny this, or choose to forget, we may never learn to change course. May we always remember, and let it lead us to do everything we can to foster peace.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Artwork © by R. R. Wyatt

On Not Being Perfect

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All serious spiritual seekers will carry some version of Jacob’s limp or Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” It is often, but not always, physical, and it will show fully our weakness and humanity, at the same time as a deep well of grace. This is how we each carry the Christ wound.

For this reason alone, we should not look to the veneered teeth glinting in the spray-tanned face, but to the “scum of the earth” apostles (as described in 1 Corinthians 4), who preach God’s love from sickbeds, wheelchairs, poverty, crutches, depression and whilst admitting to their battle with alcohol, anger or jealousy. One of my favourite teachers, Brennan Manning, called us all in our loved imperfection, “ragamuffins.”

Broken preachers, who know their own brokenness well, who are unafraid of it, talk, not of their perfection, nor of how we might emulate them; but of how suffering and living in this hurting world can offer a gateway into knowing God and his unimaginable love. They know that instead of having reached the top of the ladder, they have learned how to stand at the bottom, holding it steady for others.

Jesus told us to “Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48 NIV) but before we gallop off into striving to be flawless, we should know that the word perfect here in the Greek is teleioi/teleios, the sense of which is much more about being mature and whole, literally “fully-developed,” than without fault. It is, as I understand it, an encouragement to be ourselves, to grow into completion, to be the best you or the best me that we can be. We can follow this instruction whilst still carrying an awareness of our sins and a desire to change.

Frequently the cross we each bear is the knowing of our own failings, and the resurrection life that we embody (crucially at the same time) allows God to shine through them. Like the risen Christ before Thomas, we can say, here, see for yourself: “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27 NIV)   My wounds are real, our teachers say with Christ, but even more astonishing is the new life that God has given me through them, and not in spite of them.

©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 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?