Creating Encounter in Colour: Soft Gold

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The cool gold creeps its way across the grass and stone. The dew sparkles, the shadows recede, for they too, must obey the rules of death and resurrection, now fading and passing out to let in the sun. The light seems weak at first, but this is only the sweet gentleness that kisses the world awake and nudges at the edges of the shore, so that everything remembers how to glisten in new mercies before the whole tide comes rolling in.

Soft light breaks into an outpouring of bright light that cannot help but give the best and whole of itself: the sky by noon blindingly adazzle; the ground seared by the seal of golden approval, that having caressed every blade of grass awake, now deluges its heart of gold upon the entire garden. No wonder Mary, who knew him so well, seeing him coronaed in brightness, thought him first a gardener.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Photo from Pixabay

Creating Encounter in Colour: Gertrude’s Cloak

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This winter cloak is cerisely the colour of cherry pie innards, loganberries and deep Scottish heather. A long, velvet brocade that drips with the heaviness of too much wine, dizzy with its own lushness. When she sits on the gilt throne, it drapes grape-ishly along the floor, curls coquettishly into heaving shoulders of patisserie layers, as though folding in on itself in mille-feuille delicacy.

Such lightness with such weight, and the King’s silver clasp that holds it on my lady, joining across hard sternum, is thorn to its roses, ringing bells discordant at mourning, a wedding feast too close on the heels of funeral meats. A heady aroma rises and falls here, undulating like the cloth, akin to Jesus’ gambled garment, which knows no seams.

Let us not be caught unawares by the forceful fragrance of crushed petals, the impassioned poisoned perfume of ambition. Not unsexed but fully rounded, seductive, the spell of a persuasive smile and the perfectly timed drip-dropping of venom into one’s ears.

So much read that is not there, even betwixt the lines, her character moulded and imagined by so many male players and professors over the centuries. Sister to Magdalene, even she does not know how she has been played, and enfolded in plans long laid out, enveloping more than her body, cloaking her in foul deeds.

 

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Composite art by R R Wyatt  © used with permission.

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 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 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 Getting out of the Boat

fishing-1245979_1920 Photo from Pixabay

(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?