Creating Encounter in Colour: Robin Redbreast

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Your sacred heart emblazoned in scarlet feathers, a bib of tomato-soup brightness where the embers of the Christ-child’s fire were brushed just in time from your chest. Caught light inside though, where the chambers of love beat loudly, bursting into song that lifts us higher than we know how to be. Beauty given breath from beauty, catching us up into the heavenly realms, a foretaste of flight and joyful worship we can only approach in wonder, sidling towards an understanding like an opera fan listening at the stage door or Moses peeking at God’s glory from a cleft in the rock.

 

Text and artwork © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Painting inspired by a reference photo by Paul Green, with kind permission.  The text is an excerpt from my book of devotionals, Garden of God’s Heart.

Creating Encounter: Story

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Two writer friends, Amy and Fiona, asked an interesting question on social media this week. Will there be books in heaven? My first response was to think, of course, but no Jeffery Archer. Which just goes to show how quickly our instincts fly to exclude those we don’t deem worthy. But I think that probably it is God who chooses the stock for the libraries of heaven, just as he decides who gets to sit where at the feast.

As a writer myself, and someone who was an avid reader when I was well, I can’t imagine an existence without books. When I was tiny, nothing was so magical as sitting cross-legged on the library floor, transported to another world. We are wired for story, and it has a deep and presiding influence in our lives and learning. We learn about good and evil from fairy stories, whilst myth and legend help us to understand life by stretching overarching narratives across it, like skin on a drum frame.  Archetypes, heroes and villains are all helpful tools for navigating reality, and story can be both fiction and non-fiction. We talk, don’t we, about Bible “stories” and we read about the lives of famous people and saints formulated as story in biographies and autobiographies.

How we narrate our own lives, how we tell our story to ourselves and others, is a hugely important thing. We might see ourselves as victim or hero, and more often than not, write a triumphal narrative into the facts, whether it exists or not, because we need to have hope that it all works out in the end. Meaning is the mainstay of a human life, and story gives it to us.

What heaven is like, is something we can have great fun imagining. I feel sure that whilst we are coming home to God when we die, and finding union with his loving being, that we are also going, on some level, to keep becoming more truly ourselves, and that implies that there will continue to be an element of growth. Story, learning and creativity will always play a part in that.

When God has been gracious enough to give me glimpses of my heavenly future, I have always been doing something creative. Embroidering altar cloths as I minister to the broken, or kneeling on the back of a lapis lazuli sky, etching intricate patterns and words into its surface.  We serve a creative God and I think this reflection of who he is in our beings will be part of what is next. Added to which, I truly believe that the stories I have written have been given to me during the stillness of deep prayer. They sadly have the mark of my human expression that cannot capture God’s heart well, but they feel like a holy endeavour.

If we ever, like Richard Dawkins, begin to think that story is superfluous, and that fiction is about lies, rather than heavenly magic, we might do well to remember that Jesus chose to teach us, not by dissecting the universe into facts, nor by preaching clever theology, but by telling stories.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Creating Encounter: In Nature

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I don’t manage to get into the outside world much. I mostly live in the bedroom, propped up with pillows during the day. Today my legs had the good grace to carry me out to our small patio, and there I stayed a few sweet moments to be in awe of the pale pink cherry blossom against the silver-grey sky. It is early Spring here and it was wonderful to see so many bees buzzing around the translucent beauty of the flowers.

One of the honey bees dropped almost vertically out of the sky and landed on a blade of grass, obviously in need of a rest. I (perhaps foolishly) knelt down to be with it. Here passed a delicious minute of grace, sitting with a bee. I watched it breathing in and out, watched as my cat gave it a curious sniff and hopped backwards, watched as it gathered its strength and washed its tiny face with its front legs, and watched as it made itself ready and flew upwards and off as quickly as it had arrived.

Yes it was painful, and taxing, getting up again, yes I’m glad my plastic patio chair was there to lean on, and grateful I was only a few feet from the back door. But I’m also glad to have shared time in the life of one of God’s tiniest creatures, encounter with any one of whom is a glimpse into the heart and mind of the creator.

Often such time is a gateway into contemplation, or simply awe, which we can then take back into our “ordinary” time as spiritual food. As with any kind of prayer, I find that, given a willingness to be still, or quiet, to observe without expectation, to be childlike in our sight, we are often given a special gift to take into ourselves. God can feed my hungry heart in just a brief interlude in the day, and it will be something I always remember.

It was not until I began writing about this just now that I also recalled that a name God has given me is “the Honeycomb Hermit” and so there is much here to meditate on, and I am not above being taught by an insect how to rest, and how to “bee” still.

Blessings,

Keren

Text and photo ©  Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Creating Encounter: Poetry

 

Poetry books

A lot of people think of poetry as a sublime art form, a reaching into the metaphysical for eternal truth. They think of Shelley and Keats, of Plath and Bukowski, perhaps not of Pam Ayres and Roger McGough. Poets really ought to be lounging in smoking jackets with eyes shut in imaginative ecstacies, or writhing in the throes of suicidal depression, not normal people with, say, toddlers running around their feet, or standing in the kitchen gazing out of the window at geraniums.

The truth is that poetry is always sublime, even when it is ridiculous, and that absolutely anyone can be a poet, just as anyone can be a writer. It is harder to be a good poet, of course, and completely subjective. One of my very favourite poems consists of two words, is entitled “Fish” and by Ogden Nash:  “Wet pet.”

When it comes to using poetry as a place to create encounter with God, we have some wonderful precedents. I would urge you to take a look at Daniel Ladinsky’s translations of spiritual greats, “Love Poems From God,” which gives us truly beautiful renderings of the verse of poets, mystics and saints.

I personally often write poems at times of great personal distress or ill humour, because I find the writing process cathartic, and prose just doesn’t seem able to contain depths of pain in such a concentrated way. At the same time I ask God to meet me in that pain, and the words therefore often feel like the results of encounter.

Writing poetry can be a form of prayer, and in fact, the central point of this series is that everything can, though perhaps creativity in particular.  If we are ever in doubt that poetry is a holy endeavour, we might read some Gerard Manley Hopkins. For me, he was the master of spiritual poetry.

Poets who frame pain in beauty, like Alice Walker and Maya Angelou (two more masters) are talking in spiritual language for me, even where they are deeply grounded in earthly happenings and visceral words. My husband and co-founder of Lakelight, Rowan Wyatt, is a wonderful poet and I hope he will share something of his process later in this series.

The writing of poetry can also be open to God in the sense that we are trying to find the words to form order out of chaos, matter from the void. Trying to clothe with the flesh of words, things that seem unsayable. We worship the Creator God and the Great Redeemer, who can help us shape our clay even as we work with feeble fingers. Giving God the process, asking him in, dedicating the words that form in the silence to him, all make space for encountering his character and his truths.

To illustrate that I’ll end this piece with one of my absolute favourite poems,

SAINT FRANCIS AND THE SOW  BY GALWAY KINNELL

The bud

stands for all things,

even for those things that don’t flower,

for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;

though sometimes it is necessary

to reteach a thing its loveliness,

to put a hand on its brow

of the flower

and retell it in words and in touch

it is lovely

until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;

as Saint Francis

put his hand on the creased forehead

of the sow, and told her in words and in touch

blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow

began remembering all down her thick length,

from the earthen snout all the way

through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,

from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine

down through the great broken heart

to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering

from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:

the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

 

Galway Kinnell, “Saint Francis and the Sow” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell.

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 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?

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