Creating Encounter in Colour

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Shortly after I began practising prayer and meditation as a central part of my life rather than an “add-on” the Lord started talking to me about colour. He reminded me how my favourite film as a child was The Wizard of Oz and hinted that my life was soon to be transformed from black and white to glorious Technicolor in the same way that the world changes for Dorothy when she travels from Kansas to Oz. After living so many years in what seemed a grey and deserted wasteland suffering with M.E. this came as very welcome news. The Lord drew out of me the realisation that colour is something that makes my heart leap.

As a child one of the most exciting things I could possibly find in a shop was a set of colouring pens or pencils. The range of pens all lined up shouting out their colours like a packaged rainbow was thrilling to me. It made me joyful. As an adult I had my capacity for joy stolen from me for a long time, due to this long and terrible illness and a crushing divorce. For years, my only consolation was doing cross stitch. The huge range of colours of embroidery thread were soothing to my soul, as was the act of creating. Next came a new, loving husband, thank God, and my new hobby, crochet, and although I could only do a very little at a time, the colours of all the yarn were balm to my wounds.

For my 40th birthday seven years ago, my parents bought me a retreat at Aylesford Priory in Kent. This was before my latest relapse which has left me almost entirely housebound. But back then, when I was sitting in the Relic Chapel which has the most beautiful coloured stained-glass windows (see my photograph above). I was thinking about prayer and colour when I felt the Lord strongly imprint a commission on my heart and I knew it was to be a writer. The first thing he wanted me to write about was colour. I duly wrote a short book which brought me great joy.  I’ve not yet been able to publish it, since it needs colour printing which is very expensive!

Three years ago, the Lord brought out of me a talent for art, and no-one was more surprised than I! My passion for colours had finally found its full outlet. I am deeply grateful. A few times over the years I have come back to writing here and there about my heart for colour, but now seems a good time to marry that with my love of art and photography, and this blog about Creating Encounter with God as well as resurrecting bits and pieces from that very first book.

My intention, God and health willing, is to post a piece a week on both this blog and at Fresh Mercies, of my trademark poetic prose, reflecting on colour as prayerful meditation. I hope that you will find your heart lifted and enjoy my little offerings. See you next week for piece one!

God bless you,

Keren

 

Creating Encounter: In Music

By Rowan Wyatt

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“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” Eph 5: 19-20

 

From Mozart to Motorhead, Beethoven to the Beatles, music is everywhere and with modern technology you can have it performing into your ears every minute of the day. As someone who lives for music I do exactly that, my life is made up of music. Memories are triggered by it, emotions, thoughts and creativity and more are inspired by it.

I am lucky enough also to get another benefit from music for that is where I mostly have my encounters with God. I am very intuitive towards music and I will often ‘get’ something that the composer never intended. Take for example Vaughan-Williams’ “Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis”. Whenever I listen to this music I am transported immediately to be standing beside Mary as she watches her son die on the cross, I feel the raw and wild emotion as grief and love threaten to overwhelm me to the point of drowning. I never cry but when I am here.

It is moments like these that God uses to remind me who he is and who I am in him, what he has done for me and will continue doing so, for his love for me is stronger than Mary’s was for her son as he hung on that cruel scaffold.

It goes without saying that sacred choral works move me in faith as well, but they pale into insignificance next to how I feel when I am listening to plainsong and chanting, most often nowadays erroneously labelled Gregorian Chant.

I value music as a most highly prized treasure and I am so very pleased that God has chosen this way to reveal himself to me, to instruct and support me. Being a musician, I have been able to honour Him with singing and music of my own, nothing as amazing as the Vaughan-Williams but that isn’t important, the intent, the heart is what is important. A triangle played with love and joy is of far more musical value to God and us than a virtuoso violinist ‘going through the motions’.

As an atheist I would imagine Vaughan-Williams would be amused to hear what that piece of music does to me, but I wish to thank him for it, for though his composition I have come face to face with our saviour and fallen in love with him.

Text © R R Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Creating Encounter: Silence and Stillness

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Silence, or even quiet, is a hard thing to find these days. If you are trying to cultivate more of it in your life in order to find out what lies beneath all the hubbub, you have your work cut out for you. One of the few benefits of being chronically ill and unable to have a job is that I have time, and I have some precious stillness. I think it is impossible to enjoy silence unless you are still, and probably vice versa as well. If you cannot still or quiet your own mind or worries, or even keep your own body still, you are not going to experience real depth in silence or anything else.  And if you have noise all around you, it is going to be very hard to become truly still.

Both are needed for some kinds of God-encounter. I believe after practising contemplative, centring and listening prayer for fifteen years, that it is very much worth the effort. And to begin with, it is hard. We have a lot of barking dogs, boisterous neighbours and traffic where we live, so quiet is a delicious relief when it comes. I’ve needed to create artificial silence using earplugs, and learnt to keep my body in a comfortable position where it is not going to constantly distract me. I used to be able to use a prayer stool for this, but my health has deteriorated, and I now have to pray sitting up in bed.

There are always going to be distractions of course, there are worries and to-do lists and spouses and children and there are aches and pains and that awful nagging guilt that you should be doing something useful, rather that sitting in stillness and silence with the maker of the universe. But in truth I’m not sure that you could find anything more useful to do with any sliver of your time.

Before we truly begin to listen, to see and hear, in encounter with God, these two things need to become part of our routine.  Until they are, life is just a constant stream of chatter, chores and pressure. Yes, as we have already talked about, we can encounter God and be in his presence in all activities, but there is also a need for what we might call “quality time” with God if we want the relationship to grow, and indeed I think out of this flows the ability to reside in him at all other times.

Carving out time and giving him our full attention requires some discipline, but there is no better way to begin to resonate with the frequency of that still, small voice.  The gentle whisper of God needs us to be listening and focussed.  This is, of course extremely difficult for parents or carers of young or disabled children, who take up every waking moment. I think God gives special dispensation where it is needed, pouring out his grace upon us. But determination and desire does pay off. Susanna Wesley (mother of Charles and John) used to take a few minutes to pray, putting her apron over her head. When the children saw the apron was up, they knew to give her that time.

I started with five minutes a day, and gradually wanted more and more.  Never once have I thought, I wish I hadn’t bothered sitting with God today, I could have got so much else done! Of course, the point of this series is to help us understand that there is a multitude of ways to pray and to encounter God, but to “be still and know that I am God,” that is, in my opinion, the best starting place.

Text and artwork © by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Mother’s Day Prayer

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Prayer for Mothering Sunday.

Dear Lord, you are our parent, the best of mothering and fathering. Today we thank you for our earthly mothers but also lift to you those for whom this will be a painful day. We ask you to be with those of us who are pained every day by those things that separate us from giving or receiving a mother’s love; whether that is by bereavement or estrangement, loss or abuse, distance or incarceration.

Lord we pray for those who know the pain of childlessness, of separation or of loss; for those who bear difficult, strained child/parent relationships, and those who feel uncared for or unloved or unappreciated on a day that celebrates things they do not have or have never known.  Lord, gather all those in such pain under your wings as a mother hen gathers her chicks, and give them understanding, consolation, peace, reassurance and protection from further hurt.

In Jesus’ name, amen.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

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.

Creating Encounter: Pots and Pans

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My husband is the washer-upper in our house. I used to be able to do a bit now and again to help him, but at the current time am too weak. I can’t stand at the sink or repeatedly lift or wash the crockery. It’s hard for me to not be able to help him, but it is also a lesson in being grateful for him and all the ways in which he takes care of me and our home.

Washing up is hardly a creative pursuit, and like so many things in our daily routine, it is just a chore that has to be done. Even if you have a dishwasher, it needs loading and unloading. So, what does it have to do with creating encounter with God? Is he interested in us to such a degree that we can even meet him in a boring, repetitive task? I believe he is, and Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century French Carmelite monk believed this too. He said, as did his Carmelite predecessor, Teresa of Avila, that God could be found “among the pots and pans.”

Don’t think that if you had a great deal of time you would spend more of it in prayer. Get rid of that idea! God gives more in a moment than in a long period of time, for His actions are not measured by time at all… Know that even when you are in the kitchen, Our Lord is moving among the pots and pans.” – St Teresa of Avila

The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.” – Brother Lawrence

It is a question of devotion, of giving every moment and action, thought and deed, over to God, all about where your heart is focussed. It is something that needs to be practised, a gradual process, and a deliberate act. Even in the act of washing dishes, we can choose to meditate on God as potter, on treasures in clay jars, on the act of cleansing and forgiveness, the washing away of sin, on baptism, and so a common chore becomes a gateway into prayer, of setting one’s mind and heart on God. And even if we are not putting in any effort with such thoughts, but simply opening the activity and the time up to God, it is made holy.

And I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to GOD; which I may call an actual presence of GOD, or to speak better, an habitual, silent and secret conversation of the soul with GOD, which often causes me joys and rapture inwardly….” – Brother Lawrence

As we make this spiritual practise every day which Brother Lawrence called “the practice of the presence of God” (also the title of the book in which his thoughts are collated), so we work through frustrations and it becomes second nature to us. We discover a wondrous thing, which is that even Fairy Liquid can become a sacred unction, and dirty dishes the holy articles of the Tabernacle. God is indeed everywhere, and all things belong.

text © by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

Prayer Shawls

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One of my ways of ministering is intercession. It started off with lists. Over the years I’ve tended to drop them, because whilst they mean I don’t forget anyone, they do tend to become a bit of a drone, without too much compassion behind the words. Instead I listen to what or who is on my heart and pray for one or two people at a time, though to be honest, the last few years have been so tough, there has probably been as much petition as interceding!

Crochet is a hobby of mine, when my arms are up to it, and when I discovered a book on making shawls for people whilst praying for them, it seemed like two of my favourite things had collided serendipitously. Prayer shawls seem to be more of a North American thing, but it would be lovely if they began to take off here in the UK too. There are various ways of going about it, and of course they can also be knitted (I’m far too uncoordinated to manage more than one hook).

Some people make shawls in a group, some alone. Some pray general prayers over their work and then ask God who it is going to, or wait for an opportunity to arise. They might hear of someone in need of comfort, someone grieving, or spending a lot of time in hospital, for example.  For my own practice, I ask God beforehand who the shawl is for, he and I pick a colour together, and then a pattern, which often have symbolic meanings. I pray very specifically for that person and their loved ones as I work. Because this takes some concentration, it is rather slower than making a normal piece of work, and so I am only on my fifth in about 8 years!

What’s been really interesting is the depth of the prayers when you are working like this with one person’s life specifically on your heart, and also the fact that God chooses, in some cases, people I would not have done if left to my own devices. He knows better than we do exactly who needs our prayers, and so it is good to feel that he Holy Spirit is leading the choices and entering into what might otherwise just be a hobby.

The finished articles might be less accurate than my usual work, even though everything I make tends to have wobbly edges (counting isn’t my strong point), but the recipients are always astonished that someone would do something so time-consuming and thoughtful, especially for them, and that God might have them on his heart.

One friend was diagnosed with bone cancer shortly after I had finished her shawl, but before I gave it to her. I know she has sat wrapped in it many times both at home and during treatment.  My current project, which is turning into more of a blanket than a shawl (I really should have looked more closely at the pattern), is for myself. I was extremely surprised that God wanted me to make one just for me, but although it isn’t quite finished yet, I think all those prayers have definitely helped me through a very troubled time, which also seems not quite over. Maybe without that concentrated petition, it would have been even harder.

Text and photo (me with my first prayer shawl) ©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

If you live in the US or Canada, your church may already have a prayer shawl ministry. Otherwise, this seems a good website, and there are any number of books out there with prayers and patterns.

 https://www.shawlministry.com/

Creating Encounter with God

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Our main theme at Lakelight Sanctuary for this year is going to be how we make space for God in our lives. This will include creative and artistic practices, but also how we invite God into the ordinary daily activities of our lives, like eating a meal, walking the dog, doing the chores.

If everything is indeed holy, then we can be sure that the sacred is willing and waiting to inhabit every part of our days and nights, as well as the works of our hands.

We want to be thinking about how to give everything over to God, whether big or small, and whether it is of our choosing or something that has been thrust upon us. We want, in essence, to explore what it really means to become “living sacrifices,” and to “pray without ceasing.” We hope you will join us on this learning journey.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1 NIV)

“Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 ESV)

 

Artwork and text © by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

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 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