Creating Encounter in Colour: Red and Black

I was not going to write a post this week. Honouring the dead with silence seemed more in keeping with the centenary of the end of WW1. Having recently completed a novel about that conflict, the horrors of it are all too fresh in my heart and mind. But, I felt moved to write this. Lest we forget.

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I stand on the battlefield, careworn and weary with my own soldiering, sheltering my palmful of treasure. I cannot know the horrors that drench this earth, but I will still stand here with you, shifting the weight of my ignorance from foot to foot, my hand curling around the black dots, waiting for the right moment to release them.

I will keep silence for just this little while, when you have kept it a hundred years. And when I am soaked in the greyness of the clouded sky, and the countless white crosses have floored my heart, I will close my eyes and feel the solidity of the sadness in this land. It rises up through my soles, it tugs childlike at my humanity, it wrenches my gut, it bayonets my heart.

And when that song of your untimely end has pained its way along my living sinews, and shuddered my synapses, and made me remember you, only then will I say, “Lord have mercy,” and throw my poppy seeds into the harsh November wind, that they might be carried like you by chilly winds of chance, and thrown into the mangled mud of no-man’s land, the possibility of red resurrection always there, bright flowers on unmarked graves and trampled terror.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Photo from Pixabay

Creating Encounter: Silence and Stillness

Val Praying KDW

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