Creating Encounter in Colour: Black Forest Gateau (Schwarzwaldtorte)

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We walk through Grimm’s forest tales, peering into witch’s ovens and shaking our heads at young princes on brave steeds as they charge headlong into thorny frontiers, wonder at young maidens sleeping in glass coffins and follow, eventually, the long trail of breadcrumbs that leads us out into the open air. We breathe long and deep, pondering whether or not we have just entered or left reality.

Broken bread leads us, as it always does, to some kind of Kirche, and since we are recently passed through gloomy Austrian pines, to kirsch, oozing into chocolate cake, all of it softening into a dark deliciousness, a velvet plateful of baked flour and alcohol, akin to the mystery of communion.

Is this richness too, a picture of life in all its fullness, and the bleeding of fermented cherries a reminder of how many horrific stories there are, written to prepare children for the dangers that lurk behind close-camped evergreens, or to remind adults that we too, need to be wary of gung-ho princes and apple sellers? And as I think on the syrupy deep morello red drizzle soaking into cocoa, mixing sour and sweet, am I a warning to myself on the perils of an overactive imagination?

This sermon in the Kirsche Kirche Küche has left us glowing with Glühwein, drunkenly drenched by Spirit, flammable for God. A powerful combination of taste sensations, warmed here out of the cold depressing zeitgeist, and aware of another kingdom, where burgundy deep plum aubergine liqueur and plain brown sponge sing to us of flesh and blood, and the possibility that heaven might be sumptuous glory, a melt-in-the-mouth savouring and a colour to get lost in, sustenance so rich we can only be treated once in a while, as we also embrace the poverty of daily bread. These two, as far and near from one another as fairy stories and liturgy, everything made holy by our cosmic Christ.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Photo from Pixabay

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

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