On A Word for the Year

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Lots of Christians now participate in this practice, which began as a non-religious idea. The gist of the whole thing is that you pick a word, just one, that is about what you want to focus on for the year, rather than making a whole list of resolutions that get left by the wayside along with the diet. First mooted by the One Word 365 team, it was then picked up by the Church. In the Christian version, called My One Word, set up by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen, the blurb goes as follows:

The first step is to simply take some time and decide what kind of person you want to be at the end of this year… What are the qualities of the person you want to become? Once you have a list of the characteristics, simply pick a word..”

We choose a word, and use that as an intention for the year.  I’ve done this every New Year since 2015, but with the proviso that the word is chosen, not by me, but by God, and communicated to me by the act of listening prayer.

This year I wasn’t going to do it, but my word came relentlessly anyway. It is “broken.” This highlights the first inherent danger of the practice, which is that without listening in, leaning in to the word that we are given, or choosing it for ourselves, we might miss what it is really speaking to us. There was a heartsink moment with this word, I admit, until God told me that it was about being broken open, about breakthroughs, about hatching.

I’m all for anything that helps us learn to be still and listen to the Lord, and I think this aspect ought to be highlighted in the materials, rather than people choosing their own word, however prayerfully.  Because another danger is that we may well end up choosing or even hearing what we want to hear (and this can happen via our subconscious even in contemplation if we are not vigilant). We might choose a lovely, positive word like “Blessings” and not really let it lead into any soul work.

This given word can be a wonderful point of reference if we approach it with maturity, aware that another potential problem with such focus is that we can end up limiting what God wants to do, and also the time he wants to take to accomplish it. Because, let’s face it, God is rarely in a rush.  Healing and shaping and refining his loved ones often takes decades, if not a lifetime.  So, I go into this New Year knowing that the word God gave me this time last year (and probably the ones before that) goes with me. He’s not done with them yet, and probably never will be, but he understands that I’m a tiny, fairly helpless being and focus can bring good results.

For many people it is a help to have that one word to keep in mind and heart and work or struggle with. When it is done well, God-centred and prayerfully, I’ve seen it be powerful.  But we must also bear in mind that it is a very, very small part of the picture. If you are going to participate, my advice would be, if you are a Christian, to do so slowly, carefully, in prayer and knowing from the start that the focus on this word is meant to be more of an aide-memoire, a remembering of God’s promises for this year, an idea about what HE is doing, not what YOU are achieving. Because control may well be the most dangerous thing of all in this for those following Christ. If we begin to imagine that change is all down to us, as if it were an exercise program or a special diet, we will end up deluded and certainly disappointed.

I think the My One Word movement has the potential to also be an exercise in focussing so hard on one thing that it misses the ONE NECESSARY THING. And whilst I will not discourage you from participating (nor should you feel obliged to take part), I would urge that you take it for what it is, and let the Lord lead you, not despairing if you hear nothing, not being surprised if the year ahead is about more than just one issue in your life, and not limiting God in any way whatsoever. Be open to all that he has for you, but by all means, ask for a point of focus if you feel that one is needed.  If nothing else, your one word may be the conversation starter that you and he need.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, photo from Pixabay

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 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 Twee

Apologies that there was no blog entry last week, due to ‘flu.

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This week, let’s talk about one of my bugbears. The unstoppable rise of tweeness. The tidal wave of saccharin we are constantly bombarded with on social media and, heaven help us, in Church and somewhere in most forms of Christian writing, all of which is, frankly, enough to give us spiritual diabetes.

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-2 NIV)

Twee lends itself beautifully to the meme, or the short status, as well as to song lyrics, prayers and poems. It is especially prevalent in blogs.  It is a deliciously sweet icing on life, that whilst often containing some truth, is dangerously shallow. If we are not careful, we can get suckered into the idea that this is where God lives.

We can smile and say, “Remember it’s darkest before the dawn,” to someone who is in a shadowy, difficult place, and it sounds good, it sounds true, even like it might be a Bible verse (it’s not as far as I know), we think it must be a comfort to them. And although there is nothing wrong with wanting to comfort someone who is struggling, that compassion needs to rise from a place that sees their pain and wants to hold space around it, to be a loving witness to it, rather than simply wanting to say a quick something that sounds like a solution, but is more about soothing our own discomfort at their pain, than actually helping.

So many of us (I’m sure I am guilty of this too) have spoken, posted, tweeted in this unthinking way, that merely absolves us, and makes the person we are talking to feel even more beleaguered. Why? Because it’s too trite, it’s not enough, it only loads guilt onto a person who cannot even believe there is a dawn, let alone has the strength to wait for it. Telling someone that what doesn’t kill them will make them stronger, whilst they are feeling like they would rather it did kill them, is not helpful.

Twee is akin to the half-baked theologies that dismiss suffering, that condemn the long-term sick and that have not the least idea of what it might mean to follow Christ fully, or with the understanding that not everything is going to be wonderful.  At its best, it is apparently wholesome drivel, at its worst, the emotional equivalent of hit and run. It is cousin to that most dreadful of Christian vices, meaning well.

Meaning well does not think about consequences, or indeed about anything enduring. When I recall difficulties I have encountered myself in the Body of Christ, most of the really hurtful things have been said or done by people who no doubt, meant well. They spoke out of bad teaching, often, or from motives that appeared selfless but were anything but; because meaning well is all about getting oneself off the hook, looking like we did the right thing, and rarely about being constructive, or truly compassionate.

And twee is one of meaning well’s worst weapons. It dives straight in, wounds deeply and is gone before you can turn around. Or it cheerfully states a half truth in glib gormlessness which glances off the truth with a resounding clunk.  This is the weakest of spiritual milk. And we need weaning off it. Solid food is waiting, but is anyone really preparing an appetite for what’s on offer?

Tweeness is like spiritual sherbert, it fizzes briefly on the tongue, but is really insubstantial. If we are going to be people of substance, of depth, of wisdom and above all of love, then this blasé stuff needs to go. Now, again, don’t get me wrong. There is a place for quoting wonderful Bible verses that encourage and lift up. Social media is made for the short and sweet, and memes work beautifully there. In and of themselves, there is nothing wrong with them. But it must be followed up with something else. There must be the resonance of deeper, tried and tested faith and biblical understanding, of character, behind and underneath the surface. My hope is that at Lakelight we shall be a little wary of the quick fix and the one liner, and be ready to set a more complete meal before the hungry.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Meme from the internet

You may be pleased to know that this is the last in our series of first foundations, where we have cleared away some of the rubble, talking about what we are NOT about, before we begin anew, articulating what we WILL be attempting to build.

On Not Dumbing Down

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Within the first few pages of her classic children’s tale Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter describes the effects of eating lettuce as “soporific.” Take that same book to a publisher today, and they would whip that word out quicker than Clint Eastwood can draw his gun. When I was a child, I would love finding new words to investigate, and of course it still happens now. Some of my favourite words are “galumphing” “gobbledegook” and “lollygagging.”  And the reason Potter used this unfamiliar word? It was the perfect one to say what she meant. She was not being elitist, or showing off, just being a good writer. And that, for me, is the reason I will never “dumb down” any of my own writing.

Everything meaningful has layers. Every good book has characters who are flawed, complicated, surprising, just like real people are. Everything well-written contains nuances of meaning, subtexts and even references that are not all seen by every reader. That is one of the things that makes a piece of writing sumptuous or deep. It is also one of the things that make it most accessible, though that might at first seem contradictory.  But I feel that  the more there is to something, the more likely it is that each person will find something in it for them.  And I think that we can apply that to Scripture as well.

We get into enormous trouble when we decide that Scripture is simple, or has only one level of meaning. This is why prooftexting (using one piece of the Bible out of context to show something is true) can be very dangerous. Because the oral traditions of storytelling on which a great deal of the books that make up our Bible are based, are rich in meaning. They are often metaphorical as well as literal, full of analogy, poetic wisdom, and the depths of story and even myth, that most modern spiritual texts lack.  Our theology has become, in places, very one dimensional and exact, and this is not good for us or our Church.

Jesus understood this well, which is one of the reasons he mostly taught in parables. Even when he did preach a kind of sermon, he did not make things terribly clear. His words are mysteries full of depth, waiting for us to dive in and discover the pearls of wisdom and meaning.  He also doubtless understood that human beings are wired for story. It is how we pass on everything we have learned about life. Or at least it used to be.

Most of you know I am a writer and although I write what can be called “theology,” I also write a lot of stories, parables and fables. Because in these, I can express things that clarity and simple clinical meaning just cannot contain.  Even in my more scholarly moments (which are thankfully few and far between) I cannot help but use metaphor. Because this is the only possible way to approach the wonders of the Christ mystery. I also never hesitate to use a long word, if it is the right word.

I love the accessibility of Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrased Bible, because it helps bring people into the Word of God, but I should be rather sad if those people did not then go on to explore the wonderful translations we have. But I’m not for style over substance. I’m not a fan of the King James Version really, because although musical and elegant in many places, it was translated from the Latin and a lot of the original sense has inevitably been misplaced here and there. I would rather read the ESV or the NIV, given the balance of good scholarship and attention to literary language. I think that beauty has its own meaning and adds something unfathomable to the mix.

Pretty much everything I write flows out of prayer, whether that is contemplation, or meditating on texts, or the gifts of story or seeing that I receive. And so, finding the apposite words or expressions to communicate all of that can be quite a task. And the words don’t need to be long, and simplicity can be an elegant part of that too. Being pretentious is a terrible thing, that is not our aim! But what we will not be doing here at Lakelight, or indeed in our writing or poetry, is purposely making things shallow or transparent, or indeed, soporific, when they cry out to be deep, difficult or multi-faceted.  We believe in the richness of words to bring people into holy encounter, and will let them speak for themselves.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Picture from Pixabay

On Not Forgetting

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Today is Remembrance Sunday, when we traditionally think on the sacrifice made by servicemen, women and animals in wartime, who have bought the peace we live in at a horrendous price. I am a pacifist, but it doesn’t stop me being grateful, overwhelmed and sad, at the sacrifices that have been made. I have every respect for those who laid down their lives.  This year, it’s all a little more poignant for me, as I am finishing up a novel I’ve spent 2017 writing, set in England during WW1. It focuses on the experience of bereaved women, but the research has been harrowing to say the least.

Another thing that has brought the reality of loss home to me is the recent discovery that my husband’s great grandfather died in France in March 1918. His name was Frank Hunt and his name is engraved on the the Arras Memorial at Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery.  He is just one name among hundreds of thousands of British troops killed of course, but sometimes just that one person and their connection to you, can be a revelation that opens up our compassion, when a heart cannot cope with the legions of deaths from both World Wars and more.

“Lest we Forget” is the constant refrain on Armistice and Remembrance Days. It seems impossible that we ever would. And yet, today we are still dealing with the phenomenon of Holocaust deniers, the rise of the far right, yet again, and the lack of respect on all political “sides”, for those who have fought, been injured or died for their countries. Even the very liberal left have their strange rhetoric about remembrance glorifying war, which is horribly disrespectful, I feel. One can be sad about the losses and grateful for the sacrifice without condoning violence. One can believe war is the wrong way to go about solving problems and yet still be respectful of the suffering of those who went to fight and die, often without any idea of the horrors they were being sent into.

We are still at war of course, a seemingly unending mess of bloody conflicts in the Middle and near East since the First Gulf War began in 1991. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, Serbia, Rwanda and all those  conflicts, deemed somehow lesser by the media that we hear little about in our news stories, all the tribal conflicts and border disputes, and in a smaller way in our everyday lives, the wars between race, gender, sexualities, political parties, even church denominations.  Fighting, it seems, is in our blood.

But we should take heart that part of the human condition is also reflecting the Father’s character and the Son’s sacrifice. That wherever there is conflict, there are also diplomats, medics and chaplains. That there are always, somehow, people willing to stand up to evil ideologies and megalomaniacs. That there are always truth tellers, dream-mongers and peacemakers, like Gandhi and Desmond Tutu, as well as social activists seeking to bring about a lasting and level playing field, like Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day.  And when we remember the millions of people who have died in war, both military and civilian casualties, as well as those affected, traumatised, injured or bereaved because of conflict, we do well to honour their sacrifice, their losses and their journey. If we deny this, or choose to forget, we may never learn to change course. May we always remember, and let it lead us to do everything we can to foster peace.

Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt  Artwork © by R. R. Wyatt

On Not Being Perfect

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All serious spiritual seekers will carry some version of Jacob’s limp or Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” It is often, but not always, physical, and it will show fully our weakness and humanity, at the same time as a deep well of grace. This is how we each carry the Christ wound.

For this reason alone, we should not look to the veneered teeth glinting in the spray-tanned face, but to the “scum of the earth” apostles (as described in 1 Corinthians 4), who preach God’s love from sickbeds, wheelchairs, poverty, crutches, depression and whilst admitting to their battle with alcohol, anger or jealousy. One of my favourite teachers, Brennan Manning, called us all in our loved imperfection, “ragamuffins.”

Broken preachers, who know their own brokenness well, who are unafraid of it, talk, not of their perfection, nor of how we might emulate them; but of how suffering and living in this hurting world can offer a gateway into knowing God and his unimaginable love. They know that instead of having reached the top of the ladder, they have learned how to stand at the bottom, holding it steady for others.

Jesus told us to “Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect,” (Matthew 5:48 NIV) but before we gallop off into striving to be flawless, we should know that the word perfect here in the Greek is teleioi/teleios, the sense of which is much more about being mature and whole, literally “fully-developed,” than without fault. It is, as I understand it, an encouragement to be ourselves, to grow into completion, to be the best you or the best me that we can be. We can follow this instruction whilst still carrying an awareness of our sins and a desire to change.

Frequently the cross we each bear is the knowing of our own failings, and the resurrection life that we embody (crucially at the same time) allows God to shine through them. Like the risen Christ before Thomas, we can say, here, see for yourself: “Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” (John 20:27 NIV)   My wounds are real, our teachers say with Christ, but even more astonishing is the new life that God has given me through them, and not in spite of them.

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay

 

On Not Trying Very Hard

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A number of times lately I’ve seen memes or quotes on social media telling me that God can sort my life out if I knuckle down, keep at it, or work hard. Transformation, it appears, is totally in my hands. But this just isn’t true, because, here is something a little shocking to some: the work ethic has no place in Christianity. That rocks our insides doesn’t it, that place deep down that’s been brought up on “God helps those who help themselves”?   What I have found, both in my own spiritual journey and in my reading of scripture, is that one of the things most likely to get in the way of our maturing in the faith is our own striving. Striving absolutely negates the power of grace in our lives. It’s not that God wants us to be lazy, this too is to miss the point. He wants us to understand that anything we try to do out of our own power and capabilities is doomed to failure, or will simply lead us further into the mire. “Apart from me you can do nothing,” Jesus tells us (John 15:5).

One of the Parables Jesus tells that most confuses and upsets people, including those he told it to originally, is the Parable of the Vineyard Workers. We find it unfair and unjust that someone who has only done five minutes work gets paid the same as those who have been slaving away under the hot sun all day. It grates. But this is to misunderstand the nature of mercy, and the quality of God’s generosity. It is part of his loving perfection to give without counting, to bestow without expecting anything in return. He gives, and we receive. That is the only heavenly transaction. For what do we have to give that can enhance the maker of all things? And what do we have to offer that didn’t first come to us by his hand? We only choose to love him with hearts that he fashioned, and to work with time and effort that were originally given to us. All of this is flow, and it begins in love, moves in love, has its being in love and returns home to love. Talk of rewards and wages, of deserving and entitlement have absolutely nothing to do with it.

“Trying is the first step towards failure,” Homer Simpson famously said, and he is, in so many ways, spot on. We don’t become more holy, more in tune with God, more like him, by any effort of our own, but by giving ourselves up to him. We grow into God by letting go, not by grabbing hold. We must decrease, he must increase, just as John the Baptist described. And so, it is not about trying, but focussing on the one needful thing, setting our eyes, hearts and minds on the threefold unity that is our Trinitarian God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To sit and gaze adoringly, to learn at his feet, to let her move us to her tune. If it were solely about putting the hours and the effort in to reap kingdom results, then pastors and ministers would not suffer from burnouts and breakdowns.

We must learn to live in the flow of God. If we give him our empty cups, he will fill us to overflowing, though probably not in any way we were expecting. If we are only pouring out from our own resources, there will be no abundance, only exhaustion. Think of how this applies to prayer. If we screw up our eyes as tightly as we can, and really try hard, will that get us any closer to the Lord? We are more likely to give ourselves a headache. Better to relax, to say, “Your will, not mine,” and surrender to the gift of his presence. Hearing the still, small voice is not about straining to hear, but about becoming open and aware enough to notice it beneath the roar of the world. When we release all our neediness, we will find the one thing we truly need.

© Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 Picture 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 Being Enough

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When you are sick, or disabled, or poor, or lost, or trembling in the dark, or different, the world will begin to tell you that you are not enough. It will whisper at first, saying that you don’t belong, that you are the wrong fit, that you are not welcome. It will be like an evil breeze, a soft harshness that sounds a little bit like truth, and because you do not feel whole, you will give it houseroom. You will let it in and allow it to wander through the corridors, because, why not?, they are dark and dreary anyway, filled with your own pain. What harm does giving in do? It is just another whooshing sound rushing through the emptiness.

When you are hyper and joyful and skyrocketing, or multi-talented or very, very bright, the world will tell you that you are too much. It will say that you are too large, too overwhelming and too loud. It will give you pills and tut at you from unseen corners and threaten you with sanctions and punishment. And you will take the tablets and hide parts of yourself until they begin to atrophy, and the rage that you have done this to yourself will also swirl around inside and make you miserable. You will stop using long words and the hard-earned gleanings of your intelligence, stop making people laugh, and the poem that you are may lose the will to live, and never be spoken.

And the whispers and the breeze, the pills and the disapproval become louder and louder, and the corridors of your mind and the veins in your body may become, then, so full of that negative cacophony that nothing else can be heard.

And because this happens, I am here to tell you something.

You are not too much, you are just the right amount. You are exactly enough. You are not less than or more than, you are you. You are perfect. No, not without sin, not without dark thoughts, not without failings and strange quirks. But these first two are overlooked by love, and the second two only make you more like yourself.

I will not say that you are awesome or stupendous, because I know you will not believe me, and anyway these words have ceased to mean what they should. I will not tell you that you are made of stardust and have come from eternity, because these are things too far away to reach your aching heart. I will say instead that you are loved. You are looked upon with an adoring gaze such as a good mother or father first gives their child. You are held, cradled in a grace that will forgive any misdemeanour, as you walk this strange and fearful journey.

You have missed out on no medals: they do not get awarded in this life. You have not failed to reach the mark: God will always move the target for you and risk an arrow in his already pierced hands. You do not go unnoticed: every hair on your head is known and numbered, every combing monitored. It is only your sins which are not counted.

And here in this resting place of the heart, which is so much larger than it looks from the outside, you are known and comforted and given peace beyond understanding. It will say few words, and mainly it will just sit with you and rock a little back and forth and sing sweet, soft lullabies of understanding which will blow through you like a warming glow, dissipating those ill winds and sharp words. Those mean mutterings will burn up into ashes like scraps of newspaper tossed up into the fire that rages in God’s heart for you. Did you not know that you were the object of such passion?

Here then, lies the truth. At the centre of the holy family, you are welcomed and known. Before the throne of heaven, you are accepted and loved. It is not just that you are enough, but that here, where it matters, we are all beyond measuring.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt Photo from Pixabay