I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Keren Dibbens-Wyatt’s reflections on discovering her inner monk through illness:
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
For eighteen years I’ve been too sick to have a job, so I have had to discover other ways of being and doing, which is good training for the contemplative life! Alternatives, new perspectives are ever there for the finding. For me, someone who rarely leaves the house, being contemplative is like treasure hunting. Deep in the ravines of the presence of God, down underneath the currents of life, in rivers of prayer, there are nuggets to be mined.
Yet the deepest prayer is painfully practical. It has not just happened that I have learned to love silence. My illness has enforced a stillness upon me that is both painful and restrictive. I have had to let it be transformed into a blessing, or perhaps it is more true to say I’ve had to let my seeing be transformed so that I can accept it as a blessing, whatever else it might be. I think that to make a contemplative life marry with the practicalities and struggles of life, we have to learn to look at things with new eyes. Being mystical is never about being ethereal, but is always about being more real, more in tune with what is actually there, not escaping from it or making it more palatable.
As a contemplative writer, my job description is to see and to say, so when God has helped me bring a precious thing up to the surface, it has to be looked at with a human mind and described in human words, as if I were holding it up to the light and examining it, curating the spiritual. It often feels like a search for new language. When God gives me a story or a poem to write, it is like he is showing me the skeleton I have to put flesh on, the frame on which to hang words. It can be hard, painstaking work.
The frustration of wanting now to spend time in silence, listening, gazing and waiting, (though I do more than my fair share of whingeing prayer too) when life has to be lived, is a stretching of the edges of being that I can sometimes barely cope with. God regularly takes me to the ends of myself in this regard and I struggle massively with needing quiet and solitude and yet being married and running a household. But at the same time, this holding of two extremes has taught me so much about what real love is (the kind of love that has to choose others over itself) that this too can be seen as precious – at least on a good day! Love is beyond hard. Being in the world but not of the world is absolutely the most difficult thing for me and yet it is the perfect lesson on empathising with God, who has to deal with unrequited love and unconditional love billions of times over each and every day and still be loving.
God is as real as it gets, he lives in the pain and the suffering as well as “in the pots and pans” as Teresa of Avila and Brother Lawrence remind us. He is not a solitary, distant dreamer, but the one who did not balk at living in flesh amongst us. Such frustration as Jesus felt every day of his human existence cannot be imagined. This sacrifice, not greater than, but teamed with the one made at Golgotha, shows us that frustration, giving our constant yes, running the kids to after-school clubs, listening to friends’ problems sympathetically and attentively, reassuring our depressed spouse, dealing with aged parents, washing, cooking, paying bills, making doctors’ appointments… all the things that are life, but not what we think we want to be doing, these are still places where we must be totally present and willing in order to have “life in all its fullness.” They can be done with God, alongside God, for God. Then our times of snatched silence, precious prayer, become more, not less. They become deeper for the love we have been able to show. The joining of action and contemplation that Richard Rohr lives and teaches, James’ faith with works, Paul’s gifts with love, this is a pairing that we need to embrace, rather than running from one to the other, always wishing we were somewhere else.
Diving for pearls with God is therefore something I do all day and not just in quiet times. The most contemplative life is one lived, not in some mystical abandon, hidden away from minutiae, but lived within it. I may not be conscious of the ordinary divulging as much treasure as the times that feel more heavenly, but like Hamlet I no longer trust the seeming of things. God is. Love is. Prayer, contemplation is finding more of him. His secrets and wonders yes, but just as much at the kitchen sink or painfully (at least for me) in the frustration of the pots and pans. All is gift. I know this, yet I also know it is hard. I am not there yet. I’m still on the journey, and it hurts to keep digging down, especially when the interruptions are so frequent. But the treasures are worth it, and the diversions are like thorns on a rose; without them, the experience would be poorer, and far less authentic. In God’s kingdom, the weak sits with the strong, the sharp with the soft, the deep with the shallow and the pain with the pleasure: the human with the divine, the mystery of Christ.
Keren Dibbens-Wyatt is a quiet soul, beginner mystic, Christian contemplative and M.E. sufferer. After turning forty, she finally found her vocation in writing. The Lord is now leading her deeper into prayer and into his heart, and teaching her how to share the stories, “seeings,” and understandings that he graciously gives her.