Some of the greatest mystics in history have written lyrical, imaginative poetry and prose in which they express the voice of God. From Catherine of Genoa’s Spiritual Dialogue to the poetry of Hadewijch and the Diary of Saint Faustina — not to mention the Showings of Julian of Norwich — numerous mystics over the centuries have written some or all of their visionary writing expressing the words that they have received as directly from the voice of Christ or God.
The popularity of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling in recent years shows that this kind of spiritual writing is still very much alive — and can speak to many, many people.
With this in mind, I’d like to call your attention to a book published just this month from Paraclete Press, called Recital of Love: Sacred Receivings. The author, Keren Dibbens-Wyatt (whom I have known for a while through social media) is a British Christian contemplative; she struggles with a debilitating chronic illness (myalgic encephalomyelitis) but, despite that, has written several books of meditations and occasionally publishes her work online as well. But with the new book of “sacred receivings,” Dibbens-Wyatt opens up the conversation between human and God by offering a series of short, lyrical “love letters” to us from God.
The new book is truly a work of art. The author has a graceful facility with language and a keen ear for expressing the love, beauty, and joy of God. If you would like to deepen your sense of intimacy with God through a series of short meditations expressing God’s love and desire for relationship with us, this book will bring you joy.
An example of how beautiful the prose is:
A true diamond knows that her admirers love her for the grace she carries, the light she reflects, the hope she embodies, of light being mined from the darkness, and of beauty born of burdens.
Just as there is more air in a jar of marbles than there is glass, or more space in a handful of sand than there is silicon, so there is more silence in a cacophony than there is noise. Listen for it, look for it, let it become the language of your heart: not a strange other tongue, but as natural to you as any speech.
The “receivings” cover a variety of topics, from light to time to to imagination to serenity. But this is not just an assortment of abstract or metaphysical musings: you’ll find down-to-earth meditations on leaves, feet, tears, teaspoons, and (one my favorites), “butter” (which is as insightful as it is whimsical).
It’s probably no surprise to anyone, but I particularly love the “Prayer” and “Silence” passages. “For prayer is not something you do,” writes the author (in the voice of God), “it is something beautiful that happens in your heart, a fluttering burst of coloured wings soaring up to their maker when they hear his voice in the stillness.”
I think it’s important to bear in mind that books like this — whether new or old — are not sacred scripture and therefore we should read them poetically rather than literally. Recital of Love is beautiful and grace-filled, but it’s not inerrant.
At times, such as in the “Smoke” chapter, the voice of God can take on a harsh tone, such as this criticism of those who choose to lead materialistic lives: “Their self-congratulatory stomachs so full of food that was never theirs to take sicken me.” Thankfully, love always seems to be the point at the center of the circle, as this particular meditation affirms: “Ah, but I still will sit there, and gaze at all of them with love.”
A discerning eye can pick up the occasional self-contradictory message: for example, on page 20 we are told not to expect to find the presence of God “in your heart or soul” (which seems to be a direct contradiction of the promise Paul makes in Romans 5:5, that the Holy Spirit is “given to us” in our hearts) — and sure enough, just a few pages later it is acknowledged how “the Spirit makes her home within you.”
Likewise, I found myself arguing with the idea that God would “eschew the rich and powerful” (page 10). I think it’s one thing to say God has a preferential option for the poor, but how is God “eschewing” someone a manifestation of Divine Love? It seems to me God would be much more interested in converting the rich and the powerful than in shunning them.
My point is not to quibble or to take potshots at what is, overall, a beautifully poetic evocation of the Divine Voice. I’m simply reminding readers that, like all mystical writing, this is meant to inspire and encourage us, but we should avoid the temptation to read any kind of ultimate spiritual authority into this book (or any mystical text). Let it be what it is: a lyrical and even at times rhapsodic celebration of our inner capacity to “hear” God’s voice. None of us ever hears it perfectly (which is one reason why we all need each other). Nevertheless, taken as a whole Recital of Love is indeed a love-letter from Love-with-a-Capital-L; Keren Dibbens-Wyatt shows us just how beautiful the voice of Divine Love can be.