“A Holy Multiplicity”: a review of Keren Dibbens-Wyatt’s Recital of Love

“A Holy Multiplicity”: a review of Keren Dibbens-Wyatt’s Recital of Love

January 28, 2021

 

 

What happens when we start reading Recital of Love? We might approach with wariness after noticing masculine language for God, or that might make us feel right at home; we might be cozy-comfortable with short devotional-length readings, or that structure might not make sense for us or to us; we might long for the expansive, image-driven prose of these pages, or we might prefer something more straightforward. Whatever our first impressions are, we must, as always, hold them lightly. 


Recital of Love is a multifaceted jewel whose aspects shine differently, depending on perspective and the light. It will “yes-and” us into a meaningful relationship with its words, reminding us that our first impressions may or may not be accurate but are never the whole story. Something in this book will strike a pleasant chord with you. Something else in this book will not sit quite right in your soul—a word choice, a mood, a metaphor. Every piece, though, will keep you engaged, curious, and eager for more. This tension, this excitement, is often what happens when we meet a mind alive, a soul alight, a heart afire, lit from the flame of God’s unfathomable love. Keren Dibbens-Wyatt has more than earned the title “modern mystic,” for her intimate, open-hearted, crackling-with-life approach to the Divine. 


The seventy short pieces in Recital of Love stand alone well and can be read in any order. The pieces have different relationships with their titles. Some are more intriguing than indicative of the contents, like “Porthole,” “Topsy-Turvy,” and “Ash.” Other titles serve as a clear-enough guide for readers looking to dip in quickly, like “Beginnings,” “Work and Play,” and “Serenity.” This makes it the kind of book that is liable to meet your need when you open it, to speak to each moment as it flows past, then the next, and the next. In a time of stuckness, knowing you are called to move forward but fearing the necessary uncertainty, maybe you will open to “Seed” and read: “All eggshells will be cracked open to let life leak out and be born into the air. Each life must leave its cocooned beginnings and breathe the free air I have provided.” 


Feeling distant and disconnected from the Divinity you crave, maybe you will turn to “Spirit” and read: “when the Spirit makes her home within you, she is anchored to your very soul, like the roots of a tree that cannot be pulled out. She becomes part of you. . . . This partnership is strong and requires great force to break. . . . My love does not flee from you so easily.” 


When you begin to close off from the world and armor your tender heart for self-protection, maybe you will find in “Rose” the reminder: “Open, then, to everything, for all things hold a lesson and all wisdom is precious, and there is no full bloom without the courage to face worms.” And maybe you will open it without knowing what you need and the words will show you what was hidden in your own soul.


There is a holy multiplicity about Recital of Love. Some of the pieces feel exhortative, some poetic, some like love letters, some like the teasing of a good friend who knows you a bit too well. Many of them are the kinds of words you might read and be reminded of a loved one who is struggling or thriving in a particular way, and you could share the piece with them and they would say “Yes! She gets it!” 


The images and analogies in the book come from all over, often from nature, sometimes from house-holding, some from emotional life, always from familiar human experience that feels at the same time universal and individualized. Each one illuminates an aspect of humanity, divinity, or both. There is an oldness to Dibbens-Wyatt’s prose, like Shaker furniture; many of the pieces may have made as much sense in 1950 or maybe 1910 as they do today. There is also an immediacy, like IKEA furniture; those same pieces strike home as if they were written for here and now, because they are. 


Keren Dibbens-Wyatt draws us in again and again, closer and closer, toward God and toward the beauty of God’s world and God’s people, including ourselves. It is hard to read Recital of Love and feel worthless or despicable. The words salve cracked spirits and soothe bruised souls, holding us close in the utter adoration of God. This greatest gift of Recital of Love is obvious in its title: the author, the speaker (who is often the Divine), is indeed reciting love. Reciting, as in something she knows by heart and bone-deep, something she can repeat as many times as needed until we, the readers, know it by heart too; Love, as in that which binds us all together and keeps us tethered to a divine center, never flinging too far off into oblivion but remaining safely held at home. 


Each of the pieces can bring us to that center where love really is all we need; not all the pieces all the time, but each one in its turn as seasons and circumstances change. Each has a holy, diamond-hard, diamond-shining truth to tell us, and each will wait patiently until the reader has ears to hear it and a heart to take it in. 


Recital of Love draws us gently and persistently into the best and most beautiful version of the real world, where God is near and we are dear, where each word carries poetic weight nestled in prose. Like every gentle and persistent call that comes from and leads to God, it wins us over and takes its time, hums rather than sings, whispers rather than shouts. 


Let this book be a journey to savor over weeks or months, not a sprint to rush through at once. Read it as a gift to yourself, then share it, or parts of it, as a gift to others. 

 

_______________

When Rachel Shepherd went to seminary soon after finishing an MFA in creative nonfiction, at first it felt disconnected, like starting over. But soon it became clear that deep listening and sharing stories make the practice of writing and the practice of ministry very similar. Since then, Rachel has been ordained as a Presbyterian pastor and served in several churches. She is now doing a hospital chaplain residency in Virginia, hearing and telling good stories every day.

 

Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash



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