Monday, October 17, 2005

Walks in the dark

Since I was a child, I have loved to go out in the countryside and night, to look at the stars and marvel at the play of moonlight on the landscape. I came across the Taizé chant 'De noce iremos de noce' around the time of writing this, during a camping holiday with my son's school class on the Gower Peninsula, near Swansea, South Wales. I don't remember which came first. Roughly translated, the full Spanish text, from Teresa of Avila, reads: 'We go by night, in search of the spring, with only our thirst to guide us.'


"I'll show you the spring" the child said
standing in the pool of light his torch made,
where the pathway started to descend into the shadows.
And so we walk together, he leading the way,
courteously naming the obstacles and hazards
as we speed beneath the waxing moon.
Along the foreshore, where the river wound
its slow way down to the waiting sea,
turning inland, through marshy reeds
here and there, squelching and slipping underfoot.

"Here's a rock" he calls quietly, "and another"
as we bound across a small stream
glimpsing the light of heaven in its swift waters.
There in the rising wall of sandy hills
in the valley narrowing before us,
an unexpected opening, leafy and dark:
a well worn track, now climbing gently into thick woods,
my young companion eager and constant to encourage,
throwing his pale beam, first ahead,
and then reassuringly towards my feet.

Over a trampled fence, into the trees,
dogs now barking, ominous and near;
we, breathless at the pace, excited:
somewhere near at hand, the sound of water
in the stillness of the night.
A turning to the right, diving deep into ferns,
and suddenly we descend steeply
to a hidden grove, standing by a shining pool in darkness
side by side, companions in wonderment.

Cool refreshment for face and tired feet.
Moon on water: scent of herb and damp moss.
He stands shyly aside, his words fewer than mine,
sharing his delight at the heart of this holy secret.

JKK, Three cliffs bay, Gower, July 1988


On the night of writing this, there was no artificial light, and no moon to be seen, and few discernable landmarks. The darkness was intense, powerful, questioning - so full of no-thing, it made me wonder.


July's moon hid somewhere behind
the bright mantle of the noonday sun.
Only starlight gives the heavens form by night.

To flee alone from the glamour of taverna and street light
into the quiet folds of hillside and olive grove
is to step outside of the race of time -
to visit a plane where everything may be imagined ...

The perpetual symphony of frogs and insects
in this celestial auditorium
accompanies the birth of gods and elementals
angels and demons, powers and stratagems
from the inwardness of senses suspended in being.

In this darkness courage and resolve are forged,
the fate of multitudes shaped, destiny embraced.

It is to visit a plane where everything may be imagined
or nothing - for there is a choice.

The filling or the emptying of self in the darkness.
The nurturing of the desire to do, or let be done.

Who am I? stripped of defining light:
rendered naked of form and colour? But,
not yet emptied of dreams and longings;
tempted by ambitions hard to define.

What is conceived in darkness
is revealed by the probe of day.

JKK 14.7.96


This is about walking in the darkness within when disappointments and disillusion sap the self-esteem, when the reality of 'for better, for worse' is painfully exposed. Yet somehow faith affirmed carries the promise of all things made new.


Winter- painfully cold,
bare ground windswept
broken dead branches
morass of trodden leaves-
frozen castaways.

Darkness lasts an age.
Each day sprints its pale way
and the moon rules.

We see each other not by daylight
in this severest season
of our companionship.

So many memories, hopes, feelings
now broken underfoot.
But we shall see clearer in the day
of the returning sun.

underground,and long before the sap
considers rising
the agonising chemistry of humus
by stealth renews the earth

making possible the greening
that is yet to come.

JKK 16.12.86

Friday, October 14, 2005

Uncomfortable faith

The mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God remains an outrageous paradox. It challenges all safe and comfortable thinking, and takes us places we'd perhaps rather not go. To say that there is no place no situation where God is not present is a great philosophical notion. However, it has some pretty tough practical out-working.

Conversation with the Christ Child

So we must make room for you then?
Not just in our quiet moments and holy thoughts,
nor simply in our embrace of the poor and weak,
the victim, the failure or the outcast;
but each and every step along the way.

What you say to us, in the silence of this night
is that we must seek you where we would rather not;
in the hypocrisy and sentiment
that make us shrink and shudder:
in the clash of will and temprament;
the conflicts of interest that frustrate us;
the over-zealous emotion
the burning desire and ambition
that threaten to control and consume;
in the moment of murderous anger
and devastating icy insult.

How do we see that you are somewhere there
in foolishness and apathy, vanity and pride:
there in the abuse of treasured gifts and power:
there too, in ignorance and neglect:
there, wherever we strive and fail to see you,
however hard we look, and long for your appearing.

Is this not foolishness? Impossible for us to grasp?
Apart from you, in whom all things are possible.

Painfully, by degrees, you are showing
that there is no situation
where you do not wait to be revealed
as the love that can transform all things.

JKK 18.12.88

Two poems on the raising of Lazarus

These have emerged from reading St John's Gospel Chapter 11, a story which really captures the imagination and confronts us deeply, personally about our sense of mortality and the very meaning of life itself. Lazarus receives life after life. What kind of experience can that have been? How different might it be from life after death? How can we know? We're all way out of our depths here. In the dark face of unknowing we have only our loving imagination to guide us, and the hope that we shall be no less 'human' than we are now.

The first poem changes the setting to NYC. The most recent is set 'there and then'.

And Lazarus came forth …

Oh, it’s you again, said the strange man
In the dark suit with the bowler hat
as we met halfway on the subway stairs

I thought you’d gone for good –
all the way to your native soil, in fact
I didn’t think we’d see you here again.

Still, he said, raising his hat politely, as he passed on
I hope you have a good stay, and this time
keep clear of deadly ailments!

Whereupon, he disappeared into the land
of rushing trains below, leaving me bewildered
as I emerged into the light of day

Funny now I thought and who was that I wonder
never seen him in my life before, and yet
he seemed to know me through and through.

Was it someone from before I’d forgotten?
Had he confused me with someone else
Who simply looked like me?

Such things are common in our overcrowded cities
where faces seem to merge in the anonymous crowd.

Or are they? I began to wonder
as people stared with curious amazement
Eyeing me like a midget or a side-show freak.

I don’t get it, I thought, as I strode into the street
breeze flapping the sheet that was my unfamiliar garb.

Who did the man in the dark suit take me for?
He looked to me, with bowler hat and black bag
like the quiet undertaker’s man, sent to measure you
when you’re finally cold and stopped growing.

Funny he should speak to me –
Such strange light in his eyes.

JKK 1970 Revised 2005

Lazarus confused

Standing there being unbound
smelling embarrassingly
of sickly spices
cold and damp
stiffness in his back and limbs
blinking against the morning sun
wondering why he's trussed
like a sausage in a cloth
thinking to himself:

How did I get here
the last thing I remember
was lying in bed
the darkness creeping over me
the beat of my heart ebbing away

oh yes, and then this voice
what did it say - out?
Or was it - shout?
Or was it a shout
so strong it made me move out
into light that wasn't there before

And why are all those people
staring at me wide eyed
crying, smiling
muttering hallelujahs
who are they talking to
is this really me
what happened?
Someone tell me please.
Oh look, there's Jesus
he was coming over to supper
when I was in bed, wasn't he
Jesus have you any idea
what's been going on
why are there tears in your eyes?

JKK 5.10.2005

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Mary at Macugnaga

Here are two poems written on holiday in the Italian Alps, in the run-up to the summer festival of Our Lady of the Snows, a special celebration in the alpine ski village of Macugnaga. During those days a walker drowned in a fast running alpine stream, and a couple went missing in a storm up above the snow-line. This region is truly a place of wonder but also of sadness,for those who brave the elements and fail. It caused me to reflect on the popular local devotion to Mary, for whom Simeon prophesied, foreseeing the death of her son Jesus, that a sword would pierce her own soul too.

Sunny woman of Palestine
hailed and welcomed here
high among the havens
of this wintry place.
What thoughts are in your heart
as you intercede for these
who gently put their trust in you?
Could it be that the sadness I see
beneath your attitude of prayer
is for the children here who dare
to make bold in the cold deserts
of forgotten places near the sky –
those whose hearts for danger burn
more than for the subtler pastures
of the Spirit’s art?
You who have know the singular dread
of meeting, at hearthside, byre and garden gate
th’eternally silent call to obey,
pray, sadly pray for those who go
searching for the silence beyond where silence is
and find no rest,
even in icy tomb at hour of death.
JKK, Macunaga 6.08.1984

"Some day", thought she
"Will he, who lies so sweetly now
against my side
cradle my tired head in his strong arms
and close my eyes to the fading world
in peace and surety?
The child in sleep sobbed sadly
and she the sword's pain felt again
- remembering their destiny -
and prayed
"Must this be?"
JKK, Macugnaga 10.8.84

Eucharist in perspective

Being a priest can mean becoming over-familiar, casual with profound mysteries. It takes a retreat, a time of reflection in tranquility, to re-gain a higher sense of perspective. I have visited Ty Mawr Convent in deepest rural Gwent (South East Wales) over the past 25 years, and spend time in solitude alongside the sisters who live a permanent life of contemplative prayer in that secluded place. I owe those people and that place my sanity and my passion for offering Christ to the world through Word and Sacrament. Here are two fragments of thought which emerged during a midwinter stay at Ty Mawr.


Icon of Christ incarnate
Heaven's meeting place with earth:
simple broken bread betrothed
by sentences oft-spoken.

Not our words to conjure with
but his who said: "Remember
my life given for you, take and eat."

The sign of his sacrifice
offered once on Calvary;
foundation of a new age
present where we assemble,
takes us on a pilgrimage,
Bethlehem to Pentecost
in awe and adoration.

JKK, Ty Mawr, 24.1.92


Bread is growing grain
gathered, ground, watered, leavened,
and fire-baptized.

Work and waiting make partners
of us with our creator.

This living bread is
community centred
on God our Baker.

Fount of renewal
festive joy, the mystery
of communion:
fellowship in peace and love.

It is the Lord's day, breathe deep!

JKK, Ty Mawr 26.1.92