Category: Prayer and Poetry
The ancient motif of life as 'journey' has, rightly, enjoyed a massive resurgence in the Church of recent times. Ancient seafaring saints such as Columba relied on Christ as sail, compass and anchor on their missions of evangelisation, and contemporary times are no less hostile to the gospel. The Church and its message seem to have been pushed to the fringes of society; families are disenfranchised and separated; people are searching high and low for identity beyond the packaged 'style-categories' offered by television and magazines. The contemporary Christian navigates through an urban ocean of confusion.
Not surprising, then, that for Christians, integral to an authentic, proactive love for others is a good understanding of one's own identity and inheritance in Christ. Kathy Galloway's the Dream of Learning Our True Name, a beautifully-presented series of poems and reflections for private and corporate worship use, charts a creative journey through the questions of human identity: in the world, yet not of it; broken, yet healed; belonging to each other, yet more-so to Christ. The pages on which poems are imposed onto map images add beautifully to her message.
In a technical sense, Galloway's work is not flawless (in 'When' [p.49], several lines end on the words 'a', 'and' or 'the'. The reading voice emphasises them rather than the words beginning the following lines, which, I think, Galloway intended. 'The Line Too' [p.45] is not without cliché and abstract words: 'a shiver of delight will race through me like the / hot silent shriek of ecstasy.')
However, Galloway's poems (indeed, all poems) work best when they evoke, with pin-point accuracy, images of physical, tactile life. And in her best poems, Galloway's theology of Christ incarnate in all things is evident on the page. The medium really is the message: 'God is in the details.'
Whether life is relaxed and meditative — 'under the rafters / in the glow of candlelight / we break bread / and the word / to live is this' ('Camas Poems' p.67) — aggressive — 'I am earth / Dark and sticky and fecund / Nameless things wriggle and turn in me / I am their habitat… / I think this is love / To contain the transforming power of life' ('Elemental', p.112) — or downright uncomfortable — 'my Edinburgh is the stench of the breweries / the view from the upstairs of a 27 bus / snowcemmed pensioners' houses / and a hard-on jabbing my thigh / against a wall behind the shopping centre' ('My Edinburgh', p. 21) — God, in Christ, chose to be present in life's little details.
As well as being a poet and the current leader of the Iona Community, Kathy Galloway is a theologian and liturgist. Many of her poems have a contemplative, liturgical feel. Where they (occasionally) lack the technical 'polish' of my favourite poetry, they excel in what matters for their intended purpose: spiritual resonance, depth of theological questioning, and brutal, unflinching honesty — all things which are most welcome in any devotional or corporate worship setting.
Mark Burnhope, February 2006
Mark Burnhope is a graduate of London School of Theology. He is a 'trying' novelist and poet with a Masters Degree in Creative and Transactional Writing from Brunel University, and an alternative worship/emerging church obsessive.
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