Monday 27 August 2012

The Supreme Advantage Of Falling

"...his place will never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat." (Teddy Roosevelt)


I’m borrowing 'Touching The Void', the title of the book by Joe Simpson. Because I feel I've touched the void in some way these past months. Derry calls it convergence while I call it providence - the way I came by this book. I got so fed up of being in bed sick and depressed that I went to our College Library, which is directly across from my room. I went there looking for something to lift, or at least distract me. There’s a collection of old Reader’s Digest condensed books and as soon as I saw the title - Touching The Void - it spoke to me and I took it. The book was written in 1988 and tells the extraordinary story of a mountain expedition embarked on in South America by Joe and his colleague Simon Yates. It’s well worth reading. 

The day after I found the book I turned on Lyric FM radio to hear them advertising an arts programme that was to include an item on Touching The Void - sixteen years after its publication! I was pleasantly amazed and, in my usual fashion, saw some message for me from God in all of this. Adding to my delight was the news that there is a new film out about the book. Some aspects found resonance within me and reflect something about my own life experience. 

Having reached the summit and on the descent, Joe broke his leg. He was leading the way and both climbers were linked together with a rope, Joe's weight dragging Simon, both sliding slowly towards a ledge, edging bit by bit to certain death. Joe went over the ledge and dangled there, all the while dragging his companion nearer to the edge. 

Simon knew they would both die if he didn't cut the rope. If he cut the rope Joe would fall to his death but he himself would survive. He cut the rope, something climbers are not supposed to do. 

Joe fell150 feet off the mountain and fell further into an 80-foot crevasse, crash landing on a ledge, from which there seemed to be no escape. Its walls were sheer ice. There was no way up. He might then just have lay down and died but didn’t. Incredibly he decided to lower himself further down into the dark hole that was beneath him. And down there he found a shaft of light to his side, showing him a way out through which he could crawl, eventually making it back to camp, close to death, just as Simon was packing up to leave.

Spiritually and emotionally I am sometimes required to go deeper into unknown darkness, a darkness called  depression, in order to find light and freedom. And often I stagnate because I fear going down into that hole. 

A surprising thing for me is that Joe, brought up a Catholic, never turned to God, never said a Hail Mary through the entire ordeal. He became an atheist. But maybe, like the dark night of the mystics, he touched God in an unknowing and unspeakable way, in a way that makes God seem absent or not to exist at all. It’s a possibility, though I’m not trying to take away from his choice to be an atheist. Nor would I try to solve his atheism for him. This level of life is intensely personal. Only God himself can deal with us at that depth. 

Anyone who has read the book or seen the film knows that Simon had to make a terrible choice on the mountain, the decision to cut the rope. Had he not taken this decision both he and Joe would have fallen off the mountain and probably would have died. By cutting the rope he at least would save his own life. And by some miracle it was the cutting of the rope that ensured both would live. Guilt and shame plague Simon. Joe has long forgiven him, even dedicated the book to him, but Simon cannot forgive himself. That’s one of the hardest things for a certain kind of person to do. I’m one of them. I am willing and usually able by the grace of God, to forgive anyone but I struggle to forgive myself. This is part of the darkness that is within me. I am blessed to be able to face the darkness, not always without fear but usually with the knowledge that He there, as He was in the thick darkness into which Moses entered on Mount Sinai.


God caught my eye
And my heart from the start
Bounding like a gazelle

Up and upward further

I could do nothing
But follow so strong
The enticement

I reached the summit
Of all height
Earlier than I dared

And in its dizzy delight
Lost my footing
Falling tumbling down

Crashing into my own
Every bit of me breaking

And I cried for the loss
I wailed at the darkness

And in my despair I longed
For death and it would
Not have me

And I lay there halfway
With nothing but the faintest

No way up 
No way but to fall
Again further broken

Into that deepest

Until silence
Became a Word


While I was thinking upward
Is the only way
I saw Jesus leaping

From the height
Down deeper down
To the very pit of blackness

And there

To my astonished eyes
The light shone to show
The exit into hope

And crawling to it
No longer able
To leap

I understood
The supreme advantage
Of falling

Into darkness
And out of darkness

Into Christ

Sunday 26 August 2012

Today May Not Be Ripe

Maybe when I am old
I will put away the straight jacket

And put on a red shoe
And a green one
With odd socks

And a bright yellow top
Over my fat belly

Not caring and being pleased

With this humanity
Gift in whom God
Takes great delight

I will lay bare the heart

The divine word written

And being loved
And giving in to it
All of the time

I will live the threefold Love
Of God and you and me

Let there be no maybe about it
And let no addict in me
Put off life until tomorrow

Today may not be ripe
For gaudy dressing and other
Forms of mad freedom

But this is the day
And now is the time
Of grace

Saturday 25 August 2012


I do not hesitate
To bend
To the tying of my shoes

Each morning

I rise

To thoughtless
Simple gestures

To the lowly places
Of my life

To find my God
Who has bent before
To meet me there.

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Addict's First Anniversary

The child crawls
Onto my lap

Not yet one year old
The withered face
Of an ancient curse

Black candles on the cake

This nightmare that leads
Into temptation

Mocking the attempt
At liberty

A grain of wheat
Must fall into the dark
Earth and die before bearing

And I have fallen
Fell muddied
Messing up the life
That is in me and them

Memory pierces me
Freezing frost of guilt

Threatening the fruit
That blossomed

The joy

In the approach
Of year's end my stride

Faltered fear of failure

Like a bereavement
That will not go away

Nor awaken

But I am awake
And faltering is not
Failure or even fallen


House of Bread
House of God
House of Jesus
House of Mary
House of Joseph
House of Bread

Bread of life
Bread of love
Bread of faith
Bread of hope
Bread of consolation
Bread of peace
Bread of joy
Bread of patience
Bread of kindness
Bread of goodness
Bread of gentleness
Bread of mercy
Bread of justice

Bread for the poor
Bread for the hungry
Bread for the sinner
Bread for the addict
Bread for the homeless
Bread for the exile
Bread for the lonely
Bread for the child
Bread for the man
Bread for the woman
Bread for the old
Bread for the weak

Bread of speech
Bread of song
Bread of music

Bread of all creation.
Generously given

Glory to God
And peace on earth.

Olive Tree

He leaned upon
The ancient Olive tree
Its thousand years
Of waiting at an end

The Hour had come

For Him to fall prostrated
In a pool of perspired blood
The Father’s flood of silence

This alone the witness
The Olive tree and me.

A couple of thousand
Years again I prayed
Beneath the shade
Of that same tree

And there I learned
That it’s not for us
To know the joy of Rising yet
Not even death’s respite

It’s ours to hold
The cup that does not pass

The chalice that holds us
In His sacrifice

Until the Hour has come
For its consumption

Holding Jesus

Most Lovely Innocent God
Beautiful Child
Jesus Christ
I hold your tender Body
In my caring hands

And you offer no resistance
Orphaned as you are now
And looking for a father in me

But I have abused you
My early love distorted

Show your Justice
And your Mercy too
For I have been abused.

Most Holy Gracious God
Beautiful Lord
Jesus Christ

I hold your bloody Body
In my guilty hands

And you offer no resistance
Wounded as you are now
And looking for a mother in me

But I have betrayed you
My early love deserted

Show your Justice
And your Mercy too
For I have been betrayed.

Most Loving Generous God
Beautiful Bread
Jesus Christ

I hold your sacred Body
In my hungry hands
And you offer no resistance
Given as you are to self-giving.

Condotti Child

They have names
For him and opinions
About him


He expects no more
Than the unwanted change
Of our excess

A cigarette to quell
The madness of addiction

Surprised that he is loved
The more in deprivation

A child of God
His song finds a hearing
In Heaven and in me

A voice deeply lived in
Beyond his years

May he be blessed
More deeply still
As I in him am blessed

Black Shadow

A black shadow hovered
On the outskirts of our joy

Snapping at our dancing heels
And skipping hearts

We were bathed in a blessed state
Heedless of the menace

That would pounce
And knock us into the hell
Of complaining

Stiff-necked like old Israel
Forgetful of the good

Perfectionism gaining ground
Grace abiding slipping from our grasp

We failed to seize the day

Clean Water

I love
Couples walking
Hand in hand

Athletes training
Children playing
Babies in wonder

Sunshine in the park
Bright colours dancing

And then a sudden downpour!

I am tempted
To hide from it
Stand back and run

But there is shelter
From the worst of it
Under the canopy of trees

Solitude of the rain
In an emptied park
The prattle of it
Creating interior silence

Swans and ducks
At home
At ease

And when the leaves
Submit to the waters weight
I too must surrender

I bless the rain
Letting it have its way with me

And it is holy water
Ezekiel’s prophecy

I shall pour clean

Water over you
And you shall be

Red Sea Liberty

Here is
Content happiness
Ever before the sun
Breaks through again


I latch leach-like
Onto my family


Being the only thing
That can sustain me
Through the darkest
Of days

No need of explanation
Or analysis of our

We are who we are
In each other

Drawing life
From our communion

We do not suck
Each other dry
But fall away

Into our respective

The Fig Tree

These years now
The sun has beaten down
The burning road
By which I stand
In unproductive sand

And You come to me
Looking for fruit!

When I am a waste of space
So out of date and out of shape

What else could I expect
Except that You would cut me down?

Cut it off
The sinful hand
And wayward foot

Pluck it out
The lustful eye

And still
To my surprised relief
You wait another year
To give another chance


(In honour of Mother and Father)

I want to feel 

The heart of the Mother
The flesh-pang of the Father 

All dependent

She throws herself
In front of a car
To save the life

He holds a hospital hostage
That the child can be treated
And live

It is instinct
Not reason

That will do anything
To spare the fruit
Of loins and womb

Such love
Does not pause
To think things through

Only they know
How to pray
With such desperation

To take God on
At the coalface

Fighting to the last
Drop of sweat
For the last
Drop of blood

For life they wrestle
With Life
A blessing and a declaration

No matter what
The injury to self

It is the only prayer
Worth praying
The only worthwhile way

In it they are most
Like God


Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Then out came a Canaanite woman from that district and started shouting, ‘Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.’ But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. ‘Give her what she wants,’ they said ‘because she is shouting after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.’ But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. ‘Lord,’ she said ‘help me.’ He replied, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house-dogs.’ She retorted, ‘Ah yes, sir; but even house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.’ And from that moment her daughter was well again.

Matthew 15:21-28