Monday, October 16, 2006


Poetry is of the heart, soul language, a distillation of human feeling.  It is refined thought.   It is often prayer.   Poetry resonates with personal story.  We are moved by the opening line of Psalm 130 because it describes the essence of a human experience:  Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD.  This feeling, we know!
Most of the poetry which I have written for worship services is themed for a special occasion, often a holy day, a commemoration or covenant day.  At its best the work arises from heightened spiritual awareness or life changing experience.  The writing process is reflective of Wordsworth’s ‘emotion recollected in tranquility.’
One of the first such poems, The Passing of Janice Worthy, was written in a night-long storm of grief following the death of a young friend.  I was called to the hospital on my way to the beach.  Dressed in shorts, I felt inadequate to my priestly role.  In a gesture which seems absurd now, I raced home to change into uniform!!  Janice, thoughtful as ever, waited.  What followed was a compassionate release in which she taught me about forgiveness, love and dying well.  I learned about pride and helplessness in the face of ultimate reality and that my deficiencies were irrelevant.  
Read at Janice’s funeral, the poem was later set to music by my brother (Major Len Ballantine) and sung in concert.  Surprisingly, a Christian teacher used it for years in his poetry curriculum.  In part, the poem reads:

From the other side
she saw us as we were,
     our shallowness,
            our foolish fears,
                   our pride.
As in life
it made no difference.
Still she gave us love,
forgetting the limits of our own.
simply, she taught us much.
A poem from the other end of human experience was written for the dedication of a grandchild.  It springs from a lifetime of watching parents struggle to do their best in a world which compromises their efforts.  This poem is about the discipline of relinquishment and trust in the benevolence of God.  It speaks of our inability to control outcomes.  We surrender our children because we never owned them in the first place.  Their destiny is to become individuals, personally accountable before the One who loves them supremely.  The poem ends:

But when we give our little children to God
we pray that the Divine,
implanted deep,
will draw them back.
Love Alone
despite the dusty years
recalls the golden limbed child,
his zeal of heart,
her innate godliness.
Wholeness returns
when we give our children up to God.

     For me, poetry provides a bridge into the mystery of the work of Holy Spirit.  It issues from the dialogue of prayer and a life journey with Jesus.  It is healing.  Offered in worship, poetry connects us to each other and to Abba, the parent of our hope.


Friday, October 06, 2006

How Do We Forgive

Recently I was asked to sign a world wide petition against the early release of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson who tortured and killed a tiny boy who had wandered away from his mother in a shopping mall in Liverpool, England.

I quote from the email:

They took Jamie for a walk for over two and a half miles, along the way, stopping every now and again to torture the poor little boy who was crying constantly for his Mommy. Finally they stopped at a railway track where they brutally kicked him, threw stones at him,rubbed paint in his eyes and pushed batteries up his anus. It was actually worse than this. What those two boys did was so horrendous that Jamie's mother was forbidden to identify his body. They then left his beaten small body on the tracks so a train could run him over to hide the mess they had created. These two boys, even being boys, understood what they did was wrong, hence trying to make it look like an accident.

This week, Lady Justice Butler-Sloss has awarded the two boys anonymity for the rest of their lives when they leave custody with new identities. We cannot let this happen. They will also leave early this year only serving just over half of their sentence. One paper even stated that Robert may go on to University. They are getting away with their crime. They disgustingly and violently took Jamie's life away. In return they each get a new life.

This is horrendous. I decry it. And yet I cannot sign the petition. This was my response, for what it is worth.

Dear Friends,

I cannot forward this on. It has taken me some days to address my feelings about this and I feel strongly enough to invite you all to hear my thinking.

I remember the case well and the actions of these boys was egregious and yes, in many ways they 'knew' what they were doing. However, laws governing crimes committed by children are different from laws governing crimes committed by adults. Children cannot be said to be fully aware of the consequences of their actions. For instance, children have been known to jump out of apartment building windows with the mistaken notion that they might fly like superman or that they will resurrect themselves at the bottom like the eternally living Road Runner. In short, high functioning reasoning including the ability to foresee the consequences of actions develops very late in children...continuing into late adolescence up to the age of twenty-five or so. This speaks to ongoing neurological development which is necessary for logical reasoning and decision making.

While empathy and compassion develop early in some children and I think that both of my older grandchildren are good examples of this, some children are slow to identify with the suffering of others and there is much in our culture to support this. If these boys have participated in endless violent computer games and have watched inappropriately violent material on TV, they will have seen modeled a callous attitude to the suffering of others...I mean, who grieves for a death in a computer game? This means that not only the boys, but also their parents are culpable and by extension...ALL OF US who support violent films and video games in the name of artistic licence and individual freedom are guilty. It can be argued that an adult watching such material can exercise some detachment and has the ability to enter into entertainment with what has traditionally been known as "willing suspension of disbelief" other words we know that we are watching fiction and sometimes even ponder "I wonder how they did that?" while watching buildings blow up and cars fly off the ends of broken bridges and so on. Such distinctions are not so immediately apparent to children.

And having said that, I personally know of an abusive ADULT who dons camoflage gear and a helmet while playing violent video games. In him the distinction between reality and fiction is fairly well blurred. He is into control and he has this reinforced by his 'hobby.' If and when he enters completely into his fantasy world, none of us should be surprised.

We might take note of what has happened to those innocent Amish girls and the amazing example of peace and forgiveness which the Amish community is extending to the widow of a seriously deranged man who killed and maimed those little girls. This is a model which the whole world would benefit from. Just imagine if such forgiveness were extended in Israel and Palestine and Lebanon, in Iraq and let alone in The United States itself. The Amish may be backward in the eyes of mainstream society but their Christian attitude is precisely what Christ wants for us all. They are salt and light in the world and this is a moment in history in which their gentle behaviour could teach us all.

Yes, I believe the boys might well have served out their full sentences but we have not been made privy to the therapy which they have undergone, and it is safe to assume that they have not been deemed a threat to society...that is, they do not shown nacient signs of Psychopathology at this time.

This is my lengthy reasoned response. Would I feel the same if one of my grandchildren had been the victim? I don't know. But I am working hard to think and feel at the same time and this capacity is what separates us from the preying animals, both beasts and humans.

Finally, when we are forgiven by God, we all get new pasts. This, on Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend, is something to celebrate indeed. And should any of us find ourselves in Church to celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend, let us fully pray, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." It is a difficult line.

Pray for the two boys who have committed this atrocious act and pray for the family of the little boy who was so brutally killed. Pray that some good may come out of such extended misery. This is truly casting your vote where it counts.

Oh God,
Give us hearts of compassion where we seek an understandable revenge.
Open our minds to your wider justice.
Help us not to fear those who would kill our bodies but those who would maim and ruin our souls.

Connie Knighton B.A., M.T.S., M.F.T.