‘Righteousness and faithfulness met together;
Mercy and peace have kissed each other.’ (Psalm 85:10)
I came to Kenya many years ago,
enchanted by the beauty of the place –
the Great Rift Valley took my breath away,
headed north from near the equator there
up to its source within the Holy Land.
Instinctively I loved the people too,
especially those who had invited us
because their bishop heard God in a dream.
Though their culture seemed to me so strange –
oh, not their lifestyle in the quiet bush
echoing my childhood’s simple life;
I felt at once at home like newly-hatched
flamingoes take to waters of their native lake.
It was their mixing gospel liberty
with obsolete Old Covenantal ways:
their ritual slaughter of a festal bull,
hyssop dipped in blood from its slit thoat,
and their polygamous domestic bonds:
the bishop had two wives, his son did too,
his right hand man had even married three.
In the century of their church’s history
at no time had this black community
welcomed even one white visitor,
but when he dreamed that two white men of God
would minister among them, he in haste
set off to the inter-racial convention
in the cathedral of Nairobi, where
he urged two friends of mine to visit them.
They could not at that time . . . Now we’d arrived
to bring the reconciling that they yearned for
to heal the yawning vale of their great rift.
Our interpreter’s training for the ministry
had been in Britain, so he knew our ways.
but when I quoted from a magazine
how Bollywood eschews on silver screen
‘the germ-spreading, dirty Western habit
of kissing’, he just quietly replied
that he himself had never kissed his wife;
so I pointed out its Hebrew origin
Scripturally rooted in the Song of Songs . . .
which brings me to my poem’s text above,
fulfilled in Christ’s at-one-ment on the cross,
which reconciled us sinners back to God
and heals the great rift valley that divides
the severed fragments of the human race,
not just the rift between us whites and blacks
but also between various Afric tribes –
for I have not yet said that those with whom
we shared the bread and wine in ’78
were Luo, not Kikuyu or Meru.
__ __ __ __
Mercy – what a beautiful non-Western name! –
we’re grateful that she joined us here on loan.
A year ago you sent to us a girl;
we took her to our hearts. Sad to let go,
we send her as a woman back to you,
for we have watched her steadily mature –
in times of challenge helped her to connect
and to appropriate the grace of God.
Mercy you invested into us;
with compound interest we repay your loan
and greet you warmly with God’s grace and peace.
__ __ __ __ __
When soon our Saviour’s glorious nail-pierced feet
alight once more upon Mount Olivet,
where the Great Rift Valley’s fault line has its source,
will he produce a tremor that sets free
healing waters to the salt Dead Sea,
fulfil Ezekiel’s vision literally?
That we may not know, but this we do:
since he arrived at home in heavenly Zion
our great rift valleys have been overflowing
with healing rivers of the Holy Ghost.
We send, with Mercy, righteousness and truth,
and fond, rift-reconciling kiss of peace. Hugh Thompson (30:08:98)