uncharted territory

the story of elijah running from jezebel will be projected on the wall and this will be written below it [i just remembered i’m working with a church group on Saturday! they like a bible verse! this one was the one that came instantly to mind, and given the chaos of this week i’m not searching further…]

For all the stories of journeys in the bible
we know nothing of the maps people travelled with.

journeys that would have taken days
and crossed uncharted territory
of land and mind
are condensed in the space between
a full stop
and a capital letter.

Elijah ran from Jezebel
– a refugee in a strange land
with a distant mountain to aim for
and a world of fear and terror between.

And in this unmapped space
he fought to make his path

but for the company of angels.

Who are the angels who give you food for the journey
when you find yourself alone
in the uncharted worlds of faith?

take some bread and eat it in their honour

And who can you be an angel for when you leave here?

drink some water and make your prayer for grace.


  1. Doug Gay

    they like a bible verse? if you respect their position so little why are you colluding with it?

    and are you not in danger of demythologizing so thoroughly that you are totally in control of the reading process here – ie you have a very clear map which you are overlaying on the text
    (at the same time as insisting faith is always uncharted – who says…)

    I remember hearing Kevin Van Hoozer accuse Bultmann and Hodge of the same fault – flattening the text and refusing to walk its contours…I worry that the strength of your poetic voice is disguising your doing something a bit similar

  2. i’m sorry you read disrespect into that comment Doug. It’s certainly not intended or felt. It was a comment about my unease in doing things with an audience that I’m not used to working with. It’s the problem with writing things with a particular tone of voice that can’t be heard.

    And i certainly don’t think faith is always uncharted – i’ve certainly had times in my life where it hasn’t been, and times when it has. but i do believe there are are worlds and moments where faith is uncharted. It’s not a universal claim [hence the ‘when’ – perhaps i’ll change that to an ‘if’].

    and i’m a bit bemused by the claim i’m flattening the text and refusing to walk its contours. i’m happy to own it if its true – but i wonder if you’re doing exactly the same with what i’ve written. or perhaps, more accurately, you’re reading something quite different to what i’ve written. i guess that’s the power of language [or, just as likely, the lack of skill in writing on my part!]

    thanks for commenting though

  3. Doug Gay

    I have never known you to write with a lack of skill Cheryl – I am a devout 😉 admirer of your writing and insights into the life of faith.
    Where I have been more uneasy is with the disavowal of identifying as Christian which you posted some months ago – on what seemed like the twin grounds of distaste for US fundamentalists and, through horror at destructive possibilities within ‘nature’, a loss of the ability to conceive of God as a good Creator who maintains a relationship of love and care towards the world.

    When someone with such a strong poetic voice and vision publishes their account of reaching some kind of tipping point/parting of the ways – it is felt keenly by those who have been on a shared journey with them. I also see the decision to blog that as an invitation to others to engage critically (not negatively).

    For those of us who have been in the alt worship conversation for a while – the suggestion of a move to a post- or para-Christian space raises questions about practice in relation to curating ‘worship’ or installations. I have valued the alt worship journey because of its capacity to engage fiercely and passionately with scripture and tradition – in both love and anger. But the engaging has been key…

    Some of your recent posts on practice have left me wondering whether you were moving decisively away from conceiving your work as curating worship and it was becoming a kind of open-source spiritual exploration, eclectic mysticism of the ‘event’ – better described as ‘art’ rather than Christian worship.

    I might be personally sad when someone feels unable to travel within and identify with the Christian Church, because I feel the loss of their identification – but I would always want people to follow their heart, mind, conscience, gut…. with total honesty. Your writing is always gutsy, always honest – I love that about it. And it provokes me.

    What I would struggle with would be the sense that this was presented as move beyond, a move into enlightenment – so that engaging scripture became something ‘for those who like that sort of thing’.
    Within that move, the demythologised poetics of the event becomes the real map/filter/standard and spiritual traditions/scriptures are simply interesting examples of what ‘the search’ has thrown up for some people in the past. In that scenario, ‘the mapless search’ also has a bluff that deserves to be called.
    The irony for me then becomes that curators use scripture only instrumentally and illustratively (ironic because this mirrors our alt worship complaint about how the churches used ‘art’ in the past).
    That was what I read (misread?) in your post and in your poem/reflection on Elijah – in which God, angels seemed to be collapsing into mere existential possibilities for human experience. And you seemed to be distancing yourself from the decision to use the text at all

    But maybe I’m talking bollocks – it’s been known before…

    yours with great respect and admiration,


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