THERE ARE MEN TOO GENTLE TO LIVE AMONG WOLVES, James Kavanaugh and his poetry

41bfrbx142l-_sx303_bo1204203200_

Finally unafraid to be free,
Ready to surrender all the illusions of
recognition and external securities,
Living off the sky and earth like soaring
eagles and braying burros . . .

The iconoclast poet, Dr. James Kavanaugh, first gained fame when he wrote A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church. It was published in 1967.

“It is one of the most moving human documents I have ever read! In an earlier day the author would have been burned at the stake.” Dr. Carl Rogers

In this best-selling book the author called for Church reforms on its positions such as birth control, divorce, premarital sex and celibacy for priests. It says a lot about the man that he had the courage to speak his truth and ultimately to leave the Church.

A Modern Priest Looks at His Outdated Church is worth your time as an exploration of ideas and ideals and difficult decisions. It seeks to dig the historically accurate from under dust of mythology.

Encouraged by family, teachers and tradition to become a priest, Kavanaugh entered the seminary when he was fourteen. He served as a priest for nine years and, when he left the Church – which he did love – it was to honor the depth and breath of his values and to strike out on an adventure to free his soul and find his own vision of God.

We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it provides.” James Kavanaugh in There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves

I believe Dr. Kavanaugh wrote four nonfiction titles, one children’s book, two novels … but the bulk of his work was poetry.

Dr. Kavanaugh’s first collection of poetry was There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves. That book’s eponymous poem is below and it reminds us of ourselves and so many we know.  It’s a healing and compassionate read. Someone understood!

The second poem here is the complete poem that was refered to and quoted in part in yesterday’s post by Rev. Ben Meyers in Notions of God. 

James Kavanaugh died in 2009.  His wife and family continue to keep his legacy alive at jameskavanaugh.org where you can read more about him and his work and purchase all of his books, proceeds to charity.

If you have not yet read Kavanaugh, do. His work is frank, profound, accessible, finely crafted and recommended without reservation.

THERE ARE MEN TOO GENTLE TO LIVE AMONG WOLVES

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who prey upon them with IBM eyes
And sell their hearts and guts for martinis at noon.
There are men too gentle for a savage world
Who dream instead of snow and children and Halloween
And wonder if the leaves will change their color soon.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who anoint them for burial with greedy claws
And murder them for a merchant’s profit and gain.
There are men too gentle for a corporate world
Who dream instead of candied apples and ferris wheels
And pause to hear the distant whistle of a train.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who devour them with eager appetite and search
For other men to prey upon and suck their childhood dry.
There are men too gentle for an accountant’s world
Who dream instead of Easter eggs and fragrant grass
And search for beauty in the mystery of the sky.

There are men too gentle to live among wolves
Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.
Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,
Unless they have a gentle one to love.

– James Kavanaugh

My Easy God is Gone

I have lost my easy God – the one whose name
I knew since childhood.
I knew his temper, his sullen outrage,
his ritual forgiveness.
I knew the strength of his arm, the sound
of his insistent voice.
His beard bristling, his lips full and red
with moisture at the moustache,
His eyes clear and piercing, too blue
to understand all,
His face too unwrinkled to feel my
child’s pain.
He was a good God – so he told me –
a long suffering and manageable one.
I knelt at his feet and kissed them.
I felt the smooth countenance of his forgiveness.

I never told him how he frightened me,
How he followed me as a child,
When I played with friends or begged
for candy on Halloween.
He was a predictable God, I was the
unpredictable one.
He was unchanging, omnipotent, all-seeing,
I was volatile and helpless.

He taught me to thank him for the concern
which gave me no chance to breathe,
For the love which demanded only love in
return – and obedience.
He made pain sensible and patience possible
and the future foreseeable.
He, the mysterious, took all mystery away,
corroded my imagination,
Controlled the stars and would not let
them speak for themselves.

Now he haunts me seldom: some fierce
umbilical is broken,
I live with my own fragile hopes and
sudden rising despair.
Now I do not weep for my sins; I have
learned to love them.
And to know that they are the wounds that
make love real.
His face eludes me; his voice, with all
its pity, does not ring in my ear.
His maxims memorized in boyhood do not
make fruitless and pointless my experience.
I walk alone, but not so terrified as when
he held my hand.

I do not splash in the blood of his son
nor hear the crunch of nails or thorns
piercing protesting flesh.
I am a boy again – I whose boyhood was
turned to manhood in a brutal myth.
Now wine is only wine with drops that do
not taste of blood.
The bread I eat has too much pride for transubstantiation,
I, too – and together the bread and I embrace,
Each grateful to be what we are, each loving
from our own reality.
Now the bread is warm in my mouth and
I am warm in its mouth as well.

Now my easy God is gone – he knew too
much to be real,
He talked too much to listen, he knew
my words before I spoke.
But I knew his answers as well – computerized
and turned to dogma.
His stamp was on my soul, his law locked
cross-like on my heart,
His imperatives tattooed on my breast, his
aloofness canonized in ritual.

Now he is gone – my easy, stuffy God – God,
the father – master, the mother – whiner, the
Dull, whoring God who offered love bought
by an infant’s fear.
Now the world is mine with all its pain and
warmth, with its every color and sound;
The setting sun is my priest with the ocean for its alter.
The rising sun redeems me with rolling
waves warmed in its arms.
A dog barks and I weep to be alive, a
cat studies me and my job is boundless.
I lie on the grass and boy-like, search the sky.
The clouds do not turn to angels, the winds
do not whisper of heaven or hell.

Perhaps I have no God – what does it matter?
I have beauty and joy and transcending loneliness,
I have the beginning of love – as beautiful as it
is feeble – as free as it is human.
I have the mountains that whisper secrets
held before men could speak,
I have the oceans that belches life on
the beach and caresses it in the sand,
I have a friend who smiles when he sees
me, who weeps when he hears my pain,
I have a future of wonder.
I have no past – the steps have disappeared
the wind has blown them away.

I stand in the Heavens and on earth, I
feel the breeze in my hair,
I can drink to the North Star and shout
on a bar stool,
I can feel the teeth of a hangover, the
joy of laziness,
The flush of my own rudeness, the surge of
my own ineptitude.
And I can know my own gentleness as well
my wonder, my nobility.
I sense the call of creation, I feel its
swelling in my hands.
I can lust and love, eat and drink, sleep
and rise,
But my easy God is gone – and in his stead
The mystery of loneliness and love!

– James Kavanaugh 

© poems Steven J. Nash Publishing

6 thoughts on “THERE ARE MEN TOO GENTLE TO LIVE AMONG WOLVES, James Kavanaugh and his poetry

Thank you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s