K Is for Kything


Kything. It derives from an old Scottish word, “kythe,” meaning “to make visible.” Madeleine L’Engle famously used it in her “Time” books as meaning a kind of wordless, mind-to-mind communication in which one character nearly becomes another—receiving information through that person’s eyes and other senses.

“Kything went far beyond ordinary ESP”—from A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

What if we could kythe with each other, especially those we love?

Louis M. Savary and Patricia H. Berne in Kything: The Art of Spiritual Presence (Paulist Press, 1989) assert that we can learn how to practice this intense identification-with-others-for-good if love is primary and our mutual desire to connect is strong enough.

I am reminded of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s lines that suggest the romantic blurring of selves, in one of her Sonnets from the Portuguese (VI):

… What I do

And what I dream include thee, as the wine

Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue

God for myself, He hears that name of thine,

And sees within my eyes the tears of two.

But the desire to kythe with another person need not have a romantic impetus. Think of a parent sending a son or daughter to school for the very first time. Wouldn’t it be incredible to be able to “follow” along invisibly, to protect and to savor and share through the child’s eyes and ears a whole new world?

The applications of kything are endless—as long as both people consent on some level, much like agreeing to be prayer partners.

So what, after all, IS kything? All I can say is that I believe it is NEITHER magic NOR nonsense.

Don’t believe in kything? Well, deep identification with another person doesn’t have to have a word to describe it. And our “belief” in such intense connection and its possibilities probably will wax and wane to the degree that we are able to experience anything resembling it.

Of course, if we don’t choose to believe it can happen, it’s very unlikely to.

Then again, as Emily Dickinson once wrote in a letter: “we both believe, and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour.”


7 responses »

  1. This post gives metremendous joy to read. Madeleine L’Engle explains experiences that I rarely try to explain to anyone else. Although I have experienced only an inkling of what true kything must be like. When I pray with a person,I feel THEIR emotions and images of their past flash in my mind. It is really just empathy. As an intercessor, I stand in the gap and allows another’s pain to flow through them to the Father

  2. I was almost mediating to this post thinking about Kything for the first time ever. Of course I transitioned to my own existence and wondered if I had or will. I believe that I have and want to again. But then, I was snapped out of my thoughts as I caught up to your Emily Dickinson quote and burst out laughing. While that was definitely humorous to me, the concept isn’t. Thank you again!

    • I love that the “kything” concept is open enough to describe quite a few types of connections we make with each other—and beyond the usual senses. Madeleine L’Engle did us all a real service in expanding on it in her fiction. “Indeed, a book is a path of words which takes the heart in new directions”—John O’Donohue.

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