Lady Wisdom in Action

Lady Wisdom in Action

John Newton was a wild man who loved a drink and a bit of fun and made a living out of trading slaves across the ocean. One night on the Atlantic, as a violent storm began to tear his ship apart, John joked with a mate that soon they would be in harbour and laughing about it over a drink. But with tears streaming down his face, his mate replied, ‘No John—this time we’re finished!’ His words shook John but he refused to give in to fear. Then, later that night (when it was his turn at the helm), the waves were so big that he had to tie himself to the wheel in order to avoid being washed overboard.

Alone on the deck and drenched to the skin but still proud and defiant, he wrestled the wheel helplessly: waves crashed, the briny water stung his eyes, sails ripped and then finally—with an almighty crack!—a mast snapped. And in the depths of his soul, John simply could not escape the feeling that this was all getting very personal: that he wasn’t just fighting against waves and wind, he was fighting against God himself and that the great Elohim was just getting started.

The pride and fierce complacency in his heart began to feel ludicrous, and, as lightning stabbed the sky, he started to reflect on his life. He thought of his mother and the things she had taught him, especially one of her favourite passages from the book of Proverbs, which he had memorised and then forgotten until this moment—words that came to him as if spoken directly from heaven, and (appropriately) the speaker was a woman.

‘Lady Wisdom goes out in the street and shouts.
At the town centre she makes her speech.
In the middle of the traffic she takes her stand.
At the busiest corner she calls out:

“Simpletons! How long will you wallow in ignorance?
Cynics! How long will you feed your cynicism?
Idiots! How long will you refuse to learn?
About face! I can revise your life.
Look, I’m ready to pour out my spirit on you;
I’m ready to tell you all I know.
As it is, I’ve called, but you’ve turned a deaf ear;
I’ve reached out to you, but you’ve ignored me.

“Since you laugh at my counsel
and make a joke of my advice,
How can I take you seriously?
I’ll turn the tables and joke about your troubles!
What if the roof falls in,
and your whole life goes to pieces?
What if catastrophe strikes and there’s nothing
to show for your life but rubble and ashes?
You’ll need me then. You’ll call for me, but don’t expect
an answer.
No matter how hard you look, you won’t find me.

“Because you hated Knowledge
and had nothing to do with the Fear-of-God,
Because you wouldn’t take my advice
and brushed aside all my offers to train you,
Well, you’ve made your bed—now lie in it;
you wanted your own way—now, how do you like it?
Don’t you see what happens, you simpletons, you idiots?
Carelessness kills; complacency is murder.
First pay attention to me, and then relax.
Now you can take it easy—you’re in good hands.”*

John broke down and surrendered to Lady Wisdom and to God, and came home to the lover of his soul. Thus began his long journey towards becoming a minister, an important player in the abolition of the slave trade, and the author of that famous hymn Amazing Grace.

*(Proverbs 1: 20 -33   –  The Message)

+ picture from Church of England Reader

Tell The Real Story

If you think that fantasy has no place in your world, think again. It’s a fact that every person lives two lives: an inner one and an outer one. You could even say that—like a work of fiction—each of us has a plot (what our story is about) and a theme (what our story is really about*). And this is where it’s worth exploring the meaning of that word ‘fantasy’. Its primary meaning is, ‘something that has no basis in reality’ but its secondary meaning is, ‘a musical composition, free in form, typically involving variation on an existing work or the imaginative representation of a situation or story.’

Have you ever been caught off-guard and moved to tears by a film or a song that caused you to think, ‘It’s as if someone’s been reading my mail’? That’s because it didn’t just speak of your plot— the ‘got born, went to school, got a job story’—which you talk and joke about all the time, it touched on your theme: your ‘musical composition’ as it were.

Whether we like it or not, each of us has one of these ‘theme stories’ happening inside us in much the same way as the characters in Les Miserable, Lilith1 or Pilgrim’s Progress2. And those of us who read these stories do so because we are taken into a series of individual moments and meetings where there might be a fight, a discussion, a piece of music; the giving of a gift, a wound or a magic drink. How like real life and yet how infrequently we talk or even write about such moments and meetings. Unless of course a moment of open-ness gives us permission to do so.

These moments may be at a birth, a wedding or a wonderful restoration of a friendship, but they might also be at some tragedy when we realise we should have opened our mouth years ago, but now it’s too late. When we look closely at the cause of our procrastination, a contest between fear and love is always at the root of it: intimidating fear usually wins out and we simply won’t risk letting our music out.

But why not? The longer you allow this sad game to go on the the more those around you will imagine that your real story is your plot. As in, the ‘got born, went to school, got a job,’ story, and so it is that your children, your wife and your friends fall for the lie that what really matters to you is the ‘big machinery of events and programs’ rather than that sweet secret story of hope/despair, love/hate, forgiveness/resentment’: the music and the theme that is you.

1George MacDonald
2John Bunyan
* taken from a comment by Sally Odgers

The Sinner

 

The Sinner

The Sinner

Rest assured
The curve on the blade of my soul is un-embarrass-able
Armed against that awful lightning strike of touch
Against that listening, feeling dying, perfumed heart’s beating.

Living to know the odour of corruption
Cherishing the joke
Reassuring the wardens of my prison
Of startled-laughed-ruled-well by god.

Tell them not to worry, that they can rest assured
Lest, when they see me floating close to that pathetic rabble
They might feel I have betrayed the code.

And you may rest assured
The curve on the blade of my soul is un-embarrass-able
Armed against that awful lightning strike of touch
Against that listening, feeling, dying, perfumed heart’s beating.

I fear that sentimental woman’s broken, perfumed heart
Might break out and break this world of mine
I cannot breathe while perfumed hearts beat and weep and break—in their naivety
Childlike naivety, it is naivety, it is! It is!

I cannot weep and nor shall you,
For you shall feel the hard, hard gravel of my teeth.
For I know you fear that sentimental woman’s broken, perfumed heart
Might break out and break this world of yours.

But rest assured
Behind it all I burrow down
And chew my way until the rotten timbers of your perfumed cask are drained of all
Thought of Mary’s defiant break when she lunged in that awful lightning strike
And anointed the anguished saviour’s feet.

So let us chew until you feel that empty heart
Drained of all such tightness and distress
As comes with Magdalenes and Nazarenes
And you are glad: I know it! Say it! You are glad!

And now!
You may rest assured
The curve on the blade of your soul is un-embarrass-able
Armed against that awful lightning strike of touch
Against that listening, feeling, dying, perfumed heart’s beating.

Peter Volkofsky (2007 – 2010)
( A meditation on a statement by CS Lewis about Mary Magdalene breaking a jar of ointment and breaking her heart—see St. Luke’s Gospel 7:37-38)

Sweet

Sweet

‘The best time to plant a tree is twenty five years ago and the next best time is today.’ This proverb has helped me to appreciate Jesus’ saying about ‘faith like a mustard seed’ moving mountains. Fifty seven years ago my mum and dad had ‘hope, faith & love’ trees growing inside them and an invisible thing called ‘a home’ was growing up around them. Inside that home a seed from one of those trees quietly dropped into my soul and soon a young ‘hope, faith & love’ tree was growing inside me as well: but a tree with bitter enemies. Even jealous enemies, who seemed offended that such a thing would dare to exist. So strong was the opposition to the presence of this young shoot of hope that I sometimes wondered if God himself was mocking it. But thanks to that tree, numerous Mount Dooms that showed up like ships in the night have in fact been ‘uprooted and cast into the sea’: mountains pushed out of my life because something greater and stronger was growing there. I’m glad it was planted so long ago and I relish the sweet air that flows from it.

If you can’t say ‘Yes’ can you at least stop saying ‘No’?

Infinite Love

Imagine if it it really is true that there’s a Higher Power out there that loves you deeply and is hoping to arrange things so you will be happy to let yourself be found by it. And what if, as long as you don’t say ‘No’, this power will keep moving towards your soul every day like a relentless fountain of grace, or even an affectionate old hound? Every delicious cup of coffee, every footstep on this beautiful old earth and every trembling leaf now has the possibility of being filled with the music of infinite love, and you—the curious, occasionally frustrated and not infrequently enraged little hominid—could be stumbling your way towards a dangerous meeting place. The place itself (if there is such a place) would be so drenched in love and sadness that you would feel you have been thought of since time began.

But beware the barking voices that want to turn every sunset and leaf into a moral lesson from a school-teacher god. As enthusiastic and sincere as these guys are, they don’t help. They are the stumble at the last minute that ruins your entire quest and leaves you thinking, ‘Oh, so that’s what this is about: just another spin-doctoring sell-job.’ They were ‘called on it’ long ago by the one who described them as voices speaking out of ‘whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones’.1 He pointed out that they are the control-freaks: alarmed by the very possibility of a real, live, infinite love breaking out, they crowd around the gate of heaven and foul it up so much that people like you and me are left frightened, confused and repulsed.

So, if you’re already over it, maybe that Higher Power sympathises deeply with your disgust. As one great advocate has said, ‘ “I hate all your show and pretence: the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings. I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.2

On the other hand if you’re ready to give this—no longer saying ‘No’—quest a try. What might it look like? If you’ve been in the habit of saying ‘No’ it might look and feel like a nuisance: a sunrise you don’t want to notice, a child you’d rather ignore or even literally a pesky old stray hound at your back door.

A good place to start might be with this Prayer of The One Hoping in a Loving Higher Power: ‘I’m not sure you are there. But if you are I want to thank you for chocolate, for music, for that friend who really gets me. And for the sky, the birds and the sunrise. And I ask for forgiveness for saying ‘No’ to your very possibility. I can’t say ‘Yes’ cause I don’t even know if you exist, and if you do, I’m still not sure that I would actually like you—but from here on I want you to know that I’m happy to be found by you. Amen.’

  1. Matthew 23:27
  2. Amos 5:21 -24

Wild Waves

Wild Waves

Wild Waves

‘Owe no one nothin’ ‘cept the debt of love’
‘But this room’s full of books and quietness.’
‘Hope you have an ice day.’

‘So are ya ready?
Are ya ready for the day that’s runnin’ away?
Cause ya got ya debts and ya bills to pay.
Owe no one nothin’ ‘cept the debt of love.
Are ya ready?

Wild waves drownin’, dark nights screamin’, lost ones tremblin’.

Are ya ready?
Are ya ready for the day that’s runnin’ away?
Cause ya got ya debts and ya bills to pay.
Owe no one nothin’ ‘cept the debt of love.
Are ya ready?

Wild waves drownin’, arms wide open
Bare body-bare soul into ocean
Raw skin-raw heart into debt.
Your skin-your heart into debt.
Open, attack, connect.

Wild waves, dark nights, lost ones

Dark nights screamin’, eyes shine back
Naked face-naked light into black.
Raw skin-raw heart into debt.
Your skin-your heart into debt.

Open, attack, connect

So are ya ready?
Are ya ready for the day that’s runnin’ away?
Cause ya got ya debts and ya bills to pay.
Owe no one nothin’ ‘cept the debt of love.
Are ya ready?

Lost ones tremblin’, hands reach out
Cold touch-cold heart to the bout
Raw skin-raw heart to the debt.
Your skin-your heart to the debt.
Open, attack, connect.

Wild waves drownin’, dark nights screamin’, lost ones tremblin’.

Are ya ready?
Raw skin-raw heart
Your skin-your heart.
Raw skin … your skin … your skin.’ (Peter Volkofsky – 2013)

Bait

 

The Bait in Daylight

That Mysterious Place of Stories (from a previous blog) had some remarkable beach frontage around it but the weather had other ideas and by the time evening came we had all taken refuge inside it. As you will see from the (previous) photo, the ‘indoors refuge’ was an unusual building: large panes of coloured glass had been built into it on all sides but in such a way that you didn’t notice them until after dark when you were outside and the lights glowed inside. That of course made me think of fish bowls and aquariums, which then got my imagination going about ‘being on show’ and the thought of—like a fish—being lured here, when I in fact I imagined that I had freely chosen to be here. What if I had been lured here?

Scolding myself for this indulgence in the ‘horror genre’ of my imagination and for being so macabre I pushed all these thoughts aside and wandered out alone into the rainy night. Before long I found the shoreline. Should say ‘stumbled onto the shoreline, aided by the pungent aroma of fish and the splashing of waves’. From there I walked out across a beach-ful of boulders that reminded me of the backs of metamorphosing orcs—you know like the slithery bodies of what used to be elves in Lord of the Rings—and stood there on a patch of sand, staring out at a dark sheen of water. For a fraction of a second (how silly of me) I was sure that I had just seen the profile of a massive T-Rex head, with eyes glowing red, rise up from the waters, look at me and then go back down. As if to say, ‘Good, the chosen one has come.’

I wanted to run, but being a rational, educated adult, I stood there and waited: hemmed in by rows of rocks in front and behind, and mangroves, sea water and broken down pieces of jetty all around. There was no way my imagination was going to get the better of me after all these years.

Eventually the feeling subsided and instead of being a place of fear, the dark lushness around me began to feel like some kind of ‘entry point’—even an entry point into the universe. Into ultimate reality. It was so beautiful I wanted to weep and to cry out, ‘I’m yours and your mine!’ Yes, ‘me’, the little hominid was was being invited in!

Then I thought about the different ways that the word ‘invitation’ could play out. In medieval times for example, if you happened upon a Swart Faery in a forest you had committed a serious offence even though you had not chosen to meet it! Somehow it had been arranged but it was now your fault. ‘You have to be careful with these invitations from the numinous,’ I told myself. ‘Cause if you upset the inviter you may find yourself being compelled.’

I comforted myself with the thought that overhead were the stars (which I knew) but there was still this problem of the dark sky that came right down to the water in a kind of sky/water horizon where the constellations and the earth met. Then I began to feel confused again. And the rain pelted down and the moon shone dimly and I felt old and tired.

That was when my knowledge-brain sallied forth as if to rescue me and I began to meditate on the fact that my body was essentially a complex arrangement of molecules and atoms and in real terms was actually nothing more than an elegant arrangement of electrical charges, which for some strange reason hang together around the mind and spirit of something called ‘me’. I had been walking for instance, which meant that sometime ago my mind had gone, ‘OK all you “me” charges, let’s go!’—never be able to use the word ‘my charges’ again. And to make matters more interesting they are always dancing around—like kids with ADD—at a speed of approx. 186,000 miles per second. A kind of permanent dance party—if you don’t believe me look up Heisenberg’s Principle of Uncertainty. And yet tonight I had managed to get all the way down here. Talk about power! T-Rex or some weird liminal alien? Bring it on!

As if in answer to my foolish ‘throwing down of a gauntlet’, I felt a pushing movement under my boot. Hitting the button on my iPhone, I saw that on the sand were hundreds of slimy root-tips, probably from the mangroves, pushing their way up out of the sand. And this particular one was lifting up my boot. I’d never seen such a thing in my life, never heard about it, not even on youTube. I moved my foot but it happened again.

Irritated, I walked further out into the water but there were more out there and they were longer and penetrating my clothes. So, wrapping my rain jacket around me, and presuming that plastic would work better than just cotton, I was able to keep them at bay. But that only lasted a few minutes and then they were burrowing through the thick layers of the jacket.

Furious that this beautiful place could be ruined by a squaddle* of mangrove roots on steroids, I wriggled out of my boots and clothes, bundled them up and hoisted them onto a patch of mangrove scrub, which left me in just boxer shorts. Fortunately, the rain (coastal rain) had warmed the air and water and as I swam out into the deep—apart from a little mouthful of briny seawater and a cut on on my foot from one of the mangroves—I was now free of those pushy intruders and was able to relax and enjoy my sweet and lovely rendezvous with the ocean, a few stars and a grey moon.

Lying front forward, I began to float further out, delighting in that smooth line between sky and ocean the way a musician might enjoy a harmony between a violin and a voice. But then, a long shiny wobble (about the size of the roof of a car), moved, I was going to say ‘across’, but it was in, through and under the water, barely twenty meters further out.

Terrified, I swam backwards at a rate of knots. But then I came to my senses and told myself that I wasn’t the only one mad enough to get out here in the pouring rain: this had to be a bow wave caused by some of the students venturing out in a canoe or … No. Canoe did not work, this was far too big and swollen for that. My next thought was the oyster farmer guy up the road, maybe he had some kind of equipment that moved against the tide. ‘Exactly what equipment are we talking about?’ my suspicious brain asked. And I had no answer.

So, I trod water and kept thinking and wondering—determined not to be lured by my fears into that bottomless pit of the imagination. There had to be some perfectly logical explanation. But the more I waited out there under the dark sky and the more I looked and watched, the more it seemed there was going to be no explanation: no human voice, no laughter, not even the slap of an oar on the water. I was in: hook, line and sinker.

*squaddle: a living, moving miasma of mango roots looking for a home (Dictionary of Mangrove Maniacs)

Making

The Mysterious ‘Hall of Stories’ at Tahlee

I’m going to tell you a story about something that happened at a place called Tahlee—a quaint little village on the ocean—where I went last week along with forty high school students, some teachers and two professional writers. But it’s cold in here and the desk is piled up with bits of paper and plastic that all look as if they’ve crept onto it and broken down, like rusty old tractors and engines at an abandoned mining camp—lost in time.

The difference of course is that the things on my desk have none of that grand sense of history about them. No rust for starters, just rumpled, stuffed and squeezed up against each other. Disposable, replaceable and so-oo dull: the manufactured look.

But before we deride that ‘manufactured’ word too much we need to consider the bigger picture. According to the dictionary ‘manufacture’ can mean ‘to make articles on a large scale using machinery’ or, ‘to fabricate a story’ and the Latin root, ‘manu factum’ means ‘made by hand’. Either way, it’s about making things and we all love to make stuff. Here am I this morning for example, sitting in a room that’s a junk pile making a story (supposedly about Tahlee) instead of tidying up my room. What is it with this characteristically human impulse to make?

Dorothy Sayers argues that ‘our desire and ability to make things’ is the defining quality of an artist that we share with God. And Flannery O’Connor (as quoted by Paul Erlandson * ) follows this thought further by pointing out that God’s most astonishing work of art was the incarnation of the divine word. She goes on to say that all art is about ‘making words flesh’, and, ‘The artist penetrates the concrete world in order to find at it’s depths the image of its source, the image of ultimate reality … The sorry religious novel comes about when the writer supposes that because of his belief, he is somehow dispensed [released] from the obligation to penetrate concrete reality … But the real novelist … knows that he cannot approach the infinite directly, that he must penetrate the natural human world as it is. The more sacramental his theology, the more encouragement he will get from it to do just that.’

Erlandson comments, ‘If you have ever seen the results of any painter’s efforts to do a painting about love, hope or hopelessness and then compared this to any painting of a boat or a child or even a child’s toy, the difference is startling. The former communicates nearly nothing, while the latter, penetrating the concrete as O’Connor describes, communicates deep mysteries. It is the same with songwriting, theatre, sculpture or poetry.

A very dear friend once spoke of her poetry by saying, ‘I don’t do form’ by which she meant that she wrote poetry with no fixed rhyme, meter etc. I held my tongue but nearly replied, ‘There is nothing but form.’ Before God began the work of creation the world was without form and void and so also is much of modern poetry and art.’

Time to get to that story about Tahlee. Actually, it’s time for me to make a pot of tea and tidy my room. Tahlee will have to wait.

 

* Erlandson P. in an article on the net entitled ‘Mystery, Manners and the Mind of The Maker’. Erlandson quotes the authors Dorothy Sayers: The Mind Of The Maker, and Flannery O’Connor: Mystery and Manners