The Sound of Music

Music

It’s quiet in our street, and wet and still with that dripping-after-rain stillness. Birds chirp softly, the falsetto call of a pee-wee rings out across the neighbourhood, a dog barks—and much further out— the mechanical-ocean noises of the highway groan and moan in a cacophony of soft murmurings, honkings and roarings that somehow fit like the background soundtrack to a Jason Bourne film. And we are told that our universe is an elegant dance of such vibrations: particles or waves of light, of sounds and of smells, of touchings and tastings: everything connecting with everything else.

And there it is, the dappled green and yellow waves of morning sun on the trees in our front yard, somehow joining with the music of the birds and the machines that’s reaching me where I sit in our lounge room. And—as if following the musical score to some kind of crescendo—a flood of colour comes towards me from a window-sized star-lantern that radiates ‘stained-glass shapes’ of colour: lolly green, navy blue, and deep red, with a white Edelweiss flower as the centrepiece.

But this star is not just ‘out there’ for me to look at, it’s ‘in here’ in my memory and imagination because for weeks I watched my wife working with the cane struts, cutting out all the different coloured bits of paper, then playing with the design and finally putting it all together. Then, a few weeks ago, it hung from a high ceiling above my daughter while she sang, danced and played in a stage production of The Sound of Music.

And these are just the tip of the iceberg. Deeper and further back in this lantern are astonishing mythical vibes that came out of my wife’s soul. She didn’t have to make it. She has good reasons for being the kind of woman who would never do anything like that and who would go with the grey of despair in order to make the world remember the betrayals and disappointments it has inflicted on her: especially the religious world. Yes, she’s the first to tell you that she hasn’t had anything really terrible happen to her. But I don’t agree: sometimes the deadliest wounds are those that come from the most unexpected places.

Thankfully, a long time ago, she chose to go with the music of colour—and to follow the Voice of Easter, which said ‘I am the resurrection and the life’1—and since then she has made thousands of little choices in the direction of forgiveness, reconciliation, light and grace. This star being one of them. You could say it is a ‘prayer made visible’. As a Russian priest once said: ‘All the food of this world is divine love made edible.’2 And if souls needs food then this prayer-star is divine love made edible in another way.

Then there’s the remarkable journeys of the other members of the cast, one of whom—the lead man in the play—is the son of a good friend whose family has been on a deep journey of pain, and who have become a fountain of grace and hope to countless others. Then there’s the woman who directed and trained the cast and her story which you could write a book about. And then there’s the story of the school that decided to include it in it’s curriculum, and all the other helpers, and the orchestra, and so on. Not to mention the original story of the Von Trapp family in a Nazi dominated Austria, which inspired the production.

All these journeyings and interlocking stories—some in contest and others in harmony—being made into songs, dances and films that revolve around themes of love and hate; joy and despair, start to look a bit like that ‘elegant dance of vibrations’ coming through my window. Not that this should surprise us.

CS Lewis, in talking of the point of view of Medieval thinkers, tells us that the Medieval man would walk out under the night sky and feel that he was looking in on the mysterious and beautiful goings-on of heaven. He explains that a Medieval mind would think, ‘We watch “the spectacle of the celestial dance”3 from its outskirts. Our highest privilege is to imitate it in such measure as we can. The Medieval model is, if we can use the word, anthropo-peripheral. We are creatures of the Margin.’4

In speaking of how the Medieval mind understood God—the Prime Mover—moving things, Lewis says, ‘How then does he move things? Aristotle answers … “He moves as beloved.”5 He moves other things, that is, as an object of desire moves those who desire it. The Primum Mobile is moved by its love for God, and, being moved, communicates motion to the rest of the universe.’6 The sound of such music is what moves even the most cynical among us to talk and—’god forbid’—even start behaving like, worshippers lost in endless adoration.

  1.  John’s Gospel 11:25
  2. Bloom A. School for Prayer
  3. Chalcidius, LXV, p.132
  4. Lewis CS. The Discarded Image (an introduction to medieval and renaissance literature) p.58 Cambridge University Press 1964

5 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1072b

6 Lewis CS. The Discarded Image (an introduction to medieval and renaissance literature) p.113 Cambridge University Press 1964

The Invisible Girl

 

Her Silence

‘Why did you forsake me?’*

“A good secret is kept old mate
Left where she slept last night
If you know what I mean.”

Yes, but her rope burns were red
Like the smash of her head on bathroom tiles
In this health-filed, stapled, case-managed department
Contusioned/elastoplated, surgeried/caretaken, brutal hospitality, where—
They all walks cause they has to.

“A good ignorance is blissed old pal
Missed and dissed
If you know what’s good for you.”

Yes, but you ought to be ashamed, even to be blamed
For such a low opinion of little girl-ed rope burns
In this mother-loved, clubbed, watched-over neighbourhood
Affectionated/drooled, romanced/heart-broken, ruthless secrecy, where—
They all hides cause they has to.

“A good silence is golden old friend
Un-beholden and olden
You know where to get off.”

Yes, but love took her in
Like a doll from a bin on garbo day
In this priest-peaced, anointed, prayed-over communion
Oxymoron-ed/foot-soldiered, corridor/efficiented, message of love, where—
They all loves cause they has to.

“A good lie is swallowed old buddy
Wallowed and shallowed
You know she’s R.I.P.”

Yes, but now I know the feather
I’ll cheat, bully and bash
These dark-sneering, cold-fingered healers
Til we all walks the same road as her broken heart, where—
They all breaks their hearts.

A good silence is broken old friend
Open and awoken
Her question is spoken
‘Why did you forsake me?’

Peter Volkofsky (2000)

* Matthew 27:45

Conversation

Infinite Love (art work by Aimee Volkofsky)

This morning I went for a walk and felt infinite love
In the leaves that wavered and the bitumen
That stayed firm under my feet
And a story that flowed from a voice
That spoke of hopes and dreams to be poured out
Of its broken heart.
So that their young soul would become real
In the only way that anything becomes real:
To be loved and cherished, taught and trained
Guarded and wrestled, broken and then finally let go.

And now that voice walks across the room hidden
Inside mysterious hints of quarks and quasars
And the clues to their mother’s love-life
We call eyes and a face, and a body
With arms and legs and hands and feet.
And disappearing behind a wall
Next to a book-shelf that sits like dangling bits
Of galaxy where a piano player toys
With the music of infinite love that flows
Down from the blue sky and into the leaves.

(Peter Volkofsky 13.03.2014)

Management Strategy Nine: Burning Ships

The preceding eight strategies ( in the management of the idolatry of beauty), are even more of an issue when you have a marriage partner. Loyalty to him or her now means demonstrating a loyalty and honour not just in the letter of the law, but in the spirit of the way you relate to other potential competitors. Jealousy can be hard to deal with—and quite a learning curve—but (if it is healthy jealousy), it will bring the blessings of honesty and another point of view into your marriage. There will be conversations with your partner about dozens of awkward moments: from the way you talk, the clothes you wear and your body language, to things like your hobbies, unexplained absences, and Facebook.

You might even make it easier for them by asking what it’s been like for them being married to you, or asking them to tell you if they feel at all uncomfortable about any relating habits you have with the opposite sex. It will feel like a part of you is dying—and so it should—because a whole new thing is coming about from a seed that was planted when you married.

A tree is growing and it’s demanding space and nutrition, light and warmth, and air because it’s making a home in which children can live and grow and where friends and family can be loved and served and blessed beyond all imagination. You will have never experienced (first-hand), anything like what the great Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) will bring when he is allowed—by the one-ness of your marriage—to open the way for the great love of the Father and the Son to flow like a river through your living room and out onto the street. But some of your friends will resist this, some will take offence, and some will need to walk away.

GK Chesterton has this to say, ‘The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words — ‘free-love’ — as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-favoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.

It is exactly this backdoor, this sense of having a retreat behind us, that is, to our minds, the sterilising spirit in modern pleasure. Everywhere there is the persistent and insane attempt to obtain pleasure without paying for it. Thus, in politics the modern Jingoes practically say, ‘Let us have the pleasure of conquerors without the pains of soldiers: let us sit on sofas and be a hardy race.’ Thus, in religion and morals, the decadent mystics say: ‘Let us have the fragrance of sacred purity without the sorrows of self-restraint; let us sing hymns alternately to the Virgin and Priapus.’ Thus in love the free-lovers say: ‘Let us have the splendour of offering ourselves without the peril of committing ourselves; let us see whether one cannot commit suicide an unlimited number of times.’

Emphatically it will not work. There are thrilling moments, doubtless, for the spectator, the amateur, and the aesthete; but there is one thrill that is known only to the soldier who fights for his own flag, to the aesthetic who starves himself for his own illumination, to the lover who makes finally his own choice. And it is this transfiguring self-discipline that makes the vow a truly sane thing. It must have satisfied even the giant hunger of the soul of a lover or a poet to know that in consequence of some one instant of decision that strange chain would hang for centuries in the Alps among the silences of stars and snows. All around us is the city of small sins, abounding in back-ways and retreats, but surely, sooner or later, the towering flame will rise from the harbour announcing that the reign of the cowards is over and a man is burning his ships.’18

With all that in mind it’s also helpful to consider a sobering reminder from CS Lewis. In this passage he addresses one side of the sacrifice involved (from the point of view of a husband), but it could equally be applied to a wife. ‘This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least loveable. For the Church has not beauty but what the Bride-groom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely. The chrism of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man’s marriage but in its sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of a bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence. As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that Bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labours to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs.’19

18 Chesterton GK. A Defence of Rash Vows http://www.chesterton.org/discover-chesterton/selected-works/the- essayist/a-defence-of-rash-vows/

19 Lewis CS. The Four Loves http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/14816053-the-four-loves

Management Strategy Eight: Make Easter a Way of Life

sunshine for the soul

Jesus, ‘who was tempted ‘in every respect just as we are’, made it clear that the eye is the doorway to the soul when he said, ‘A pure eye lets sunshine into the soul but a lustful eye shuts out the light and plunges you into darkness’.13,14 The awful side of that truth came home to me a long time ago when I heard someone tell a story about a young man they knew who had become like an empty shell because he was mastered by the sin of uncontrolled eyes.

The Gruen Transfer tells us that the marketer looks for that ‘split second when the (shopping) mall’s intentionally confusing layout makes our eyes glaze and our jaws slacken….. the moment when we forget what we came for and become impulse buyers.’ But it’s not just marketers who look for this: books on witchcraft speak of a thing called the Witch’s Lunge, where the occult practitioner will wait for the right moment and then attempt to dive straight through the eyes of their victim and into their soul.

It would not be an overstatement to say that we live in a world where our eyes (and all our other senses) are the targets of those who—with the help of greed, lust and pride—would have us buy their products. But what is the price we pay? Supposedly it’s just an exchange of dollars for the merchandise, which it may well be if we’re talking groceries. But someone has said that the ‘value of a thing is the amount of life given in exchange for it’. In that case, a Playstation might actually have the value of a human soul.

The sellers of the products will often tell us to gamble responsibly or that their cigarettes cause cancer. The implication being that this was our choice and therefore absolves them of any responsibility for the hell they lead us into: a logic not that much different to the friendly witch in Pilgrim’s Regress: “And all the while the witch stood saying nothing, but only holding out the cup and smiling kindly on him with her dark eyes and her dark, red mouth. Then, when she saw that he would not drink, she passed on to the next: but at the first step she took, the young man gave a sob and his hands flew out and grabbed the cup and he buried his head in it: and when she took it from him, his lips clung to it as a drowning man to a piece of wood. But at last he sank down in the swamp with a groan…’15

So, if it’s that serious, what are you going to do about it? The only solution is to face the fact that if your eyes are not on the playing field then you cannot get hit. In other words you have to kill it. But you don’t have the power to do that, or at least you don’t have the power to do it in a way that makes death work backwards, that brings redemptive magic into play. For it is a fact that there are other ways to do this: but they are all flawed by the idolatrous motivation of doing it for yourself, for your own happiness, and in your own power. Yes, they sort of work, but they leave something hard inside you, something buddhist/eat,love,pray and made useful for the one who is determined at all costs not to die, at all costs to remain un-resurrected.

The only way to really do it is the way of Easter. To drink the cup that says, ‘Not my will but yours be done.’ You must offer your eyes to God as a living sacrifice, so that whatever it is that rules your eyes can be killed—his way! Yes it will hurt, but there’s a beautiful surprise awaiting you, and the best way to understand that is to read this excerpt from another of Lewis’ writings.

‘I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. “Shut up, I tell you!” he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

“Off so soon?” said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

“Yes. I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see. I told this little chap,” (here he indicated the lizard), “that he’d have to be quiet if he came, which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realise that. But he won’t stop. I shall just have to go home.”

‘Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit: an angel, as I now understood. “Of course I would,” said the Ghost.
“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.
“Oh-ah-look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.

“Don’t you want him killed?”

“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”

“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. “Shall I kill it?”

“Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here-well, it’s so damned embarrassing.”

“May I kill it?”

“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”

“There is no time. May I kill it?”

“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please-really-don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”

“May I kill it?”
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in

Nine Strategies P. Volkofsky 9

order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.” “The gradual process is of no use at all.”

“Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.”

“There is no other day. All days are present now.”

“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”

“It is not so.”

“Why, you’re hurting me now.”

“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”

“Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by tonight’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.”

“This moment contains all moments.”

“Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me–before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.”

“I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?”

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

“Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams–all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent …. ”

“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.
“I know it will kill me.”
“It won’t. But supposing it did?”
“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.” “Then I may?”

“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One Nine Strategies P. Volkofsky 10

closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.

“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialised while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man–an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinneying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.

The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.’16

 

13 Luke 11:34
14 Heb 4:15
15 Lewis CS. Pilgrim’s Regress

16 Lewis CS The Great Divorce pp: 98 -103