Dark Nights and Wonders: Part I

 

Surprising wonders are often preceded by the darkest of nights. Yesterday I heard children’s voices in our front yard and my heart started to beat a little faster as I hurried toward the front door, wondering whether it was a good friend of ours (and her children) who had finally arrived for a much-anticipated stay. But I didn’t even make it to the door, they were already inside, greeting and hugging my wife and the rest of my family, and warmth and joy were flowing freely.

This was not the script that was being written for her when she was eight years old. Back then the nightmare of childhood trauma had invaded her innocence and she was being rewired for despair. She was supposed to lose her nerve and many would have cliched-her-away into the box of psychological possibilities without any thought that there might be such things as spiritual possibilities and even the ‘moving of mountains’.

Not that psychology is unimportant, in fact, the help of a well-trained counsellor has been a crucial part of her healing journey. But the idea that this was to be all about her getting to a point of reasonable health and usefulness and then getting a job and going from there to being a well- adjusted member of a dysfunctional society, was not enough as far as she was concerned. Consequently, by the time she was a young adult she was thoroughly caught up in the love of God and of neighbour, thanks to the influence of Jesus of Nazareth: the ‘Son of Man’* as he called himself.

Since then she has given herself to building communities where this Son of Man is worshipped and where his practical, thinking-of-others love is a normal way of life and is understood to be what life is really about. As a result she has led, supported and trained small communities of young adults for many years in a country town where jaded locals who were over having anything to do with organised religion, came to respect and even to love her, her team members, and even this saviour of theirs from Bethlehem. Just one example of such love and appreciation is the great respect she earned as a chaplain at a local school, to the extent that she was asked to consider fostering the two children she is now a mother to: both of whom have a background of serious childhood trauma.

One outcome of those years is that many of her former community members have taken the things they learned about growing a community of grace and begun to do the same in places as far away as China, Zimbabwe and the US; and as close to home as Newcastle University, Melbourne and Dubbo. You don’t have to look far in the gospels to see where this is coming from.

If such a revolution of grace can happen in the life of one of us, what’s stopping it from happening in all of us? It’s actually happened many times before in history where that same-old-same-old dark poison was crushing one individual and then somehow this sweet life of grace got going in them and spread to their family, their neighbourhood, their town, then their city and then their nation.

For example, one such dark night was unfolding in Britain in the seventeenth century. Charles 1st was making a dog’s breakfast of his reign and dragging his country into endless little wars and and all the brutalisation, loss of life and ruin of family, culture and hope that goes with that. But having embraced the idea that the king was not above the rule of law, the parliament put together a brief for the prosecution of the king and went looking for a lawyer who would prosecute him for acting as if he were above the law.

By the time the brief was prepared most of the lawyers and barristers who lived in that part of London—where you would be easily available to the parliament for the taking of briefs—had fled to the country, terrified at the prospect of being handed a brief that at best could mean being reviled and hated, or at worst, assassination. But John Cooke, a courageous Puritan lawyer, deliberately stayed back and made himself available in case the brief came his way. It did and he accepted it as an opportunity to serve God and love his neighbours.

Then, in 1649, the great day came in a court-room that had been reconstructed so that the public would be able to see all the proceedings, with John Cooke and Charles actually seated next to one another—separated by a low barrier. Early in the proceedings, while Cooke was reading the indictment, Charles tapped him on the shoulder several times, telling him to ‘Hold!’ Then the king hit him on the shoulder with his cane and an ornate silver tip broke off and fell onto the wooden floor. Accustomed as he was to being waited upon, he clearly expected Cooke to bend down and pick it up for him, but the lawyer stood his ground and—before the eyes of thousands of people— the King bent down and picked it up himself.

You can read the rest of the story in a well-researched and magnificently written account by Geoffrey Robertson 1, which includes a detailed account of the prosecution and execution of Charles I and then a recounting of the ensuing period of democracy and—after the restoration of the monarchy—the hanging, drawing and quartering of John Cooke in 1660. Having had their dark night followed by the surprise of a truly democratic court case during which a king was prosecuted according to the due process of law, the miracle of sanity evaporated, the monarchy was restored to the king’s son—Charles II—who had been living a playboy life in Europe, and another, even darker night proceeded to envelope Britain. A great loss of nerve followed and the people abandoned all hope of redemption, but another, much deeper wonder was on its way.

[see Dark Nights and Wonders: Part II]

1 Robertson G. The Tyrannicide Brief: The Story of the Man Who Sent Charles I to the Scaffold. Chatto & Windus 2005

* Mark’s Gospel Ch10: 45 ‘For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

Shopping Mall Mercenaries: Magicians and Applied Scientists

 “ for the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both—in the practice of this technique—are ready to do things previously regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.”4

 

4. Lewis CS. The Abolition of Man

True to Real

 

True To Real

“Wait a minute!
Feeling is what saved poor wretched reason right back there at the start!
Yes! We have a little caveat for you sleeping dogmas
While ever you lie in your rant of cant, husk of elbows and egos
We still tend the fires of mythological desires.

Dead cold hand of reason’s had it’s season
Fearful of the fires of mythological desires
Custodians of logic fuddled masses to oblivion
Circumcised the imagination of it’s young with nothin’-buttery reductionist rhetoric
All appetite for life was lost in a mean-spirited sulk against noise-colour-tang
Middle-aged imam-bishop-teacher-scientist-guru-lama in his pyjama gobbled up my panorama.
Be that as it may, beware the lies of angry peacock-poets spin-doctored blind by a thousand years of rage.”

I already knew…
You preachers of feeling aren’t helping me when you talk it up.
You talk as if mind and fact were all to blame
As if the fact that I cannot feel what I know to be a fact must make it a lie!
As if to verify that snow is white, I must now feel that snow is white
As if what I have seen in the light I must now feel in the dark
But you just wanna cheat and make the fact whatever you feel.

But here’s a fact: true to real is only done when you put the money with the mouth
And what faithful feeling ever voted for her suicide?
So are you mad?
If this be a quest of deadly peril—who would ever chance it on a guess?
Or let fine feelings be the judge of what lies beyond a dark decisional-door.

So leave the child at home and take a hardy gang
To search the cold, the hard, and find the gold
And trust and dive and take the action
Trust and dive and take the action.

But if, as you say, I must allow the veto to the shivering tendrils of the heart
Must make myself feel as if I believe
Must play a game of make-believe…
Then the fact must now be that the feeling is greater than the fact.

But you give me a speck of fact any day, place it on the scales and weigh it against a ton of imagination and fine feelings
Watch it sink a ship, ruin a nation, wreck a marriage
Float a ship, build a nation, save a marriage.

“This gonna be a long story or what?
Personal and hot or just another man on a screen
And me sittin’ here, suckin’ the glass teat of an i-Pod dream?”

Personal man: always personal
See you talk as if black or white, fact or fiction
Is what started the friction of stonins’ and bombins’
Cuttins’ and Karmas, Klansmen in pyjamas.

But you need to pull your head out of it’s little peace full of bliss.
If this be a quest of deadly peril
Who would ever chance it on a vote
And let reality be the most popular goat!

So don’t talk to me about verifiable, falsifiable, justifiable
Love that shit man/love it!
Follow the evidence all the way out
Til your mind’s convinced beyond reasonable doubt.
If it ain’t, relax man, have a coffee and a smoke—the jury’s still out.

Me? I was taken on a melancholy tour of a blood stained killing tree/dark hilly calvary
By that grim and faithful gang of three: logic, reason and bloody honesty
And there ‘my hosanna was born of a furnace of doubt.’*

And there in that garden of black
The faithful three who’d served him well in carpentry
Who’d shown him that the feeling of straight could never be a substitute
For the flat, cold voice of fact
Whose dim little shed made him learn to doubt the guess
And to trust instead a wooden, hard, straight-edged piece of sanity.

Paved the way for him to walk the hill for you and me
Not by the blind hysteria—nor the by the stoic of the heroic
But by that still small voice that says to the Father
‘If it be your will let this cup pass’
To the soldier,’I thirst’
To the friend, ‘Behold your mother’
To the crowd, ‘Father forgive them’
To the dying thief, ‘You will be with me in paradise.’

“See!
Feeling is what saved poor wretched reason right back there at the start!
Yes—we have a little caveat for you sleeping dogmas
While ever you lie in your rant of cant, husk of elbows and egos
We still tend the fires of mythological desires.”

Peter Volkofsky – 2010

My Most Recent Memory

 

murmurings not so long ago

The next hour comes in quiet
And we find ourselves stepping over pretty dolls, soft toys
And something left by a cat that played around the edges
Of our Grand Children’s stay.

Not that they stayed
They played and talked and held us in their arms
While we adored and made the most of every coy-smiling private joke
In those moments when they came close to our side of a liminal stairway
Which promised sweet laughter and forever-treasures and made us all listen carefully
Ever so carefully to those murmurings
Not so long ago birthed from the very heart of god.

Was it reluctantly I wonder?
Or was it with that same gladness of sunshine
And sugar and chocolates to share with everyone
We see in these little ones not yet touched
By our protecting and storing because-we-have-to?

Infinite love, they say is the most recent memory
Of those mystified-deep-pools for eyes
Of a baby-that’s born in wonder every second
And seems to know something we don’t
And lives on the carefree side: trailing clouds of ‘holy, careless glory’1.2

I go with that for now
But even as I write, awful news of friends schism-ed apart passes across the room
But still I write and refuse to let go of the soft toys
And those carefully listened-to murmurings of my most recent memory.

(Peter Volkofsky – Autumn 2014)

1 William Wordsworth. 1770–1850, 536. Ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
2
MacDonald. G. in his novel Sir Gibbie (“For the bliss of the animals lies in this, that, on their lower level, they shadow the bliss of those–few at any moment on the earth–who do not ‘look before and after, and pine for what is not,’ but live in the holy carelessness of the eternal now.” … “But every honest cry, even if sent into the deaf ear of an idol, passes on to the ears of the unknown God, the heart of the unknown Father.”