Movin’ As Beloved

Beloved

A fella’s out there in that there man-cave playin’ pool by himself
With fellas like that next thing there’s gonna be a gun and trouble big time
They damn well do it when they’re about robbin’ a bank or killin’ some guy.

Should I go see what’s up?
Yeah-nah
He needs some time to get his thoughts just thinkin’
Bout the cost of things and the way things are.

I say he’s moved by love
Some girl out in the country that he’s got
Tough thing about love that comes at you like that
They even say the sun moves “As beloved”*
Towards that fount of every blessing**.

Just like the fella at that there pool table
Out and about it goes
Lookin’ for that love that moves all things
Yearnin’ for the love like all of us
In our prayers n’ talkin’ to ourselves n’ stuff.

Even them that don’t pray, pray in their own way
Just like the sun, movin’ and movin’ still
The lazy-eyed stranger checkin’ out the girl but sayin’ he ain’t.

Baskin’ in those golden rays like a bloody great tom cat
On the warm verandah of this place they make their songs about
So glad there ain’t no fount of love they tells us all
And the fount don’t seem to mind
God bless him.

He knows they’re gone in love, just can’t admit to it
Breaks his heart to see us when we get like this
Shout’n and rant’n and curse’n our love
God bless us all.

(Peter Volkofsky Winter 2014)

*Aristotle

** from the hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, a Christian hymn written by the 18th century pastor and hymnist Robert Robinson.

The Wild Man

wild man

Robert Bly says, ‘The wild man is no groovy hippy … It takes discipline, work, reading, delving deep into oneself, preparing an emotional body that can handle grief, ecstasy and spirit … The wild man doesn’t come to full life through being natural, going with the flow, smoking weed, reading nothing and being generally groovy. Ecstasy amounts to living within reach of the high voltage of the golden gifts. The ecstasy comes after thought, after discipline imposed on ourselves, after grief.’1

Robert Bly is one of America’s poet laureates and not surprisingly much of his thinking was being done during the time of what has been called the Flower Power movement, his writing being a critique of that and even of what might be called the spirit of our age. He is regarded as a leader of the mythopoetic men’s movement and if he had met the Apostle Paul would have found that they had much in common. It was St. Paul who said, ‘Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts…’2

But how can we expect our men to endure suffering when we don’t offer them anything more than a sporting competition or a business competition to sacrifice themselves for? How can we criticise them for lacking passion and endurance when we sell them on a footy game at five years of age and fail to offer anything more at twenty five years of age?

By that stage the jury has come in for most and they’ve had a long hard look at the faces of those much older than themselves who have the feel of people walking a plank—a sometimes cheerful and pretty plank, but a plank nevertheless. Without even asking, they know that—according to secularism and unfortunately according to much of the religion on offer—there isn’t actually anything worth sacrificing themselves for.

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick,’ an old proverb says, and the demise of the secular vision has opened a door for ruthless preachers of ruthless faiths to fill the void, to convert young and empty hearts. Ironically, the custodians of our society are looking on and complaining about the evils of proselytising, of converting or attempting to convert ‘(someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another’.

But what if we have passed on beliefs and opinions to our children that are so weak and untested that we have set them up to be the next proselytes? When your children have been starved of a robust worldview, issuing laws against conversion or proselytising is about as effective as ‘fiddling while Rome burns’.

Parents with obsessive fears create an appetite for the thing they’re paranoid about. We live in a country that’s awash with intimidation when it comes to questions of faith. Another suicide bomb goes off, another priest is convicted of molestation and we are afraid to even broach the subject.

But ‘on the sly’ millions of Aussies are searching for faith, hope and love. I meet these people all the time, people who are eager to talk, who want to have conversations about God, provided they are allowed to say what they think and not be ranted at and not be expected to go to some meeting or something. Having been left with a spiritual vacuum in our souls—we pig out on whatever we can get, including spiritual junk food. The fact is if you starve a country spiritually, they will eat whatever they can get.

And we are starving them by the way. I went to an exhibit in a gallery recently where the artist had attempted to co-opt medieval spiritual imagery into a present day settings. It was embarrassing. The thing was devoid of spiritual mystique, as if someone with a fast food mentality thought they could manufacture spirituality. Even our artists have been affected. ‘Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome’ is rampant and this kind of art work is impotent in the face of what old authors described as the ‘mysterium tremendum et fascinans’, the dreadful and captivating mystery of the divine.

Faced with this dilemma we have a good case for up-skilling our Aussie kids in the arts of counter-proselytising3. Personally, I don’t like the words ‘convert’ or ‘proselytise’, they bring pride to the table and instead of arguing for truth, we are arguing for a win. Our society is over ‘spiritual spam’, so words like conversation and reflection and discussion are more appropriate, but if our men are to be men, they will need to have some balls (along with grace) in the way they go about this counter-proselytising. And they will need a worldview they are proud of, that stands the test of the pit bull terriers of the laboratory of life for God’s sake.

And where will those balls come from? For one thing there needs to be a deep understanding, appreciation and healthy respect for the sometimes insidious and dark influence of spiritual forces. If that isn’t the case, the anaemic manhood of the secular vision will keep fathering spiritually ravenous offspring who will simply serve the purposes of whichever charlatan sets up shop to offer their spiritual junk food. And while ever we keep pushing that greatest-ever vision of winning some sporting medal or some trophy, we will a keep a segment of our society occupied for a while, but we will totally lose the others.

I don’t mind watching intense sporting matches by the way, but seriously, we all know this world is much bigger, greater and better than that. Or do we? For the sake of Aussie pride, would we rather pretend we are not creating a spiritual slaughterhouse, let our kids go spiritually hungry and eagerly get themselves converted to spiritual junk food?

So it’s back to our question, ‘How can we expect our young men to endure suffering that takes them along the road of hope when all we expect them to suffer for is a trophy manufactured in a shop?’ We leave our men incompetent in the arts of thinking and debating, living and forgiving, and enjoying symbols, rituals and the community life of faith—and yes, even the arts of proselytising and conversion, at our peril.

Sometimes I wish I could say that I had been converted to the Christian faith but I was one of those who can’t ever remember not believing. But if I had been converted to follow Jesus of Nazareth rather than brought up to follow him, why would that have been a crime? There’s many out there hoping someone will offer them something far more spiritual and deep than winning a trophy. If only someone had proselytised Adolf Hitler to a faith of grace and tolerance and mercy.

1  Bly R. Iron John

2  St. Paul Letter to the Romans 5:3-5

3  convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another

Conversations With Children

Conversations With Children

Parents must be careful about the way they handle the instinct to shelter their children from criticism, from—in your face, no way of denying it—failure, and from being confronted by the successes of siblings. Yes it’s cruel and cheap to cultivate a brutal culture of vying for the parent’s approval or to force them into competitions for your love, but a certain amount of natural, robust competition is healthy and honest and will prepare them for a world that’s not fair.

If nothing else, the refusal to accommodate yourself to their young egos helps them to have a sane estimate of themselves and their abilities and—like the ‘wounds of the faithful friend’ in the book of Proverbs—steps on the proud egg-shells of what might be called egalitarian jealousy. A jealousy that’s incubated by our obsession with making everyone feel happy. An ailment by the way that CS Lewis nailed when he said that the person who says, ‘I’m as good as you,’ wouldn’t say it if it was true.

The dictum ‘all men are equal’ is a useful (and important) fiction for hospitals, parliaments and the courtrooms but how can it be true in that deeper sense when genetics, environment and the accidents of culture all conspire to deal very different hands of cards to every single child on the planet? To assume such equality is, in fact, cruel and does not allow for extra time and assistance, or the special consideration for example, that a visually-impaired child might require.

To attempt to manage these challenges and complications of love by dumbing everything down and doling out indulgent, scripted love-speak evenly to every child is just plain uncreative and a frontal assault on trust and respect. A bit like making them play a game of ’emperor’s new clothes’. Except that the emperor (the child) never asked to be a part of the deal.

On the one hand we fail awfully (even as adults) when we act as if conversation is about saying exactly what you mean and meaning exactly what you say—leave that for the courtroom. We are humans and to try to make ordinary conversation around the home a vehicle of some exact science will only make matters worse. For all of us—children or adults—most of the time the game of conversation must have some sideways element to it because of the inadequacy of language to carry all the nuances of love and joy, hope and faith.

I dare you to try an experiment in conversation by going with the the full frontal approach for a day. You won’t even make an hour most likely. Before long you will feel like your home and dinner table have become school/work discussions or something. The fact is that most of our communication comes via symbols, rituals and stories, not via Q&A and ‘important pronouncements’. If you don’t have such symbols and rituals make sure you pour your heart and soul into creating some that allow joy, hope and grace to permeate your home. I mean, who ever communicated to another that they were a joy to them simply by telling them? Using words for such a communique might well be one of the biggest mistakes you will ever make.

So, if we don’t incorporate symbol, ritual, story and way of life into this process of bringing loving affirmation to our children, we are forced to attempt to cram it all into the cerebral realm of spoken words. Thus the epic problem our secular friends have created for themselves. Witness artworks in regional galleries by secular artists who imagine they can simply manufacture spiritual art for God’s sake! You can get away with it for a while with children but sooner or later it comes back with a bite via lampoonery and jokes.

Children are not fools. If you refuse to look to non-verbal means as the major arterials of joy, your children will eventually feel that something screwy is going on 1. Because your ‘correct speak’ will have a banal* smell about it 2. Because genuine love is always ingenious at not doing that sort of thing. 3. Because (if you are a person of faith) it will have an unctuous** feel to it. So beware the child who has caught you out on all three counts and knows now that that mum and dad are not being on-the-level with them.

Not that cerebral-speak is all bad. For example, one of the greatest compliments a parent can pay their child (at the right ages, stages and moments) is to be graciously transparent with them about their weaknesses and thereby assist them to manage these vulnerabilities and perhaps even grow through them and overcome them. Failing that, they will at least have a sane and honest estimate of themselves.

In the end, if the child never receives any painful feedback from a parent, they have no alternative than to conclude that this is a dishonest relationship and respect becomes a casualty. On the other hand, if you grasp the process nettle, you as a parent will probably realise that some of your old wounds are in the mix too.

That leaves you with the challenge of how this can be best communicated. Assuming that the symbols, rituals, stories and way of life are happening. Such things can also be processed via a long, slow, intermittent conversation that might last two weeks or ten years. Yes, you are approaching volcanic territory and you will need all your wits about you, but this is not a time for denial or procrastination. Both of you are heading into uncharted territory so try to begin like an explorer meeting another explorer (your child) and go from there. And don’t forget to invite the Paraclete (Holy Spirit) to join you both on the journey.

* so lacking in originality as to be obvious and boring 

** excessively flattering or ingratiating; oily

Laughter

 

Laughter

Laughter

The girls are here making the house their home
Laughter and screams and all those things
That give me hope there’s a heaven that hears
Such lovely noise.
(p.volkofsky)

‘Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon,
East of the Sun.’ ― J.R.R. Tolkien