Restless Love Prayers

It is said that Jesus would often go out early to a lonely place. For the Scottish saints it was a freezing cold mountainside at night where they would wrap themselves in a woollen cloak, lie down and weep as they prayed for every single one of their flock. For St. Brendan it was an ocean beach where he would stand in the shallow water for hours with his hands lifted to the heavens.

But before you go any further it’s important to understand that these actions were the outcome of a deep and restless love in the hearts of the pray-ers, an awareness of their own frailty, and a desperation to see God’s grace move in human souls. So if you are in that place of deep concern, why not give it a try for at least month? Even get a mate to come with you. Many great men and women of faith have made a personal prayer covenant with a friend. But be sure to keep it a secret between the two of you. Nothing spoils these prayer adventures like ‘talking it up’.

Perhaps you could try out some of the routines others have done or maybe you could invent your own ritual: get down on your knees and fast or go and stand in the ocean—plunge into what may feel like childish-arrogance. And remember that this is no Buddhist/ shamanist attempt to manipulate blind and dumb spirit beings with long winded gibberish, this is you—a human being in the flesh—joining in with the unspeakable groans of the Holy Spirit and the high priestly prayers of your resurrected King Jesus who already intercedes for us daily.

Remember too that not every ‘voice’ you hear quoting bible verses is from God. The devil quoted scripture to Jesus. So be sure to take with you the sober knowledge of prayer disaster stories; the cold steel of good theology and common sense; the watchfulness of a sentry, the humour of a Chesterton and the honest questions of a community of sensible brothers and sisters.36

One last word. The faith that grows out of a strong life of private prayer is invariably unfettered by pessimism and characterised by an irrepressible (but not naïve) attitude of expectancy because—like an experienced musician—it has acquired an ear for the music of the voice of the Good Shepherd and knows the feel and the mood of an approaching crest in a wave, when, if a thing is to be done, you must be ready for the ‘now or never moment’ when power is able to be unleashed through a will that chooses to trust. Then it is finished, and your ‘Yes!’ and ‘Thank you!’ reverberate throughout the realms of the spiritual battle.

Such moments of opportunity often occur while we are in the place of wrestling prayer, but they also float past us in ordinary every day life and and may occur during a cup of tea with a friend in the morning; during a job interview at lunch; while we are laying concrete in the afternoon; or after we go to bed at night. The likelihood of you noticing them will be much higher if you are living out this habit of personal prayer.


36 Incorporating thoughts from the New Testament, George MacDonald, St. Ignatius Loyola & CS Lewis




The going off to school is happening
And while you go I stay and feel
The day of small things
Of birds singing and sky blue and garden fresh.

And so we walk and talk and drink tea
And make things and play and pray and think
About your face going out into the ways of grace
And of terrifying place where prayers live.

For this is where it all began and where the light came
And made this all loud with colour and the scent of roses
And the feathery brush of wings
And the throaty chortle of happiness.

And so you go and we wait to see while we go and do
And remember the cheeky grin and the sound of your hard shoes on floor boards
And the bounce of that bag on your back and the tilt of your head
And that last little look of laughter crossing the road … forever.

(Peter Volkofsky May 2014)

So You

So You

You found me and round me wound arms that made us
And we were made
And we toasted sunshine
And day-light became baby-light
And here we came to be.

And we came to sleep and weep the deep always on this side and that
And we were there
And we shared days
And courtship became friendship
And here we came to be.

And now I know you from all the things that are so you and the coat I bought you
And what I made
Of a chair where you do my hair and care, for me
And those lovely old hours blossom like flowers
At night
When I think of how we came to be.

(Peter Volkofsky May 2014)



This hot burning star we move around and hound like a first-lover
Found all bound with sunshine gushing down
From that that blow-torched perforation in the blue
That you want to drink from
A drink so strong you can’t … even.

But what a drink!
You want to tip it to your lips
It’s a spiller all over you it goes
And they call it sunburn red blistering layers
Now in you and on you like a rush of teenage romance—and it’s all teenage.

And I wish so wish I was there
In that skin-sun again drinking that star
On days when the heavens were so right and bright and up there on the height.

(Peter Volkofsky May 2014)

Dark Nights and Wonders: Part II

It’s been a wet night and I walk out onto our front porch to enjoy the dripping-freshness of early- morning. Between the bottlebrush and the other trees in our yard, flimsy little showers of rain float down at random and I wait and think and pray about the various gatherings of fragile human beings called ‘my family, my communities, and my neighbours’. Especially those neighbours whose fragility seems right out there lately.

One of them having just had a near-fatal incident (and still doing it hard) and others who seem to want to punch each other out every day, and then there’s the others with whom a neighbourly affection is growing. And all of them brimming with that dreadful and captivating mystery, which GM Hopkins described as, ‘Christ play-ing in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his, To the Father through the features of men’s faces.’ Those limbs and eyes often seeming to to be tortured (which we all know) and saying something to me that I don’t yet understand or even hear.

Then there’s the growing crowd of little boys who run up and down the street and tell me that our dog is a great-looking dog and want to know if she has pups and can they have one and have I ever had a car accident and do I live on my own and am I strong? Those boys looking so happy, and laughing and yelling and loving the sun and the rain and the trees, and I wonder what will become of them. And then there’s the girls, older, not so apparent, and heading out into the world.

I can’t help thinking of The Niebelungenliad: one of my favourite (and saddest) epic poems, which begins with the following words, ‘In the land of the Burgundians there grew up a maiden of high lineage, so fair that none in any land could be fairer. Her name was Kriemhild. She came to be a beautiful woman, causing many knights to lose their lives. This charming girl was as if made for love’s caresses: she was desired by brave fighting men and none was her enemy, for her noble person was beyond all measure lovely. Such graces did the young lady possess that she was the adornment of her sex…’2

And then, almost three hundred pages later, we come to this. ‘… There lay the bodies of all who were doomed to die. The noble lady (Kriemhild) was hewn in pieces. Dietrich and Etzel began to weep, and deeply they lamented both kinsmen and vassals. Their great pride lay dead there. The people, one and all, were given up to grief and mourning. The King’s high festival had ended in sorrow, as joy must ever turn to sorrow in the end.’3

And then I think of myself, hoping to be an influence of light and grace in those ‘eyes and limbs’ and trying to write about this stuff and wondering what I’m getting myself into. As another poet once said, ‘he who would … write well in laudable things ought himself to be a true poem, that is, a composition and pattern of the best and honourable things; not presuming to sing high praises of heroic men or famous cities unless he have in himself the experience and the practice of all that is praiseworthy.’4 And, knowing what you know of your own battles with pride and frailty, you want to just walk away.

Which takes us back to where we were—in England three hundred years ago—and the great stuff- up: the restoration happened, Charles II was installed, and it looked as if everything Jon Cooke had done was in vain. But history shows that all was not lost. The people had gotten a taste of what the rule of law could do when it was softened and mediated by a parliament, and they never forgot it.

But in the meantime there were other forces at work. Wars were happening on all sides and England was well on the way to becoming a broken backwater. Then a small group of thinking men came up with the idea of a thing called the Bank of England. The idea being that the wealthy could invest their money in a place of safe-keeping and and get a return on it. Consequently millions of pounds were harnessed for the English war-effort.

‘The century came to a close and England moved on into the eighteenth century as a wealthy and powerful nation, and by the treaty of Utrecht in 1713, England had wrung from France and Spain the monopoly of the slave-trade. But the slave-trade bred financial greed. It brutalised masters and slave’s lives, making labour undignified, which became a curse on the economic and political life of the eighteenth century.’5

The industrial revolution was spreading and the attitudes of the slave owners influenced many owners of mines, factories and mills in their treatment of their workers. … It is estimated that during that century the number of Africans carried into slavery, largely in British ships and largely from West Africa to America, ran into the millions … Because of the enormous sums of money involved in the slave trade, there were repeated financial scandals, leading to loss and ruin, the chief of which was the South Sea Bubble of 1720, which virtually wrecked the national economy.’6

‘Britain at this time was nation divided between the rich and the poor … Thus to steal a sheep, to snare a rabbit, to break a young tree, to pick a pocket for more than a shilling, and to grab goods from someone’s hand and run away with them were hanging offences. Executions at Tyburn in London were known as ‘hanging shows.’ … the transportation to Australia of men, women and children; the flogging of women, the pillory and the branding on the hand continued unabated.’

This unrestrained pursuit of greed, along with the strangulation of biblical Christianity, had further inhumane consequences ‘in the treatment and mortality of children. Their death rates tell a terrible tale, though statistics are only available for London. These show that between 1730 and 1750, three out of every four children born to all classes died before their fifth birthday. James Hanway, the Christian friend of ‘parish and pauper children,’ produced scores of statistics and pamphlets— preserved in the British museum library—revealing his investigations into the treatment and death rate of the parish infants. Death occurred time after time because of murder and the practice of exposing newly born babies to perish on the streets, as well as placing unhappy foundlings with heartless nurses, who let them starve or turned them into the street to beg or steal.’

‘Having abandoned biblical Christianity in favour of a soul-less ‘Religious Christianity’ that married itself to politics, the eighteenth century ‘became known as the “Gin Age” of England. Horrible child abuse was often the result of drinking strong, fiery, poisonous gin, which out-rivalled beer as the national beverage. Irish historian William Lecky defined the national gin-drinkers drunken-ness as the ‘master-curse of English life between 1720 – 1750.’7

[For the next episode of this reflection see Dark Nights and Choices part III]

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

2 Hatto A.T. The Niebelungenliad – Penguin Classics 1965 p.17 Ibid 291

3 ibid

4 (An Apology for Smectymnuus, 1642) Ricks C. Worcester College Oxford (in his Introduction to Paradise Lost) p.xi – Signet Classic. Paradise Lost & Paradise Regained – New American Library 1968

5 Managalwadi V. The Book That Made Your World pp: 261-262 – Thomas Nelson 2011

6 Ibid
7 Ibid