Peter Volkofsky | Author & Life Coach

Peter Volkofsky is an author, spoken word poet and life coach. In 2017, Peter published his thriller Mia's Magic Wand. In 2015 he published Beautiful Quest as an Ark House imprint. Peter has been married to his wife Penelope for thirty-three years and together they have reared seven children.

Catalytic (cat•a•lyt•ic)

(adj.) a process that precipitates an event

The Vision

Individuals and teams reaching their goals.

PETE'S BLOG

3 Comments8 Minutes

Shirley Is Glorified

 

another place

This photograph is from a random drive through the Kimberley when I was researching my thriller project. The story is so embedded in my imagination now that I can’t look at this without being inside a 4WD coming down that hill at night, the vehicle chasing ant-nest shadows as it bounces and crashes its way along a boggy track.

Storms are about and you can smell mud and see lightning on the horizon. At the foot of the hill is a homestead, which faces onto a greasy clay pan. Beyond that the Styx Gorge awaits: jagged, black as pitch, and the only place to hide.

On the way to the bottom of the ridge, to hoped-for safety, this bruised and hurting little family are at their wit’s end, longing to be out of there, to be together at home again. The young daughter, Oksy, captures what they all feel with her questions and her prayers.

The mother, Mia, holds onto the hope that a higher power of infinite love is somehow at work—even in the midst of their hell. Oksy’s father, Red, sees things differently: they are out to defy a hostile universe, period. S#*! happens, he likes to say. And you have to respect his point of view. He’s no fool—without him Oksy would be dead.

Each has been drawing some kind of strength from their worldview. Oksy, the mysterious strength of the child’s naïve faith: a beautiful trust that somehow good will win-out. Mia, the strength of what has been referred to as stage five faith, which is ‘okay with God’s mystery, unavailability and strangeness.’1 Red draws from his courage and skill as a warrior.

Watching their story unfold and trying to write it down always leads back into my own world. Just now for example, I found out that a beloved friend of our family (Shirley Blake) who has given oceans of grace and strength to us—passed away two days ago.

Shirley was no ordinary woman, she was a Mount Everest in the spiritual world: unknown to many but famous with God. Our family literally ‘rises up and calls her blessed.’ She was, in the double meaning of John’s Gospel, a woman ‘lifted up and glorified,’2 which means she brought joy to many and (like Jesus himself) was to be subjected to awful brutality.

In her case, one ‘crucifixion’ that I am aware of, happened a long time before she actually passed from this earth. Having given many years of her life to loving her neighbours (and their children) with amazing kid’s clubs, stories and laughter, she was well into the second half of her life and had become the beloved ‘Aunty Shirley’ to children all over Broken Hill.

One day a man entered her house and brutally assaulted her. She cried out and no help came. Instead, she was given a vision of Jesus weeping. She explained to us later that somehow she felt (as awful as it was) that Jesus was sharing in the torture together with her. This was hard for me to hear at the time.

The New Testament supports Shirley’s explanation. Jesus shed tears at the death of his good friend Lazarus, for example, but they were not tears of weakness, they were the tears of a man strong enough in his manhood to weep in public. Such weeping gives strength to his followers even two thousand years later. How could that be? How could a weeping and wounded savior give power and grace?

These lines from Edward Shillito’s Jesus of the Scars put us in the picture...

‘The heavens frighten us, they are too calm
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us, where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by your scars, we claim your grace.

If, when the doors are shut, you draw near
Only reveal those hands, that side of yours
We know today what wounds are, have no fear
Show us your scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong but you were weak
They rode—you stumbled to a throne
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak
And not a god has wounds but you alone.’

Jesus told his followers, ‘As the father has sent me, even so I send you.’3 St. Paul goes on to say that the deal includes sharing ‘in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church.’4 This is confronting because it suggests that not only was Jesus sharing in Shirley’s sufferings, she was sharing in his and it was for the benefit of her fellow Christians: we know who we are.

Charles Williams elaborates on this when he says that ‘Sometimes, in order for the fire of heaven to fall in one place, an altar must be built in another.’5 Shirley’s altar was certainly that for many: instead of being a place of bitter trauma, it became a treasure chest from which holy fire poured into the souls of others. Thank you Aunty Shirley and thank you God.

‘The way of the Cross’, writes Michael Quoist, ‘winds through our towns and cities, our hospitals and factories, and through our battlefields...It is in front of these new Stations of the Cross that we must stop and meditate and pray to the suffering Christ for strength to love him enough and for strength to act.’6

1 Stages of Faith, James Fowler, 1981, Harper and Row

2 John 8:28 RSV Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will
know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the
Father taught me.

3 John 20:21 RSV

4 Colossians 1:24 ‘Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I
complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that
is, the church.’ RSV

5Letters to Malcolm Ch. 21, Lewis C. S

6 Paths in Spirituality, John Macquarrie, 1992, Morehouse Publishing, 130

0 Comments1 Minute

Dreaming

Woke up this morning with three words singing around inside me: ‘Lamb of God’. The words came fresh from a dream I was having where a friend and I were reading the New Testament. We reached a place where someone spoke about the ‘Lamb of God’. My fellow reader passed right over the words without a thought, not even a question. But while they kept reading, the words flowed up off the page and inside me like a river of music, colour and power—overflowing into the entire universe.

4 Comments3 Minutes

Garden Secrets

Garden Secrets

Under scorching sunshine, daughter #3 and I walk out across the black soil of a floodplain to a garden. This one has bright green clumps of chilli plants, rosemary, egg plants and other tantalising offerings but it's all a bit of a mess and some of it is dead.

Just being here reminds me of my father’s, and my grandfather's, love of plunging their fingers into rich earth, raking out a smooth bed, planting seeds and then mothering it all until the green shoots rise up out of the darkness. Their passion passed on to me but never went very far. Fortunately, my wife has it too and our daughter has caught it quite seriously, probably always had it (like one of those seeds) lying there and waiting for the moment.

We wander up and down rows of earth with bedraggled plants. Half the plot is a swamp and the other half is dry as chips. My daughter looks out at one lonely plant on a far corner and wonders if it's a particular herb—the name she uses escapes me.

A gardener finds it hard to resist a neglected patch like this, especially when there's plenty of water nearby and people to feed: a river in fact and a community of twenty or so. But if that was all there was to our fascination with this garden, we would be falling under the spell of the banal and soul-less vision of our world, a world that has already lost the respect of garden spirits.

If you don’t believe me, try visiting your garden late at night or just before sunrise. You are likely to agree with GK Chesterton that “One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows: the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”1

1 GK Chesterton, Robert Browning from www.goodreads.com/quotes/

4 Comments4 Minutes

Telling Family Secrets

Beautiful Secrets

Julia Cameron says that 'the act of making art exposes a society to itself: like telling a family secret.'1 And the darker the family/society secret the more vigorous its efforts at squashing genuine art. Diversionary 'art' is what they want. But what if the family/society secret is beautiful? We don't know what to do with it. It will be laughed at.

Why? Because we live in a society full of blocked-creatives. And 'most blocked creatives have an active addiction to anxiety'2, which 'manifests as an addiction to fantasy'.

Though to be fair on fantasy writers, most of us (me included) love fantasy. So what's the issue. The issue is probably what Steven King was talking about when he told writers to 'stay off the glass teat'. Aka, the amusement screen.

And there's a voracious appetite for that, which is why if you create good 'diversionary art' for the screen you might even get to be as famous as the Playstation. But what you need to weigh up here is the price- tag of your diversionary art.

Cameron says 'The cost of a thing is the amount of life required to be exchanged for it.'3 In that case a Playstation (for some) would have to be valued at the price of a human soul. But there's another way of thinking about this. If you are well down the road of diversionary art for example, the price might be the cost of abandoning the habits of your 'blocked-creative' addictions. Those things you've been doing as a substitute for genuine creative work.

If you embark on this journey try to be patient with your friends because 'expecting your blocked friends to celebrate your recovery of creativity is like expecting your friends at the bar to celebrate your sobriety.'4 For you are now a threat. Which is why Cameron says in another place, 'In an artistic career, thinking about the odds (of success) is a drink of emotional poison.'5

Lastly, beware emotional incest. Cameron explains that 'Teachers, editors and mentors are often authority or parent figures for a young artist. There is a sacred trust inherent in the bond between teacher and student. This trust when violated has the impact of a parental violation. What we are talking about here is emotional incest.'6 Beware the 'candid friend' (GK Chesterton says), 'He is not candid ... when he says, “ I am sorry to say it, but we are all doomed” he is not sorry at all.' He has a vested interest at heart.

One more last thing. People, their families and societies are never quite as wicked or as good as we tend to make them out to be. There's always lots of grey, and grey can be the first colour of dawn if you let it. What if for example, when you plumb the depths of your tragic family/society story you find astonishing treasures down there underneath the dirt?

  1. 1  Cameron J. The Artist's Way p. 67 Souvenir Press 1994
  2. 2  Ibid 143
  3. 3  Ibid – quoting Thoreau p.68
  4. 4  Ibid p.43
  5. 5  Ibid p.142
  6. 6  Ibid p. 130

 

8 Comments21 Minutes

The Ironbark, Worship & The PoMosexual

Ironbark

[part 5 of The Road to Economic Triage and Mercenary Sexuality]

You notice all sorts of things when you walk and pray. And today, as I set out across the street for my fifteen minute session (with the dog walking next to me), to join in with the everlasting prayer of the High Priest of Heaven and the deep sighs of the Holy Spirit, I'm enjoying the summer heat: that still, dry-heat of the west. And not a soul to be seen anywhere, 'cause all the sensible ones are inside under the air- con.

We walk across black bitumen—which I'm hoping is not too much for the dog's feet. But it's okay, her pads take it in stride and she arches her tail up and points her nose tenderly at the epicentre of some new fragrance, which she's found on a sprig of green sticking out of the curb. With a yank on her leash, I get her off the road and we walk to a park where the once-green grass is now straw-coloured stubble—thanks to the work of a council groundsman with a slasher.

The 40 degree, fast-rising air around us has a sterilised, autoclaved purity about it: a sharp contrast to the other side where a highway hums perpetually as it's vehicles rev their motors, spin their wheels, pump their emissions, and fulfil the useful destiny of their lives. Avoiding that, we head down-hill, past the iron-sheeted back fences of old cement-tiled houses with dark green ornamental trees, towards a railway crossing. On the corner we come to a vacant block that's been recently fenced-off in readiness for a new building project. And there behind the fence is one of my favourite trees, a rough, black Ironbark with a spray of purple on its trunk, the mark designating it for the rubbish tip. Touching the leaves that hang over the fence, I can't help saying a few words as if I'm a priest offering the last rites. And I think of George MacDonald's words, 'To those who expect a world to come, I say, be mindful of your posture towards the creation around you, which is also eagerly waiting for the world to come.' Christmas is only a few days away and this beauty won't even make it, but I strongly suspect that one day I will again meet something of its music or even of it's presence and this fleeting moment is somehow significant in a way that I don't understand.

The tree gets me thinking about what I have in common with my green-conscious friends and then I think of what I don't have in common: they revere and almost worship nature, I worship a human being (who also happens to be the Son of God and the one out of whose heart all these things came). And here I am walking, enjoying the sense of energy and the living presence of divinity in the sky, the hot breeze, and the earth under my feet, feeling kind of pagan. According to Dorothy Sayers Christianity is the 'last surviving pagan religion'.

More days pass and the dog and I have more walks in the heat past the—now decapitated—tree. And finally here we are on the eve of Christmas, it's late at night and I'm lying on the trampoline in the back-yard looking up at a sky filled with stars whilst talking on the phone with some dear friends who have been mauled by life: both the religious and the irreligious sides of it. As I talk it strikes me that a common thread in these conversations is the feeling of being slowly pulled apart by something that lurks in both the secular and the religious world. And whatever it is, it quickly kills off any sensitivity to the voice of God.

For some of us that 'something' seems to get embedded inside our deeply treasured worship-music, family-pride, directors' meetings, home-groups and prayers; and for others it's in the thrilling, mind-numbing experiences of concerts and after-work parties. Idolatry is what it feel like: lifestyle-idolatry. The kind that makes it hard for that still, small voice to be heard because of the white noise of a mantra that says, 'Life's about me and I'm going to make it work.' Not that anyone—other than management gurus—actually says it so shamelessly.

This kind of idolatry betrays itself by an obsessive concern with the grapevine of its friends and colleagues and what they think about it. On the religious side; ticking the boxes of things like doctrine, zealous faith and family-life are important. On the secular side; ticking the boxes of things like healthy food, green technology and family-life, immaculate kitchens and so-called safe sex are important. Interestingly, the secular form of this lifestyle-idolatry holds the higher moral ground in our society and could even be said to be 'on the side of the angels'—and for the purposes of this blog I will be leaving the religious form of lifestyle-idolatry alone and following the secular version.

So, how is genuine agape love ever going to survive in such a watched, face-booked and narcissistic vibe? According to St. Columba, 'Love knows nothing of order' because it is dependent not on systems but on the eternally-beating heart of God and the moment we try to give love a boost with a politically-correct law, we send a message to heaven that we've found a better way, that we can legislate love. But it would appear that God is happy with even the weakest efforts at keeping the golden rule, and such legislation—as much as we complain about the bureaucracy—has in fact proven to be of great help: duty of care and WH&S practices being just a couple of examples.

Even so, it was this respectable, secular, we-don't-need-God lifestyle that imprisoned Anne Rice in a pit of despair, the escape from which she describes in her book Called Out Of Darkness. At one point she virtually said to herself, ‘You know what Anne. A transaction is taking place. On the one hand you have a long list of 'good-girl gold stars' from the atheistic, politically-correct world, bolstered-up by scoffings about the God-world and the problems of war, brutality and manipulation—and all these unanswered questions of a mature, adult and supposedly humble mind. But on the other hand there’s this list of so-called ‘subjective and therefore invalid’ experiences and memories from concerts and art galleries, music, graveyards and icons—all of which seem child-like and naive, but where you have felt God saying, “I love you Anne and I'd like to arrange for us to meet sometime.” And here you are, getting old, and about to permanently trade this for that dry old bag of sensible and responsible complaints.’

As Anne thought about it she became uneasy about the fact that the respect of her educated and skeptical colleagues was now emerging as a major reason for her unwillingness to act: to kneel and worship the true God. Then she says: ‘I knew the German church of my childhood was perhaps six blocks away from where I was sitting. And perhaps I’d remembered my mother’s words of decades ago: “He is on that altar. Get up and go.” ... ‘I didn’t care about the framing of the doctrine, I cared about him. And he was calling me back through his Presence on the altar. He might have used the falling rain, he might have used Vivaldi ... but no, he used the doctrine of the Real Presence.’

For Anne, it came down to a deeply honest and unadorned act of grateful worship when the knotted, excusing agony inside her came home and knelt before God. It's good to ask ourselves when it was that we last indulged in the joy and relief of simply getting down on our knees and [forgetting what anyone else might think] doing what the human soul was made to do. Walter Brueggemann speaks of being so enamoured of this lifestyle-idolatry that we might come within a whisker of not being able to imagine our future in any way other than that prescribed, and of drifting aimlessly in a kind of bright but hollow world. Chesterton depicted such a society as a place where pessimism lives, the kind of “Pessimism" that's "not ... tired of evil but ... tired of good. Despair," he says, "does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other good things in a society no longer work that the society begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless.” *

And if you want to see historical precedents re: what happened to Anne, there's dozens—the era of chivalry for instance. Hoping to find some great meeting place between religion and courtesy, their hallmark became 'humility and adultery' (6aa), and their experiment failed notoriously. Despair has always stalked such grand social experiments, and whether we like it or not, Bertrand Russell's statement holds good for us as it did for his generation: 'All the noon-day brightness of human genius is destined to end in the vast death of the solar system and we must therefore build our lives upon the firm foundation of unyielding despair.'

Yes, the west is having a crisis of meaning and some are even saying that 'belief is back'. But whatever happens next between the proud-but-broken secular world and the world of faith—the unpretentious worship of God will always carry some edge of offence to our pride and its liking for having things 'just so'; for having the fruit without the seed; the body without the soul; the universe without the God.

And right now, as an embarrassed secular society contemplates the humiliating prospect of God, that offence is being felt everywhere—especially in the debate on sexual preference. In her influential book Gender Trouble (6aa.1) Judith Butler argues that gender is not a fixed attribute but a fluid free-floating variable that shifts according to personal preference. Gender is a “fiction,” a “fabrication,” a “fantasy,”6aa.2 that can be made and re-made at will. 'Butler's theory,' Pearcey says, 'became popular on college campuses, especially among transgender students ... These are students who reject the binary male/female system as a mere social construction, and an oppressive one at that.

Pearcey goes on to say that “A New York Times article reports that some colleges now offer separate bathrooms, housing and sports teams for students who do not identify them selves as either male or female. At Wesleyan the campus no longer requires students to check “male” or “female” on their health forms. Instead they are asked to describe their gender history."' 6a

Pearcey adds, 'This fluid view of gender is typically presented as liberating—a way to create your own identity instead of accepting one that has been culturally assigned. As a magazine for homosexuals explains, people today “don't want to fit into any boxes—not gay, straight, lesbian or bisexual ones.” Instead “they want to be free to change their minds.” The article was addressed to people who had come out of the closet as homosexuals, but later found themselves attracted to heterosexual relationships again. So 'What am I?' they wondered. Not to worry the author reassured them. The idea that one is born with a certain gender that cannot be changed is so modernist. Society is moving to postmodern view in which you can choose any gender you want, at any time.” Call it a PoMosexual view.'7 What is not being talked about so freely is the fact that once you have allowed the golden (and untouchable) cow of preference to walk freely in your society, courtrooms and governments will be on the road to losing the struggle against hebephilia and pedophilia. And thanks to the advocates of 'preference at any price', the future of millions of children is now in jeopardy.

One of the astonishing things about this 'tidy, responsible & delightful' ecosystem of the secular life is that even with its 'crisis of meaning' (with the wheels falling off everything), those caught in it feel that it's better for them to remain loyal to it and drown than get out and just walk away. Somehow they feel scandalised by the silence of God and feel that if their Christian faith can't include this playground of wonder and despair—then it's not worth having anyway, and they would rather go down with the ship.But what they forget is that 'badness is nothing more than spoiled goodness'** and that every bit of pleasure they have ever had was borrowed from goodness, so why keep spoiling it? Why not just enjoy it unspoiled?

The picture in my mind is of millions of souls sailing around on a sweet and intoxicating lake of despair until—during a series of long, dark nights—a mysterious storm wrecks their boats and they find themselves washed up against what we might call the 'dark and impassable mountain of fear and wisdom'. Convinced that going up into the mountain would be a fate worse than death, they stay there at the foot of the mountain—starving to death and romanticising their plight with songs. The mountain being a metaphor of the proverb, 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom'.

Knowing what a sensitive soul Jesus was, and how deeply he loved his musical, sensual-hearted friends, the metaphor above helps me to get why he said such stern things to them about the necessity to 'deny all right to themselves'; and 'unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit'. Jesus knew that their very souls were at stake and there must be no dallying with serpents, 'cause it's all or nothing.

Many years ago, when one of my mates was going through a long and terrible battle with pride and bitter anger, I said to him, 'That motorbike is an idol. Get rid of it or you will lose everything!' He left our community soon after on his motorbike and I wondered if perhaps I had been a bit too forthright, but a few years later he walked up to my front gate supporting himself with a walking stick and (with a wry smile) said, 'God sent a brick-truck mate. The bike is now a coffee table.'

6aa Lewis C. S. The Allegory of Love p.114 'social conditions gave the new feeling its bent towards humility and adultery'

6aa.1 Butler J. Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 1999) , quoted in Pearcey N. Saving Leonardo p. 136

6aa.2 cited in Saving Leonardo by Pearcey N. pp: 46 – 48 2010 - B&H Publishers

6a Fred Bernstein, “On campus re-thinking Biology 101,” (New York Times) 7 March 2004

6 (San Francisco: Cleis press, 1997) – cited by Pearcey N. Saving Leonardo p. 49 cited in Saving Leonardo by Pearcey N. p.47, 2010 - B&H Publishers

7 Carol Queen and Lawrence Schimel, eds., PoMosexuals: Challenging Assumptions About Gender and Sexuality

* G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

** CS Lewis