At the peats
Margaret lighting the fire for the tea when cutting peats in the 1960s

Carloway Cattle Show
Carloway, Isle of Lewis, cattle show in the 1960s

In today’s diary extracts I mention some of the books I was reading last year, an after-dinner speech we were at, and Margaret’s preparation for the operation.

Monday 12th November 2012

The social media – a potential force for good

The social media are a marvellous means of communication. No doubt, as with everything, they can be used for good or ill. But they are a potential huge force for good. Globalisation. We know what is happening on the other side of the world in minutes. They bring the human race together in a manner undreamt of even 50 years ago. I use Facebook and it was on FB I learned about the American author Richard Rohr. The Scottish poet Andrew Philip, sometimes puts up Christian quotations from Rohr and I was interested enough to buy one of his books, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. I’m glad I did. It’s fascinating.

Richard Rohr – a Roman Catholic in the Franciscan tradition

I’ve discovered that Rohr is a Roman Catholic in the Franciscan tradition. He looks on the Bible as a mystical text. It is a means of discovering about yourself and the true nature of the human / God relationship. It’s a book of profound depth and a book that I’ll be reading again and again. Although I happen to go to a Protestant church – the Free Curch of Scotland – from now on I’ll be thinking of myself as a Free Church Franciscan! Rohr talks of the apophatic and the kataphatic tradition within his church. The kataphatic refers to knowing the divine through seeing God in nature, public worship, the rosary, church singing, religious icons and so on. The apophatic refers to the hidden God of the mystics, where God is hidden and we approach him through inner transformation. The two traditions, of course, are linked and overlap in the life of the believer.

‘A bunch of ideas … or a new set of eyes’

The way Rohr talks of the Bible resonates with me. It is not a text for the literalist but a spiritual text which, read properly, will lead to an inner transformation. This is what Rohr does in the book; he leads us to key texts in the Bible and invites us to see the texts in the context of the Bible as a whole and in the context of one’s own spiritual life. He says, and this is key to the way he looks at the Bible: ‘The trouble is that we have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas – about which we can be right or wrong – rather than a new set of eyes.’ How very true.

Inge and Christian Mysticism

I’ve also been reading another book called Christian Mysticism by William Ralph Inge who was once Dean of St Paul’s. They are a series of lectures, The Bampton Lectures, delivered in the University of Oxford in 1899. Inge looks in depth at what mysticism is and how Christian mysticism developed from other forms, including eastern and Greek mysticism. His is a very learned look at mysticism (he is always dropping in Greek and Latin quotations) but he obviously knew his stuff and was extremely well-read in ancient texts.

‘Ridiculous fables’

He has an interesting caveat in the Preface. He does not want a Mysticism that would clash with modern science and, speaking particularly of the Roman Catholic church, he says: “Those who find edification in signs and wonders of this kind, and think that such ‘supernatural phenomena,’ even if they were well authenticated instead of being ridiculous fables, could possibly establish spiritual truths, will find little or nothing to interest them in these pages. But those who reverence Nature and Reason, and have no wish to hear of either of them being ‘overruled’ or ‘suspended,’ will, I hope, agree with me in valuing highly the later development of mystical thought in Northern Europe.”

Inge – a child of his age?

My first reaction was ‘a child of his age.’ The date is 1899 and he is probably influenced by the prevailing mechanistic Newtonian science of the 19th century. But I also had to laugh after all the ‘supernatural’ phenomena that have occurred in mine and Margaret’s life. He might be right when he says that they cannot ‘establish spiritual truths’, meaning dogmas of faith. They cannot be as precise as that. But that signs and wonders can happen and that they can have meaning for the person involved, I am absolutely certain. Before the age of 50, I couldn’t have made that statement. Of course, wonder or sign is not the interior life itself and Inge is quite right in pointing that out. The inner relationship with God in Christ is anterior to and more important than any sign. But a sign, especially a trans-physical sign, can be a huge help in helping the person who has doubts. The work has already started: the sign is confirmation.

Sunday 18th November 2012

An after dinner speech

We were in Inverness on Friday at the Inverness Gaelic Society annual dinner in the Kingsmills Hotel. I wanted to give Margaret a treat before her operation, which is next Thursday. Professor Donald MacLeod, who is the society chieftain for this year, gave the after-dinner talk on the theme ‘Chuala mi’ (I heard). His talk was in English and he recalled the Island of Lewis in the 1940s and the changes that have taken place since then. He also mentioned the changes that have taken place with the Free Church. At the October Royal National Mod in Dunoon, a Free Church Minister’s wife won the traditional gold medal. That would have been taboo a generation ago. Minister’s wives wouldn’t attend a Mod, never mind competing in the singing competitions. Interestingly, he also said that although the church was more open about the arts that the same wasn’t true of the attitude of the arts to the church.

A bit of luxury

Our room in the hotel was fantastic. Huge room, huge bed and a door opening on to the gardens. With the day of the operation looming, this bit of luxury is worthwhile. ‘If I come out of it alive,’ Margaret sometimes says. And then, ‘O well, I’ll be in a better place.’ It’s ridiculous, she feels so well. She is going into hospital feeling okay and she will come out feeling ill. But then we say, ‘That’s the nature of cancer. You can feel well just now but if you let it go it will make you ill later.’ We hope and pray. It’s all we can do.

Tuesday 20th November 2012

Inverness again

Tomorrow we will be leaving for Inverness in the morning. Margaret’s daughter is coming from Stornoway and meeting us for lunch and going back the same day. Margaret is going for a pre-med. at Raigmore at 4pm. We stay in Kyle Court adjacent to the hospital on Wednesday night and Margaret goes into hospital on Thursday morning and she will have her operation sometime on Thursday. It will be a very worrying time.

Wind and grass

Today is a day of preparation, thinking what we will need and also mental and spiritual preparation. There is nothing like the thought of our own mortality to focus the mind. And there are always the coincidences. On Sunday morning we had a visiting preacher. The chapter he read, Ephesians 1, was our reading on Saturday evening. The first psalm was 103 verses 8-16 but leaving out verses 14-15. Verse 16 goes ‘For over it the wind does pass, / and it away is gone; / And of the place where once it was / it shall no more be known.’ We had been discussing this very verse on the road to Inverness on Friday.

A staff nurse from the hospital phoned today to see if there was any change with Margaret’s health. After her operation, when she is in intensive care, which will be for two days, ‘all being well’, visiting hours will be as normal, that is, 2-4
and 6-8pm. I’ll also be able to visit her at other times if necessary.

Wednesday 21st November 2012

Peasan (Rascal) the cat

Margaret had to get a blood test yesterday because the Monday one hadn’t worked out. She was given a label on her wrist with an identification number. We left the house today about 8am. We had to take Peasan, the cat, to the cattery. So funny how she seems to know that she’s going to go there. The only clue she has is that we have packed our bags and are preparing to go. What does she do? She comes out from under the duvet and hides behind the couch in the living room. She does this every time she thinks we are going to put her in the cattery. It’s as if she’s reading our thoughts. She tries to escape but she knows it’s useless because the doors and windows are all shut. Poor Peasan!

Pre-operation procedures

We take our bags to the accommodation at the hospital and go to the admissions lounge in the hospital for 4pm. We thought we would be seeing the surgeon and the anaesthetist but Margaret won’t see them till tomorrow morning. She is to be in for 8am and the operation is scheduled for 8.45am. There was a nurse there in the admissions lounge and she took some particulars. She also took Margaret’s blood pressure which was a remarkable 146/62. Amazing, given the situation! Later the registrar came in and told Margaret about the operation and mentioned some of the risks involved. She signed the consent form. As the time for the operation draws near, the pressure increases. Margaret says that her trust in the Lord keeps her calm, and I believe her. Lord help her and be with her tomorrow.

Gingerich and the evolving universe

I’m reading a book God’s Universe by Owen Gingerich, who was a professor of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard for many years. The book is based on three talks he gave on the links between science and religion. Gingerich himself is a Christian, but a Christian who believes in evolution and the scientific method. I found his analysis of how science is evidence – not proof – of a supreme creative intelligence very helpful. His thinking on intermediate and final causes strikes a cord with me, e.g. the way the elements necessary for life were formed in the evolving stellar universe.