Young moss on stone bridge
(Photo: Scott Murray)

(Contd from 93)

My reaction to the fall of the stick

As I said, what happened was a total shock. The stick used for opening the loft had fallen off the hook, without anyone near it, not once but twice. I tried to make sense of it. I had read about manadh in Gaelic which is a premonition of something bad going to happen. Not unnaturally, I reasoned that because it was the stick which allowed access to the loft, that it must have something to do with the loft. The loft was full of boxes of books and documents from my past. I started to empty it. If something was going to happen to me, I had better get my house in order. Some stuff I burnt, and the rest I took to the dump in Portree, some 20 miles away. By mid-August 2008 I had emptied most of the boxes.

Two views of reality

We kept wondering what the fall of the stick meant. I knew it had great significance for me. Richard Dawkins is the leader of the so-called New Atheists who believes any talk of the supernatural is nonsense. According to them we live in a closed system of cause and effect. John Lennox is a Professor of Mathematics at Oxford and unlike Dawkins believes in the Biblical God and in the supernatural. He has come out strongly in debates with the New Atheists and in a number of books for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. The fall of the stick and events which were to follow were important to me in proving that there is a supernatural dimension to reality. Dawkins and his kind will say, faith is believing without evidence. Well, here was material evidence and Margaret was my witness.

Starting writing

Margaret had many experiences herself in her life of faith and she had written some of them down in note form. We had sometimes considered writing a book about it all, the dream that she had and so on. We asked ourselves, what precisely were we talking about the first time the stick fell. It dawned on us that we had been discussing writing a book about our experiences. We set about writing such a book. Rightly or wrongly, I thought that was what the fall of the stick was perhaps telling us to do. To tell the story of how I came to faith in Jesus.

The book Island Conversion came out in 2011 at the Faclan book festival in Stornoway. The theme of the festival was the supernatural. It was a hard task writing that book. It’s a long confession note, telling how completely wrong and deluded I had been for years and years in my search for the truth. Margaret sometimes wasn’t too sure of what I was writing. For example, some of it tends to be a bit too intellectual and probably boring for some people. She was thinking this one day and was going to say so to me. She was getting the hoover out of the cupboard some metres away from the stick, when the stick fell. This made her change her mind about complaining to me and I carried on with the book.

The Pilgrim’s Progress and the minister’s visit

It’s important to remember that all the events of 2008 were happening in a religious context, otherwise they wouldn’t have made any sense. I can date my conversion from that year. I had started going to a local church. One day the minister called, the first time he had paid us a visit. I remember that day very clearly. Early in the morning, Margaret woke up thinking of John Bunyan and the word ‘prison’ came to her mind. She didn’t know much about him and looked on the Web for information. She learnt that he had started writing The Pilgrim’s Progress in Bedford Jail.

Later that morning, I was in the loft. There were two or three boxes of books left at the far end. I looked down to see what books were in the first one. One title jumped out at me (not literally!), it was a Gaelic copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress. A minister had gifted the book to my father many years before. I had no idea the book was in the house. I came down from the loft and gave the book to Margaret with the words, “I think this is for you.”

Psalm 37

I took some books and more stuff to the dump in Portree and when I came back the minister was in. I told him about the stick falling and his reaction was that it was maybe God’s way of getting my attention. About that time something happened in church one Sunday which intrigued me. Especially in view of what could be described as the spiritual crisis I was going through at the time. Verses 3-5 of psalm 37 were sung which go: “Set thou thy trust upon the Lord, / and be thou doing good; / And so thou in the land shalt dwell, / and verily have food. Delight thyself in God; he’ll give / thine heart’s desire to thee. / Thy way to God commit, him trust, / it bring to pass shall he.

Usually the service ends with two verses of a Gaelic psalm, and not verses sung previously in English. But this time it was the same verses from psalm 37 that were sung. What intrigued me was that my father had written down the reference for these verses on a bit of paper decades before that and asked me to read them, the only time he had ever done such a thing. A couple of years later, Margaret realised she had a plaque hidden away in a drawer inscribed with the words: “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and he shall give you the desires of you heart.” She was given the plaque by the church she was attending in Surrey in the 90s on the occasion of her leaving to go back north.

The fall of the loft door

As I said, writing the book Island Conversion was no easy task. But certain things happened which made me even more determined to finish it. The most remarkable thing happened on July 10th 2009. I had been away teaching at the Gaelic College in the south end of Skye that week and on my return I was quite tired. Myself and Margaret had a slight disagreement – as married couples sometimes do! – and I decided to sleep in my sister’s house which was empty at the time and very near to ours.

About 2 am there was a knocking at the door. It was Margaret telling me that the “house was falling down.” Intrigued, I went up to have a look. I was stunned by what I saw and what she told me. The loft door, which is secured with two hinges and a catch, was lying on the floor with the stick for opening the door beside it. Intriguingly, the hook which was screwed into the end of the stick had become detached and was still on the nail from which the stick usually hung.

Margaret told me that she was in the bedroom preparing to go to bed when she heard the sound as of a rushing wind and then a clatter. When she went to investigate she found the loft door as I’ve described. She was, naturally, quite scared and came to tell me what happened. Going by what had happened previously, when we were both there, I had no reason to doubt her word.

These and similar events made me determined to finish the book.
(to be contnd)