Archives for category: Christian religion

11

A supernatural side to things

In previous posts I have described how I was a sceptic and agnostic most of my life, but I also mentioned at the beginning of this story how in my late 50s and 60s incredible events happened which finally led me to belief in Jesus Christ and the Resurrection. These events are so unusual and unbelievable that it is with some trepidation and hesitation that I tell them. I know I will get slated by both believers and unbelievers, by the latter because most have no firm belief in the supernatural anyway and by the former because they will think I am lying or it is ‘the work of the devil.’

If people think like that, so be it, I can only tell what happened and let people make up their own mind. At the very least, what happened to me and my wife shows that there is a supernatural side to things, something, in my opinion, that makes the Resurrection much more likely.

stick in hall

The stick in question

The first fall of the stick

It is Monday 21st July, 2008. Margaret and I had been married for six years. Long before we met the second time in consequence of her dream, Margaret had been taking notes of what was happening in her life. She hoped one day to write a book about her life. After the dream and the rather strange way we met we would both talk about writing a book about our experiences, but it never came to anything.

This day in 2008 we were sitting at dinner as usual in the dinette area when we heard a clatter outside in the hallway. I went out to investigate. A stick for opening the loft door and which hung from a nail in the wall had fallen to the floor. There was no wind or anything that could have made it fall. It had been hanging there since the house was built sixteen years previously and it had never fallen before.

We were both puzzled and I was seriously dismayed. What could it mean? I had read about manadh in Gaelic, manadh being a physical manifestation, warning of something bad going to happen, usually a death.

The second fall of the stick

It was the second fall of the stick that really brought it home to us, especially to me. Margaret didn’t seem to be so worried.  It happened on the Monday exactly one week after the first fall of the stick. We were in bed and about to fall asleep when we heard the clatter in the hall. I went to check. The stick had fallen again.

To have fallen once was bad enough, but twice, this was serious. What caused the stick to fall? Was someone or something trying to give us a message? Remember, for years I was an agnostic and even a materialist. This really shook me up. According to the materialist and naturalistic account of things, things like this just did not happen. They could not happen, and yet in our experience they did.

I remembered what I had written in a poem many years before at the age of forty: ‘What I wanted was a trumpet, a fire, / which would prove there was something intelligent / beyond the veil. / The world / or God (whatever kind of being it is) / doesn’t work like that. Nothing but silence … .’ Was this at last the deafening silence being broken?

Clearing the loft and writing a book

The fallout from the fall of the stick was twofold. I started clearing the loft and we started writing a book about our experiences. The loft was full of books and papers from the past and it was prudent, I thought, not to leave it to others to clear up my mess should anything happen to me. I really took the manadh seriously.

We asked each other what we had been discussing the first time the stick fell. Margaret remembered that I had said to her, ‘Perhaps we should write a book about our experiences.’ That was the prompt which made us write the book Island Conversion where we tell of how we first met. My part of the book became also an apologia for my newly acquired faith in Jesus Christ. The book took about two years and while I was writing it equally strange events took place which were incorporated into the book.

The things that happened finally convinced me that Christ is not just a historical relic but a living reality. The fall of the stick and other events which I will recount fill me with amazement. In my agnostic years I could never, ever have imagined that such supernatural events could happen. The spiritual realm is much closer to us than we believe or imagine.

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8.

Meaningless specks or divine sparks

If the universe is truly of divine origin then we should expect the divine to permeate everything, even, and perhaps especially, human beings. One materialist vision is of humankind as being merely inconsequential specks of dust lost in the vastness of a meaningless universe. The contrary divine vision is of a very special creation which could not have happened were not the universe from its very birth, in the first millisecond of the so-called ‘big bang’, finely-tuned to the nth degree and programmed to produce intelligent life. That’s not what ‘creationists’ say; the fine-tuning is what scientists have discovered, although many secular scientists would, of course, deny the divine bit.

At the peats

Margaret at the peats

A messenger from You Know Who?

So when someone phoned me one day in the autumn of 1999, and said she was a Christian and that she had a message for me, I thought ‘Ah, could this be a messenger from You Know Who?’ Well, I didn’t discount it entirely! I had gradually been waking up from my agnostic slumber and, at the least, seeing the divine in natural phenomena. Could this divine vision also be applied to people?

To say that the phone-call surprised me would be an understatement. I had first met Margaret in the early 1960s when we were both in our late teens. We dated for two or three months and then we parted. I never expected to see her ever again. Not long after, she married someone else and as far as I was concerned, that was the end of the matter. Six or seven years later, I also married.

At the time when she phoned she was a widow and I was a divorcee. She said there was something she had to tell me, but she couldn’t tell me over the phone. Herself and a friend were going to be at a Gospel event in Skye the following day, could I meet her at the tent. I hummed and hawed. I imagined she was on a mission to convert me. I said I might be there and left it at that. After coming off the phone, I decided not to go.

Go Margaret, go!

The next night Margaret and her friend are at the Gospel event, but no sign of Myles. But God is persistent! Margaret and her friend are listening to the preacher and he’s talking about telling people about the Gospel and not to hide your light under a basket but to go and tell people. And then he said ‘Go David, go, go Margaret, go!’ Her friend gave Margaret a nudge, ‘You’ll have to phone him,’ she said. She had no intention of doing so, but because of what the preacher had said she reluctantly phoned me again.

The dream

I agreed to meet her the next day in a café in nearby Portree. I was intrigued and wanted to find out what she had to tell me. It turned out that five years previously, when she was going through a hard patch in her life, she had had a dream about me. The dream troubled her for years and she couldn’t get rid of it and she kept thinking and praying about me. She thought if she met me and told me about the dream that that would be a duty discharged and she would be rid of the burden. Hence the reason for her wanting to meet me.

In the dream, she had seen this person in front of her walking through a gate and into a beautiful green place. She was happy and felt that the person understood her and was sympathetic. When he turned round, she recognised him as me, although my hair had turned gray.

At first she didn’t tell anyone about the dream. Eventually, she told a preacher she met at a Gospel event. He thought that the dream was from God. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, but I certainly didn’t dismiss the possibility that God was using someone to remind me of His existence. In the years to come, I would certainly get confirmation that such was the case.

4.

Between scientism and transcendence

In the last post I referred to the poetry collection A’ Càradh an Rathaid (Mending the Road), published when I was forty-four. From what I wrote, it is obvious that in my thinking I was somewhere between scientism and a yearning for transcendence. Scientism being roughly the idea that only knowledge that can be gained by the application of the scientific method is true or even relevant. So religious ideas, including belief in God, are only subjective myths – archaic beliefs that humankind will outgrow.

At the time I didn’t realise how totally crass such a point of view is, that is, that science is the only true knowledge.  So I could write such things as:

This is all there is

Think about it, there is only this / on this day in Mull. / There is only this – / autumn and the leaves falling, / the cosmic dance / at the base of the tree amidst the dust; / matter dancing / and laughing, laughing / and dancing. (translated)

At the base of the tree of life there is dust and blind dancing and laughter, probably mocking laughter. I was struggling to believe that there was something better than this. I was wanting to believe there was something more, so I could also write:

Stones on Orkney

Photo – Scott Murray

The stone

I grip the purity stone / from circumstance to circumstance, / wave-moving, tide-heaving, / amidst the small and great stones, / I grip it with a deathly grip. / And always the sea / shifting, / polishing it, making us / closer together, splitting us. / I can’t think / of a time when you weren’t there. / But also, at the same time, / I sometimes think you are just a dream. (translated)

There is something in us (or in some of us) – call it intuition or whatever – that tells us that scientism cannot be right. It was this something that I called ‘the purity stone’. I suppose one could also call it a nascent faith, but in my case how minutely nascent it was! Yet, I didn’t want to lose this feeling completely – that there was something transcendent. I studied religions, including Buddhism, so I could write this while on holiday in Skye in the 1980s:

 

Tree

I see a tree, / three feet of the trunk; / I see no more. / It must be high, / the trunk is huge – / o God, it must be high. // I see a ray / coming from the clouds / high up in the cliff / in the shadow of Sgurr nan Strì. / It must be intense; / my eyes couldn’t stand the light / if I should see the sun. // I saw a glimpse of your beauty, / Christ and Buddha, / an intense light / and a blossoming tree / although I saw but a tiny bit. (translated)

It’s instructive that I lumped Christ and Buddha together. I wouldn’t do that now. Now, I look on Buddhism more as a philosophy, no doubt with its useful points for directing human behaviour. But what it lacks for me is the idea of God as agent, something that Christianity has in abundance. And, incidentally, that’s also the great lack with scientism – that it doesn’t and cannot, with its reductionist methodology, take the free action even of the human agent into account. (I’m not talking about science in general but the extreme way of thinking sometimes termed ‘scientism.)

There is a poem in A’ Càradh an Rathaid which is a key text for me from the point of view of my spiritual biography, which is what I’m attempting to write. I’ve highlighted the most relevant part in bold. I wrote this when I was forty:

Looking Back

 

Forty and still blind / without an answer (and I never will have) / for the universal questions / – despite these being all there is, / although we often deceive ourselves / when we see a day like today / fresh, bright, and the sun gilding the earth, / grass, street and bay. I’d wish then there weren’t such questions, / as the question of death, truth, / or what Love, God, Christ means, /and a thousand other things undisclosed, / until my brain is a whirlpool – / but I return, and return again / in my shell of a boat. I thought once there was an answer, / that fruit would fall from the tree of knowledge / and that I’d eat the apple of wisdom, or that a voice would speak / with undeniable authority / from the pillar of fire. Nothing but silence. / Nothing but miracle after miracle / as anybody must confess / who considers Nature or one atom / of the world’s material, but all natural, reasonable, / to an extent. What I wanted was a trumpet, a fire, / which would prove there was something intelligent / beyond the veil. / The world / or God (whatever kind of being it is) / doesn’t work like that. Nothing but silence – / and a feeling that cannot be expressed / that there are things that want to speak, / and that do, and do not quite reach us / because they don’t speak our language. They will come one day, perhaps, pouring / out of some sky. / But before that happens perhaps we won’t care / not care at all. (translated)

 

I was asking God, many would say foolishly!, to prove to me in a miraculous way that there was a supranatural side to life. Little did I imagine that many years later the prayer would be answered, but not until I was in my late 50s. Yes, before then I had had hints that the materialist hypothesis wasn’t true, but not the kind of compelling evidence that I was later to have. In the next post I’ll be telling of these hints that I had which started me to doubt the truth of materialism.

 

 

 

 

 

2.

Early verse

From the age of 12, I wrote verses in English, but once I learned to write in Gaelic I wrote in that language. Gaelic was the language of the heart and I felt that what I wrote was more authentic in my mother tongue. I looked on poetry as a means of telling the truth about the world as I perceived it. It wasn’t until 1980, when I was 36, that my first collection Eileanan was published by the Celtic Department, University of Glasgow.

I feel this is important for the story I’m going to tell. Let me explain why. Because of the strangeness, and indeed incredible nature, of what happened many years later, and that led to my conversion and to me becoming a Christian, it was important to have evidence of what I believed and how I felt in earlier years. The poetry I wrote then is the evidence.

To my own mind at the time, I wanted the truth about life wherever it led, whether pleasant or unpleasant.  And in my twenties and thirties I wrote verse which showed exactly what I believed. I was a rationalist and an agnostic. I was as far from God as it is possible to be. The following poem depicts what I thought it was like for an unbeliever in the modern world. The foundations of faith had been shaken. Life was ‘without root, without guide.’

Sea Plant

I’m a sea plant / shaken from the shores of the world. / Perhaps

we’ll meet / (there’s a chance, / one among many) / in the middle of

the ocean, / that you were also / raised / in Calvin’s earth, / the pre-

Copernican sky above you.

And the day came / when the stars fell / and the sky broke

asunder, / and you lost your land-made form, / floating / you and

I / forever more / on the cold empty seas / without root, without

guide.  (translated)

This poem hints strongly at what had been lost. The sure Word of God and the solid ground that Calvin believed in has been overwhelmed by advances in science and modern thought. Belief in God and morality itself is all at sea. My parents’ religion is in tatters, or so it seemed to me at the time.

Kensaleyre, Skye

Kensaleyre, Isle of Skye   Photo: Steve Taylor

With love to Eve

And yet also in this early poetry there is a longing for something more. In ‘B’ fheàrr leam’ (I wish) I’m intrigued with the paradoxes of time and eternity:

I wish I had a plane / to take me out from the stars. / I’d see the universe through a telescope / from outside time and space. / I’d understand I was formless / and that light was not needed to see – / How could there be light / in a place without matter? (translated)

And although I couldn’t see a way to truly believe, I was reluctant to believe that the human being was entirely due to the processes of time and chance, as the following verses show. They are from a group of poems called ‘With Love to Eve’:

You were there from everlasting / before the mountains were created / like a flower in God’s eye. // The scientist in vain will say / that time and chance made you / in the hot fire of the world // but the poet well knows // that you were there from the beginning // with your coming destined. // In your great beauty you were / enfolded in the pith of the universe, / a spirit ready to flame // out of the spirit that is. What use is poetry / if all you are is dust? // If all you are is dust / what use is music and poetry, / and what is our life but a scream. (translated)

It would be many years before the incredible events I spoke of earlier were to happen. Meantime, I continued to explore and to question and to doubt.