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Small fungi on bark

Photo – Scott Murray

14.

‘Whither shall I go from thy spirit’

Reading Otto and Eliade (see previous post) made me look on the fall of the stick, and other things that had happened, as an irruption of the sacred or the divine. Of course, we couldn’t say with certainty what had made the stick fall, but the fact that it had fallen a number of times with no-one near it was quite extraordinary. And the precision with which it fell was even more extraordinary. By that I mean that on a number of occasions it fell at precisely the right time to give us what appeared to be a message. For example, when Margaret was taking the Hoover out of the cupboard  it seemed to ‘know’ what she was thinking, and we acted accordingly. To me it seemed as if the ‘wholly other’, as Otto describes it, was making itself manifest.

Commemorating a sacred space

This made me want to commemorate what had become a sacred space. So I bought a small table and placed it in the hallway. On the table I placed a framed image of the Turin shroud Jesus, a candle to symbolise God, a white stone for the Holy Spirit and a framed icon of the Virgin Mary. I wanted a white dove to represent the Holy Spirit but as I didn’t have one, a stone would have to do temporalily. The shroud picture had been in my possession for many years. I always thought it was an amazing and moving image.

Another ‘coincidence’

The iconic image of the Virgin Mary was sent to me in the post by my good friend the Romanian poet who had told me about Eliade. In early January 2010 I  was busy writing Island Conversion (Margaret had completed her part of it) and had just come to the point in the book  where I tell how she had introduced me to The Sacred and the Profane by Eliade when I heard the postman drop off a letter. It was a postcard from her with an iconic golden-coloured image of the Virgin and child. The coincidence prompted me to put the card in a frame and place it on the table beside the other items. Margaret remembered she had an unused golden frame she had bought some ten years previously. The card fitted it perfectly.

God’s dealing with us

It is now 2016 and the table is still there. It is a daily reminder of what happened in 2008 and what has happened since.  For what happened since Island Conversion was published in 2011 is even more remarkable, if that is possible, and it very much concerns the table that was set up in remembrance of God’s dealings with us. For, yes, I personally believed it was God who was dealing with us. Looking back over my life and all that has happened, I couldn’t believe otherwise. The things that happened were tremendous and mysterious – it was indeed a time of the mysterium tremendum as Otto called the numinous presence of the ‘wholly other.’

The picture of Christ falls

So I move on from the events recorded in Island Conversion to tell what happened in 2012 and after. I had planned to go to Romania in September 2012 to take part in a poetry event. By May the plane tickets had been booked and we were both set for going. On the evening of the 28th May I was walking into the living room past the table in the hallway when the shroud picture of Jesus fell off the table and on to the floor. I was utterly stunned. But I didn’t have time to take it in. One or two minutes later the phone went. It was a friend from Wales who was one of the organisers of the Romanian trip. I was too shocked to mention the fall of the picture. We discussed what we would be doing in Romania.

We decide not to go

After I came off the phone Margaret and I sat down in the living room facing each other. What did it all mean? What could it mean? My immediate reaction was to cancel the trip to Romania. I had a sense of foreboding and I said to Margaret I wasn’t going. Her immediate reaction was relief. She felt it was the right thing to do. The plane tickets were cancelled and I had to apologise to my friends in Wales and Romania.

Margaret’s illness

Margaret had been complaining with her stomach for a number of weeks, pain and indigestion. She was treated for helicobacter pylori, a treatable bacterial infection which can cause indigestion. When she didn’t respond to treatment she was sent for further investigation. On the 28th June she was given a diagnosis of stomach cancer.

It was then we realised what the fall of the picture probably meant. It was warning us of future events. There were trials ahead, but with God’s help these would be overcome. One thing was sure. There was no way we could have gone to Romania in September. At that time Margaret would be going through a course of chemotherapy in preparation for an operation.

But the fact that the picture fell was a great comfort. We knew that something immeasurably greater than us was in control of our lives. Anything could have fallen, but it was the picture of Christ.

 

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13.

The Christ gate

It was in September 2008, months after the second fall of the stick, that it dawned on me that the dream Margaret had in the mid-nineties, and that led to our marriage, could have had a specific religious meaning. In the dream she had seen me going through a gate and she had followed. Now that I had accepted Christ as my saviour I could see that this gate could be interpreted as the Christ gate. We were entering a new life together and the new life was a spiritual life.

Psalm 37

Other things that happened around this time reinforced the feeling that things weren’t just happening by chance. I was in church and we sang verses 3-4 of psalm 37 ‘Set thou thy trust upon the Lord …’ Many years before, my late father had written these verses on a piece of paper and given them to me. The only time he had ever done such a thing. At the time I didn’t take them to heart. The minister, of course, didn’t know this but, rather unsettling for me, he asked for the same verses to be sung again –  in Gaelic this time – at the end of the service.

Some time after, Margaret remembered that she had a plaque she had been given by friends when she left Surrey in the 1980s. It had words from verse 4, ‘Delight thyself in God; he’ll give thine heart’s desire to thee. Coincidences or an overarching providence? With all that was happening, it seemed more like the latter.

Pilgrim’s Progress

After the first two falls of the stick in July 2008, the process of emptying the loft was proceeding well. By the middle of August I had almost completed the task. We had planned a coach holiday in August in the Cotswolds but at the last minute I cancelled the holiday and Margaret wasn’t all that pleased. The following day she was up early. She had had a vision of John Bunyan and of being in a prison. When she looked up John Bunyan on the computer she discovered that he had written Pilgrim’s Progress – or part of it – in Bedford Jail, something of which she had been unaware.

Later in the morning I was up in the loft. There were one or two boxes still to be cleared at the end of the loft. I looked into one box and there, staring me in the face, was a copy of the Pilgrim’s Progress in Gaelic, which I didn’t know I had. I could see from what was written in it that it had been given to my father by a minister. I came down the ladder and handed it to Margaret, saying ‘This is for you’. Later in the week she was visiting a friend and she told her friend the story. ‘Oh’, said her friend, ‘I was looking through some books in the bookshelves and I came across a copy of the Pilgrim’s Progress in English. You can take it with you.’

The Idea of the Holy

It was about this time that I became more and more intrigued with the idea of the holy or sacred. I realised that modern life had desacralised everything. Capitalism and the profit motive and materialism (of both kinds) meant that nothing was set apart as holy and untouchable. Everything could be used and abused because they didn’t have a divine source. The world had become secular.

A book I was reading at the time The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto paints a very different picture. He talks about the numinous and the feeling of dread human beings experience when faced with the overwhelming nature of the ‘wholly other’. It is the creature meeting the creator. When the numinous breaks through into human experience, it goes beyond fear. It is indeed a peculiar kind of dread which cannot be described in words. The book is not for the faint-hearted but it might change one’s attitude to what the term ‘holy’ means, as it did mine.

The Sacred and the Profane

Another book which influenced my thinking at the time was The Sacred and the Profane by the Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade. It was rather strange how I came to read this book. A friend knew of my interest in Rudolph Otto and he introduced me by email to a Romanian scholar and poet who he knew was also interested in Otto. It was her who recommended Eliade’s book to me. Decades before, the name Eliade had come to me in a dream but I didn’t know who he was at the time. I presumed he was a poet and that I would one day come across him.

The other strange thing is that I had also dreamed, decades before, of the face of the poet who recommended the book to me. The image of the face and the name Eliade had stuck with me, although I wouldn’t know for many years what significance they would have in my life.

The religious and the nonreligious

It turned out that Eliade was a famed historian of world religion and an authority on myth, symbol and religion. He had been influenced by Otto. His book was an eye-opener for me. He shows how there are, and always have been, people who are religious and aware of the sacred and the numinous, (because they have experienced it) and how there are others who are nonreligious and completely unaware that this fundamental reality exists. Nowadays, the nonreligious are in the majority and their world is a secular world and completely desacralised.

Hierophany

Eliade speaks a lot of how there can be a religious and sacred space. That is, a space where the numinous or the ‘wholly other’ has broken through and revealed itself. He calls this act of manifestation of the sacred a hierophany, that is, something sacred showing itself. It can manifest itself in ordinary objects, as a stone or a tree. But for the Christian the supreme hierophany is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. He says, ‘In each case we are confronted by the same mysterious act – the manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural “profane” world.’

12

The third fall of the stick

In June 2009, almost a year after the first fall of the stick, it fell again. Margaret had completed her part of Island Conversion. I carried on where she left off and mixed a straightforward telling of our story with excursions into science and philosophy. Margaret didn’t like that part of it much and she wanted to take out the more abstruse bits and make it a more engaging read.

She was going to speak to me to discuss this, and as these thoughts crossed her mind she was getting the Hoover out of the cupboard. Just then the stick, which was a few paces away from her, fell off the wall.  It was as if someone or something was giving her a message. But what message? And who was the messenger?

She took it to mean that I should continue with what I was writing, which I did.

This was to be a recurring pattern for a number of years. Something falling as if giving us a message and us pondering about what the message could be.

 

Winter sunset above Stirling

Winter sunset above Stirling – photo Scott Murray

Reasons for retelling the story

It is eight years since the first fall of the stick in 2008 and I keep asking, and reminding myself, why I keep going on about what happened. There are a number of reasons.

One reason is the way the fall of the stick and other events completely contradicted what I had previously believed. Like many other people I was immersed in the materialist way of looking at things. I don’t mean materialist in the sense of preferring material possessions to spiritual values. That is a problem, but it wasn’t my problem.

My problem was a philosophy that permeates the media, at least in the West, namely, that all that exists is matter or physical energy and that consciousness is merely a modification of matter or an emergent quality of the physical. This belief appears to be the unspoken assumption which informs public discourse of all kinds in the West. I believe it informs secular humanism. I have already spoken of the shock I felt when things happened that completely refuted this belief. Now I am convinced that consciousness and intelligence came first and that life is the creation of that consciousness. The Christian calls this consciousness God.

As I mentioned previously, when I was in my teens I made up my mind that I would find out the truth about life, if I could. I even challenged God to prove his existence to me. And in a poem ‘Sùil air Ais’ (Looking Back), written when I was forty, I demanded a miracle to prove his existence. However, in my wildest dreams I never expected events to happen that contradicted the laws of nature, but when they did I was utterly astonished, and still am.

Another reason for telling the story again is that after writing Island Conversion many other things happened which were equally amazing, if not more so. And these things, I feel, have to be told in sequence.

Religious context

An important factor in all that happened was that they happened in a religious context. Otherwise they wouldn’t have made any sense. Weeks before the stick fell I had started going to the Free Church. And one day after the stick fell, the minister visited us. I told him about the stick falling and asked him what he thought. I’ll never forget what he said – that it could be God trying to get my attention.

The fact that a Free Church minister said this is significant. For I get the feeling that the church’s official position wouldn’t entertain the idea of God communicating with people in that way. God has given his final communication in the Scriptures and through the Holy Spirit and that is how God works. And that, I believe, is certainly true, but, personally, I also believe that God can and does communicate in other ways. Or, if it was not God, who or what was it? Only the Creator, I assume, has control of the constants of nature.

The ex-Catholic and the Jehovah’s Witness

I often wonder what other people think about what happened to us. Sometimes I don’t need to wonder, I’m told in no uncertain terms, not by the irreligious but the religious themselves.

Recently, we went to a gospel meeting in one of the islands. It was a slightly Pentecostal-type event where people gave their testimonies. I ventured foolishly, as it turned out, to give my testimony. The leader of the event was an ex-Catholic who, apparently, looked aghast at anything that hinted at the miraculous or smacked of Catholicism.

I told our story, how the stick fell and so on and I told of a table we had in the hallway with an iconic picture of the Virgin Mary. At the mention of the Virgin Mary, I thought he was going to faint. After I sat down he rubbished my testimony, seeking support from someone he knew in the audience,  and said the fall of the stick was the work of the devil. From his own experience he said he was familiar with demonic effects.

The experience taught me not to give my testimony to a person who has already made up his mind before hearing the full story. Of course, this person didn’t want to hear the full story. His prejudices prevented him from being interested. He only needed to hear one snatch and his mind was already made up.

On another recent occasion, a Jehovah’s Witness came to our door, as they do. When I told him snippets of the story he was quite cynical. He had his own beliefs and agenda which he was eager to impart. He obviously didn’t believe in the divinity of the Son of God, as I do, and so he went his way.

10.

Modern-day doubts

Just because I was married to a Christian believer, didn’t mean that my own spiritual path was plain from then on. Far from it. I still had all the postmodern doubts that I have described previously. It puzzled me, and still does, why preachers don’t confront and deal with the questions that arise from modernism and postmodernism, as they relate to religion. Of course, many, perhaps most, of the people who attend church never consider these questions at all. Yet, for the people outside the churches, they are the key to why they don’t attend church, or believe in God.

Contrasting worldviews

The situation becomes all too clear when competing worldviews are contrasted. Secular philosophies such as empiricism, materialism, naturalism and postmodernism are sharply at variance with a Biblical worldview. For example, there is the apparent split between facts and values, including moral values. For the empiricist and postmodernist, facts are public and objective, while values are subjective and relative. Morals are a matter of taste and based on pleasure and pain. There is no supernatural lawgiver. There is no afterlife.

For the orthodox Christian believer, the case is very different. There is a supernatural source, a creator God from whom everything, including the moral law, originates. Christ is the centre of His activity on earth. He was crucified and rose from the dead. The crucifixion and resurrection are the central facts of history which explain all values. They are the place where facts and values, objective and subjective meet. Without these the world is totally meaningless.

New world

When I published a fifth collection Saoghal Ùr (New World) in 2003, I hadn’t reached these Christian conclusions. I was still struggling with the connection between objective facts and subjective values. Although I had gone through some unusual experiences, I was still doubtful of the full force of the supernatural. And to believe in the resurrection one has to believe in the supernatural. But the events that were to finally persuade me were still a few years in the future.

Some poems from Saoghal Ùr illustrate how I felt in these years in the late 90s and early in 2000:

The Listening

Listening for a voice / ‘from a region the world has derided’, / for any voice / for a still, small voice / because time has murdered / what is kind, what is holy. Waiting for witness / from a country hidden from people / – beyond the circle of talk – / a place that is not a place, / from which a voice cannot come, / in which the word is a nonsense. (translation)

There are paradoxes here, I’m waiting for ‘a voice’ from the spiritual realm and yet it is a place ‘from which a voice cannot come.’ And how can there be a witness if the ‘country’ is hidden from us? At the time I wrote this, I was, spiritually, facing a blank wall. Yet in another poem I’m beginning to get glimpses of something beyond myself, but it’s mostly the divine in nature that amazes me, not the reality of Christ:

Underwater on Vatersay shore

Underwater on Vatersay shore – photo Scott Murray

Over the Threshold

I go over the threshold / joyfully, elated / because I have seen a little gleam / of sunshine through the curtains. / I’m going on a journey / doubtful, fearful, / because I’m not sure what’s ahead / or behind / although I did see a golden gleam on the everlasting mountain. // O soft idols of the pillow! / I take my leave of you / joyfully, with doubt, with tears, / because I have been wrong for so long, / for the spendthrift days / for the warm, deceitful bedcovers. / O, all-seeing heart! / O, deceiving, soiled heart / you are killed with sacrifices, / flayed by the knife of the morning! // But go over the threshold, don’t look back / to the warm, comfortable home, / or to the weather-tight walls. / You are out in the light; / the mountains are shouting; / the marvellous wilderness is before you; / the eternal stars are spraying you with dew, / stretched out with the endless plain. / O marvel! O elation! O unending miracle! (translation)

The note of exultation at the end is the awareness of nature as a divine miracle. Having seen and appreciated this, one can never be the same again. But such an awareness can make one conscious of the gulf between the divine and the human. In another poem I compared the gulf as to one between a worm and a human being. At times a worm can become more aware of the human, for example, when someone is touching it. Even a human can have an awareness of God:

 

The Worm

1

A worm / in the soil of the world, / I sometimes, I think, feel a warmth / as if a hand were stroking me. / Sometimes above me / I feel footsteps / without pause, / ceaseless, / but one day / as if something disturbed the soil / I was thrown upwards / and an unknown glow burnt my back. / I wish I was / back in the soil / feeling the gentle finger / agitating me / stroking me / with the knowledge of the distant light, high above me.

2

Even the worm / can feel the weight of the god. // Even the worm / can recognise the heat of the sun. (translation)

 

It is the heart, or the centre of the self, (what the Bible also describes as the heart) which becomes aware of this divine glory, but also the brute obstacles – the stone in the following poem – which it puts in the path of the divine Lover.

 

The Breaking of the Stone

You built a dwelling, Glory, / in my heart, / although unaware you were building it. / O invisible marvel of the spirit! / In the midst of the mire and mud / your hands / most white / were preparing the site / something inexplicable / inscrutable / unbelievable. / Ah! The stone is still there / keeping you out, / a great brute of a stone where a path should be. // Break it, Glory, / although painful, break it / in smithereens / until there is a smooth path, at last, / for your foot / and I will hear the sound of your feet / on the gravel / and with awe and dread / I’ll wait your glorious arrival. // And the once empty house / will be full of amazing furniture, / full, full, full, / and it will be nothing. (translation)

 

When the divine Lover enters in, the house of the heart will be full, and the ego will be as nothing.

 

 

 

9.

Dreams and synchronicity

What I was beginning to learn was that the world was deeper, weirder, more meaningful than anything I could imagine. Could dreams have a divine significance? My study of Jung and the importance he attached to dreams and how they could give messages from the unconscious made me more accepting of the idea that a dream could have real significance. Also, it’s common in the Bible for God to speak to people through dreams. So when Margaret told me of her dream, I didn’t dismiss it entirely. In fact, I was intrigued.

I was also intrigued at the time with Jung’s idea of synchronicity, which the dictionary defines as: the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. I’ve already mentioned several that happened to me, so when some strange coincidences happened after meeting Margaret, I wasn’t very surprised.

Salmon

After our initial meeting in Portree, at my prompting, we met twice in 1999. I wanted to find out more about what had happened in Margaret’s life since the time we first met in the early 1960s. I was working in Gairloch on the mainland at the time and Margaret was on the Isle of Benbecula. She came to Gairloch and stayed in a B & B. I was in the schoolhouse. Before she left Benbecula, she was thinking she would like a piece of fresh salmon she could bring with her. Half an hour later the phone rings. A friend who had just come back from Lewis with a fresh salmon asked her if she wanted some. Of course she did!

 

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(Red calf)

Nonsense verses and a red calf

The second time she was in Gairloch, I made up some nonsense verses for our amusement. I had a dog and cat at the time, but I also included an imaginary red calf in the verses: ‘all that’s needed is the deil of a red calf.’ The red calf had a story to tell. It would be another coincidence: Margaret made her way back to Benbecula by car and ferry on the Thursday. She phoned me from Benbecula and told me that she had stopped at Strathcarron and went into a gift shop. Something told her she should buy a red calf. If she could buy a red calf in the shop it would be a sign for her that our relationship might continue. There were no red calves on the shelves. She asked the assistant, who looked in the back store and she came back with a small reddish coloured calf. Margaret was delighted.

When she told me this story later, I laughed, but decided to play along with it. Okay I said if I see a red calf on the road when I’m going home to Skye at the weekend I’ll take that as a sign as well. It was all good fun. Of course, I never expected to see a calf on the road. I drove for two and a half hours. No red calf. Then a mile from home a car in front of me stopped. I was forced to stop. There in front of us a man was transferring red cattle, including some red calves, from a field on one side of the road to the other. I laughed inwardly. Synchronicity was alive and well.

Time passes

Margaret and I hadn’t made arrangements to meet again or communicate. Six months went past, when I decided to phone her. O, she said, I’ve just sent you a postcard today. It was from then on that we started going together. We got married a couple of years later. Margaret had been a Christian for a long time. I was still somewhere on the line to becoming one. Despite all that had happened, I was still waiting for the ‘trumpet, a fire, / which would prove there was something intelligent beyond the veil’, as I had written aged forty,

What would happen to finally make me a true believer? That was still some time in the future. By true believer I mean someone who believes in the cross and in the resurrection. I still had some way to go.

 

 

7.

Testimonies

Since becoming a Christian, I’ve heard many testimonies from people telling how they came to believe. Many were in their teens and twenties. How I envied these people. It was sometimes hearing a sermon that fitted perfectly with the state of soul they were in that was the turning point. Sometimes they were in a place of despair with life problems and God in Jesus became real to them and they were rescued. Sometimes it was a verse from the Bible that was the final release.

Listening to these people, I realise I must be a bit offbeat. My struggle was intellectual and went on for most of my life. Did other people not have these struggles and if not why not? For example, I argued that the experiences of God which people had were subjective. No doubt the experiences were real for the people concerned, but they could be explained psychologically. If God were real, He could quite easily perform an objective miracle to prove that He existed, like writing his name permanently in the sky. Why didn’t He do this?

planets2008

Solar system

The DNA code and cosmic fine-tuning

At the time I didn’t realise that God had already done this and much more besides. The miracle of the written code is much nearer to every one of us than the sky; it is in the DNA code written in nearly all the estimated 37 trillion cells of every human body, including mine and yours. Each cell contains the information – equivalent to a library of books – needed to build a human body. Such incredibly complex and intelligent information doesn’t come without an intelligent source.

Couple that with the latest findings of cosmology and you have what would appear to be proof of an intelligent creator. What  astrophysicists have found is that the universe had a beginning and that if it weren’t for the incredible fine-tuning of the constants of nature, there would be no DNA and therefore no life as we know it. The universe appears to be fine-tuned for intelligent life.

Invisible attributes

In the context of these contemporary discoveries, the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 1:19-20 seem even more remarkable: ‘For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.’ (ESV)

A glimpse of the divine

In my fifties I was beginning to see the divine in nature, but it was more from poetic intuition than from what was being discovered by scientists. Many of the  poems in my fourth collection A’ Gabhail Ris (Accepting) 1994 show me to be lost in the quagmire of postmodernism, but the second last poem in the book called ‘Òran’ / Song is different:

I saw the sun rising / an innocent ball in the sky // and I had a feeling of dread (chorus) // I saw the little birds / how artfully they answer … // I saw how you loved me / although I couldn’t always understand it … // I saw the big people / how they killed their own kind … // I saw I’d never understand it / although I’d live to a hundred … // I saw the amazing steadfastness / of the atoms in the waves … // I saw that the black brine / has no feelings for the drowned … // I saw the amazing speed/distance / light travels in space … // I saw the distress / suffered unexpectedly … // I saw you world of graces / turning like a jewel in space … // I remembered how Scripture said / the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom // and I had a feeling of dread. (translated)

Nature can give us a thousand hints which we cannot ignore. These hints build into an holistic intuition, and then a near certainty that nature itself is speaking to us with a divine voice. Well that’s how I felt anyway.  I was on the way to losing my agnostic materialist baggage.

 

 

A move to Skye

It was in 1992, after I separated from my wife, that I moved from the Isle of Mull to Flodigarry, Skye, where I was born, and where I had lived for some time in my younger days. I certainly had an attachment to the place and in some way it was a spiritual attachment. It was like a feeling of going home. I might have got this feeling for place from my mother who had a great love for and attachment to Flodigarry, where she was brought up.

I’ve already spoken of strange coincidences in my life and one instance of what seemed like a premonition. After I came to Skye things happened which could be classed as outside the run of normal cause and effect events. These events were to challenge my scepticism and belief in naturalism.

 

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The Twa Dugs in question

Do dogs have a sixth sense?

I had two dogs at the time, yellow Labradors. They were beautiful, friendly dogs as Labradors tend to be. It is said that dogs, and horses, have a heightened sense for things which are outside the run of the normal. When we lived in Edinburgh, they were sometimes put into a lean-to shed in the yard at the back of my in-laws’ house. They simply hated being put in that shed. They panicked and would gnaw at the wooden door, continually trying to get out. They weren’t like that with other buildings, just this shed.

When I moved to Skye, I built a new house on the croft. While the house was being built, I lived in a caravan beside the old croft house, while the dogs were kept in the old house and garden. One day, when the new house was near completion, I took them up to it, with the intention taking them inside. But would they come in! No, not a bit of it. Normally, they would follow me anywhere. But this time they made their stand outside the front door and wouldn’t budge. They were sensing something, but what it was I have no idea.

Ghostly footsteps and a caterwauling cat

But something even stranger happened a few years after moving into the new house. The dogs had died, but I still had a cat called Sguab (brush). The incident I am about to recall involved this cat. It was a beautiful summer’s day. I went to the shop for the papers and was sitting reading them in the living room when I heard footsteps as if on gravel outside. I assumed it was my neighbour, who sometimes came to visit. I went to the door but there was no-one there. A couple of hours later, I was in another room working at the computer. From where I was sitting I could see the cat. It was sitting outside the kitchen door and looking towards the open front door, which was a few metres away. Suddenly, it started caterwauling and its fur stood on end. It was as if it was seeing something at the door. I took it up and stroked it and it quietened down. I thought it might have been a dog and I went out and had a good look round, but there was nothing.

I associated the footsteps I had heard earlier with the cat’s behaviour. The fact that the cat was apparently ‘seeing’ something two hours after me hearing the footsteps was extremely strange. Yet it was also strangely comforting. It assured me that it wasn’t just in my mind. The cat had also ‘seen’ something.

The pursuit

Meantime, the state of my soul had not mended much. I was still a person filled with intellectual doubts about the nature of God and even whether He existed. I read books on philosophy, popular science, religion and cosmology, but they brought me no nearer to answering the question I had set myself in my teens.  What is the truth about life? The ‘hound of heaven’ was pursuing me, not I Him, although I didn’t realise it at the time. But the chase was going to heat up.