Archives for category: unusual experiences

15

Peacock butterflies on sunflower

Photo: Scott Murray

The shroud picture falls a second time

It was a great shock for both of us when Margaret was diagnosed with stomach cancer on the 28th June, 2012, a month after the shroud image of Jesus had fallen of the table in the hall. We were both worried and stressed about what the diagnosis could mean. On the 5th July Margaret thought she would go and buy a packet of cigarettes – she had once been a smoker and she felt she needed a cigarette. She went to have look to see what the weather was like. As she passed the table in the hall, the picture of Jesus fell to the floor.

Needless to say, she didn’t buy cigarettes and she hasn’t smoked since. Later, when she was getting chemo and she was suffering with her throat, it became clear that if she had been smoking, it would have been the last straw.

Outwith our volition

In thinking about the fall of the stick and then the picture, several thoughts come to mind. These things happened entirely outwith our volition; it was some power outwith our control that made these objects fall. In the case of the picture it was very specific, it was the picture of Jesus. Indeed, it was as if Jesus was speaking to us. Any object in the house could have fallen, but in this case it was the shroud picture of Jesus. I have thought about this ever since and I have thought, how utterly extraordinary!

The extraordinary conclusions

What is equally extraordinary are the following conclusions that could be drawn from what happened: Whatever was moving the picture and the stick appeared to know all about us. It appeared to know what was to happen in the future. It appeared to care for Margaret and what might happen to her, for example, by stopping her smoking. This, of course, all accords with what it says in psalm 139: ‘You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.’ (V3) and Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.’ (V6).

All the things that happened led me to the conclusion that philosophical materialism cannot be true. Rather there is spiritual reality – what Jesus calls the Father – that knows all about us. But it will only help us when we truly trust and seek him. As it say in psalm 50, V15: ‘call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’ Whether this help comes in this life or the next, who is to say?

The surgeon phones

It was in the evening of the 5th, the day the picture fell, that the surgeon phoned to let Margaret know the result of the scan she had on the previous day. He confirmed that cancer was confined to the stomach with one lymph node affected. In these days a lot of people were praying for Margaret’s recovery. On the 16th the surgeon phoned again and told her she would be getting three doses of chemo over the next few months. On that day the verse I got for her was this: ‘God in the midst of her doth dwell;/ nothing shall her remove:/ The Lord to her an helper will, / and that right early prove.’ In the midst of despair, I knew it meant something.

The reality of the numinous

The decline of Christianity, and indeed religion, in the West is a multi-faceted phenomenon, declining church attendances, young people’s indifference to religion, postmodern claims that there is no absolute truth, a growing secularism. The list could go on and on …

But when we scratch the surface we find something very different. What Otto calls the numen, the appearance of the divine, the wholly other, is still there whether we like it or not. It is not a merely an archaic left-over from ‘primitive’ societies. It makes its appearance from time to time and it is not something that can be willed to happen. Yes, it is the irrational side of religion, the unknowable, but it complements and sustains the rational side, namely, the written word and the dogmas of the church.

For the Christian, it reached its culmination in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. The hidden numen appeared fully clothed and made its presence evident by signs and miracles, but also spoke in words that could be understood.

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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.

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.

5.

An experience in my teens

From the mid 1990s  (when I was in my fifties) doubts began to accumulate in my mind as to the truth of materialism, that is, that matter and material energy is all that there is. Looking back at my life as a whole, there were a number of personal experiences I had which increased my doubts.

In my late teens I was on a ship anchored off Lisbon in the Tagus river in Portugal when I had a rather strange experience. We were lifting anchor and it was getting dark and the mate asked two of the crew to get a portable light from the number 1 hold. We were carrying a cargo of iron ore. When going down the ladder in the dark one of the men, who was from Glasgow, fell on to the iron ore and hurt himself quite badly. He was taken to hospital in Lisbon. The strange thing was that that morning as I was walking in the alley near his cabin I had a sudden ominous feeling about the person who was to have the accident.

The challenge

I often wondered afterwards, how could there be any knowledge of the future if everything is naturalistic. It didn’t fit in with the materialist hypothesis. Not much else happened in my twenties and thirties to threaten my belief in naturalism. Although one rather odd thing did happen in my early twenties when I was in lodgings in Inverness and working as a prison officer. I was standing in the lounge in the lodgings and thinking, okay God if you exist prove it to me. I looked down and there on an ashtray lying on the table was the word ‘Challenge’. It must have referred to a brand of whisky! I never imagined at the time that fifty years later the challenge would be met in an unbelievable way.

A weird coincidence

It was in the mid 1980s that something very strange happened. I had been thinking of the symbol of the ‘way’ for a long time and had wanted to write a poem on this theme. The way, or the tao, of course, has a long history as a symbol of a spiritual path in Eastern religions and in Christianity. It’s what Jung would call an archetype, something deep in the psyche which can have various consequences in the world of outer experience. I was deeply into Jung at the time.

Often the first lines of a poem would come to me and I would have to write them down or I would lose the poem. On the road from Inverness to Mull I stopped in Fort William for a bite to eat and as I waited for my food I started writing the verses ‘Mending the Road’. The ‘road’ of course is a metaphor for the ‘way’ or the ‘tao’,  and for me at the time the ‘way’, or life itself, seemed meaningless. It was ‘the road that goes nowhere’. I had written two thirds of the poem, but how would it finish? I didn’t know:

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(The cover of A’ Caradh an Rathaid)

Mending the road

With a yellow oilskin on / I mend the road, / and fill the holes / with tar and gravel. / I remember the tar / how the bubbles would break / in the heat of youth. / Now we / mend the road / that goes nowhere.// A man came who said: / Put it there, my friend – / the road breaks beneath our feet. / The heart’s tar hardens, / no sun to swell it. / It descends and climbs – / there is no ascent/salvation – / the only one for remedy. // A bird on the twig / singing by itself: little boy, little boy, / don’t worry, / don’t worry, / there is no road in the sky, / why do you mend / the road that goes nowhere? // The road is so devious / mobile, tortuous, / hidden from view, / the endless vein-webs / in the body of creation, / one moment so whole / and the next in smithereens.

In the restaurant, I had got as far as the word ‘smithereens’, and decided to finish the verses later. I went for a walk along the street and heard music coming from a bar. There I had a brief conversation with a middle-aged man. I had never met him in my life. To my astonishment he was a road worker who drove a lorry with aggregate for the road works outside Fort William. Another archetype for Jung was the wise old man. It was as if I had met the realization of the archetype in the flesh, and the archetype of the way was also at work. Later I finished the poem as follows:

 Don’t believe, don’t believe / that it goes nowhere / (said the old man of the road); / everything will ripen / and the heart will be satisfied / with a symbol, / with the arteries’ warm blood / and everything will arrive in its place / as in the beginning. For now, fill the holes / and go forward: / everyone must travel/pass on – / and be mending.

This incident, this meaningful coincidence, had a powerful effect on me. It made me wonder if there might be meaning to life after all.

Another coincidence

In the late 1980s a similar event happened while I was living in Mull. The family were away and I was on my own in the house. I very seldom went to church but this Saturday night in bed a verse came strongly to my mind and I had the urge to go to church in the morning. The verse was ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’.  When I went to church that was the very verse the man preached on. I was amazed.

I sat in the back seat and opened the Bible for the singing. It was the Free Church and there’s no notice to say which psalm they’re going to sing. The Bible opened at psalm 25. Seconds later the preacher announced the verses to be sung. It was psalm 25; they included verses 4-5: ‘Shew me thy ways, o Lord; / thy paths, o teach thou me: / And do thou lead me in the truth, / therein my teacher be: / For thou art God that dost / to me salvation send, / And I upon thee all the day / expecting do attend.

Was there something, someone, trying to tell me something? I was certainly being softened up from being a hard-nosed sceptic to a feeling that there might be something ‘beyond the veil’ after all.