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


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.


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.