Archives for posts with tag: Jesus


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.


(Photo: Steve Taylor)

Blog transfer

I was writing a blog for a number of years but the platform is closing down, so I’ve transferred my blogs to wordpress under the title Lifestory. The blogs I wrote (1 – 98) can be found below. Blog entries 1-28 tell the amazing things that happened after my wife became ill in 2012. It’s in the form of a diary telling what happened, but also thoughts on religion and philosophy.

Cutting the peats
Margaret, her father, her sister Mary Ann and two of her brothers at the peats in the 1960s

Portree harbour
A view of Portree harbour with the Cuillins in the background

More extracts from last year’s diary.

Thursday 22nd November 2012

The day of the operation

As I write this, it’s going on for 9pm. It’s been a stressful day as one would expect. We both woke up at 5am and couldn’t sleep again. Margaret was quite philosophical and calm. We went in to the hospital at 8am and they did some paperwork and took her blood pressure and yet another blood sample. The nurse couldn’t get the result of yesterday’s sample. Her blood pressure was nothing short of a miracle 137/66! Usually it’s in the 190s when it’s taken in hospital or by a doctor. And she hadn’t taken any pills. Well done Margaret. We said our goodbyes. There is always the worst case scenario in the back of our minds. What if something goes wrong and this is the end?

Off to the theatre

She walked off, accompanied by an auxiliary nurse to the theatre. The anaesthetist had seen her and told her what the procedure would be. She would get an epidural in the spine. That would help with the post-operative pain. Then she would get a general anaesthetic and she would be out for the count. After the operation she would be in the recovery room for some time and then be taken to the Surgical High Dependency Unit. I asked when it would be good to phone and the nurse said 3pm. They expected that she would be back in the SHDU by then.

Panic stations

I went back to the accommodation in Kyle Court, read for some time and then went down town to get a top-up for my mobile. I normally hardly ever use the mobile but this week it will be useful for phoning people. Later I went for lunch. I was praying for Margaret and thinking about her. I was sure God would be with her. At 3pm I phoned the SHDU from (Kyle Court) and Margaret hadn’t arrived there. Panic! Why was it taking her so long? Was there something wrong? I rushed over to the hospital, to the admissions lounge, where we had been in the morning, and asked the nurse at the desk what the reason for the delay might be. She didn’t know but she phoned someone and they said she was still in the recovery room. O well, at least she was still alive! She would be going to the SHDU soon she said, probably in the next half hour.

Operation over

I went to get a cup of tea in the hospital tearoom to pass the time and then went up to the SHDU. She was just being wheeled into the Unit. I had to wait some time while they settled her in but when I did see her, although she was sleepy and surrounded by tubes and monitoring equipment, she managed to speak and tell me how she felt. She was obviously relieved that the operation was over. Later when I came back to see her, she told me a doctor, who had been in the theatre team, was very reassuring and told her he thought they had got rid of the cancer completely. There were no complications and the cancer hadn’t spread, although they still had to wait for the pathologist’s report. We were both so relieved and praised God.

Tomorrow will be another day!

Sunday 25th November 2012

Knowing, doubting, despairing

I know I should written this diary on Friday and yesterday, but better late than never. Although, I must say it is better to write the diary for each day. So many things happen, so many thoughts easily forgotten, that unless you write them down on the day the sequence and many of the thoughts are forgotten. Of course, God is a constant in my mind and the story is always the story of how I relate to him. All the faith, the doubts, the knowing with absolute certainty, the doubting, the despairing … The process of being with Margaret and seeing her in the condition that she’s in brings home to me the existence of God with a stern immediacy.

Sips of water

Friday and Saturday weren’t as stressful as Thursday. I saw Margaret on Friday afternoon and in the evening. Naturally, she looked much less doped up than on Thursday although she was attached to all sorts of tubes and monitoring equipment. She was able to talk quite freely. We looked at each other and both appreciated that she was still alive. She was able to take sips of water, up to 30 ml an hour. She had a bit of moderate pain in her stomach. After I had been to see her, I phoned or e-mailed her relatives to let them know how she was.

No complications

Margaret is now being allowed to drink more water, which is a good thing. It amazes me how well she is looking. She saw the surgeon on Saturday morning. He told her the operation had gone as expected, without complications. They removed three quarters of the stomach. She would be in the SHDU for a few more days, he said.

A chat with a stranger

Yesterday, I went down town for my lunch at the Eastgate Centre. A man sat opposite me at the table. We chatted and after a while I told him about Margaret and that she was in hospital. I also told him a little of our story and some of the weird and wonderful things that have happened to us. He was a believer himself and went to church regularly. We agreed that things like what happened to us, like the picture falling, might be of great relevance for us, but not necessarily for others. I found that most interesting, for it brought home to me how very true that is. Even trans-physical effects that happen in our lives don’t necessarily mean a thing to other people. In fact, it might have a negative effect because they may think we’re a) lying b) trying to be special or c) that we’re mentally sick or deluded.

A personal proof

Many people will never understand that (because I was so sceptical and agnostic and thinking along the lines that religion was all in the mind) I really needed trans-physical intervention to bring me to my senses. I really now feel as if I have proof of a dimension beyond time and space, but the proof is probably only for me and Margaret.

The Satan of doubt

Even after everything that has happened, I am still troubled sometimes by the Satan of doubt. Certainly, it is not doubt as before. I place two huge visions side by side: one is the irresistible evidence that the universe was created by a super intelligence who communicates with humanity, the irresistible evidence being scientific and personal. The other from the Satan of doubt is the terrifying vision of the law of the jungle, nature red in tooth and claw, a merciless, unthinking world of predator and prey; endless suffering during the aeons of evolution; just chance and necessity, a totally meaningless world.

That second vision created doubt in my mind for decades. Thankfully, the powerful personal experiences I’ve had plus contemplation of the natural world and the discoveries of science have convinced me of the existence of Almighty God.

Monday 26th November 2012

The Maggie’s Centre

In the morning I phoned the SHDU and was told Margaret would be moving to the main ward in the afternoon. There’s a Maggie’s Centre beside the hospital and I went there while I was waiting to go and see Margaret. Spoke to a lady there from Dundee and who worked in a Maggie’s Centre in that city. She told me of other patients she had known with gastro-intestinal (GI) cancers in a GI support group in Dundee. It was good to speak with her and get a little information on what Margaret might expect, although, of course, everyone is different.

Soup and custard

When I visited Margaret, I was delighted with the progress she had made. All the tubes and monitoring equipment were off her and she had taken some soup and custard. I was amazed! She was still in the SHDU, not because she had to be, but because Ward 4C was full. She would have to wait until tomorrow. I praised God for the progress she was making.

The book of Daniel

Yesterday was a rather special day for me. For some time God has been speaking to me through the book of Daniel. I have wondered, what with Margare
t’s illness and everything else, whether maybe the trust I have in God is a delusion. When I have asked God the question what it all means he has taken me to Daniel 9:20-23 where the angel Gabriel speaks to Daniel. Verse 23 says: ‘At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.’

Looking for a nearby church to go to

On Sunday morning I listened to the Gaelic service on the radio. The reading was Revelation 1and the verse for the sermon was verse 8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” I hadn’t been sure what church to go to in Inverness and I had thought of Ness Bank Church of Scotland. I looked it up on the internet and decided to go. In order to get there I had to go via the Crown district. I passed the Crown Church of Scotland and decided that it was easier to park there. And so I went to the service there.

Alpha and Omega

I was so glad I did. I felt that the service was made for me. The readings were Daniel 7: 9-14; Revelation 1: 4-8 and John 18: 28-38. The minister spoke of Daniel’s and John’s vision of the one ‘who is and who was and who is to come’ and of Alpha and Omega. It was as if God was directly speaking to me deliberately destroying any doubts I had from the previous day. Daniel’s vision of the son of man – or ‘the human being’ – whose ‘dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed’ is a most powerful vision realised in the life and resurrection of Jesus. I have now started reading the amazing book of Daniel.

Tuesday 27th November 2012

Porridge, toast and shepherd’s pie

In the morning, I added to the diary and then went down town to get a battery for Margaret’s watch. The battery had run out and she was missing having a watch. Not so important in the main ward, mind you, as there is clock there she can see. I visited Margaret as usual at 2.30 and was really pleased to see how well she is getting on. She is now free of all tubes and she had porridge and toast for breakfast and some shepherd’s pie for lunch. I could hardly believe it! Only five days since the operation and already she is eating solid food. Mistakenly, I thought she would only be getting soups and liquid food for some time. If she keeps going with her progress, I’m hopeful she will get out at the weekend. Three of her sisters are coming – from Lewis and Glasgow – tomorrow to visit her. She is looking forward to that.

Proof of Heaven

I bought a book today called Proof of Heaven by Dr Eben Alexander, although I don’t really like the title (not proof surely, but evidence. There are many books nowadays about near death experiences (NDEs) and if it was a run of the mill NDE book I certainly wouldn’t have bought it. What makes this one different is that it’s written by an eminent American neurosurgeon who was in a coma for seven days and who recalled the most amazing experiences while in the coma. The blurb on the back says:

The book’s blurb

Eminent neurosurgeon Dr Eben Alexander always considered himself a man of science. His unwavering belief in evidence-based medicine fuelled a career in some of the top institutions in the world. But all that was set to change.

One morning in 2008 he fell into a coma after suffering a rare form of bacterial meningitis. Scans of his brain revealed massive damage. He was not expected to survive. As has family prepared themselves for the worst, something miraculous happened. Dr Alexander’s brain went from near total inactivity to awakening. He woke a changed man, certain of the infinite reach of the soul, certain of a life beyond death.

In this astonishing book, Dr Alexander shares his experience, pieced together from notes he made as soon as he was able to write again. Unlike many other accounts of near-death experiences, he is able to explain why his brain was incapable of fabricating his journey into the afterlife.

A gripping story

The last sentence is probably the most important. Here is a professional brain surgeon who is convinced that there are no naturalistic explanations for what he experience while in the coma.

Dr Bruce Greyson, Carlson Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the University of Virginia School of Medicine says of the book: “Proof of Heaven is a gripping story, unique in the literature of spiritual experience, that may well change how we understand our role in the universe.”

Wednesday 28th November 2012

Counting blessings

Yesterday I was writing the diary in the morning. I received an e-mail from our minister. He expects to be in Inverness tomorrow and will visit Margaret. I visited her as usual in the afternoon. She is making good progress although she was a bit tired. In hospital, Margaret sees many cancer patients who are in a much worse condition than she is. She can certainly count her blessings. She is really very fortunate that they caught the malignancy so early. It gives us hope. Margaret had various visitors today, two sisters who travelled from Lewis and another sister from Glasgow. Her granddaughter from Lewis was also in to visit her at night.

Thursday 29th November 2012

Delighted to be getting home

Great news this morning. Margaret is getting home tomorrow. I found this out when I phoned her this morning and was totally surprised to hear the news. I went to see her in the afternoon. She was delighted to be getting home. I hope she will be okay for sitting in the car all the way back to Skye. She had visits from our own minister and from two members of the local congregation. They do hospital visits every Thursday. Everyone is surprised at how well Margaret is getting on and how she is able to eat any kind of food she wants, although in small portions.

The consciousness question

After reading Dr Alexander’s book it strikes me with greater force than ever that a key question is the consciousness question. It is either a product of the brain, say an epiphenomenon, or the brain is merely a conduit, a reducing channel, for something much more basic and wider. To me, it’s becoming ever clearer that it must be the latter. ‘Overwhelmingly clear’ would not be too strong a phrase. The information we see in the information-rich universe is not created by our brain consciousness but by another consciousness external to us.

Life – a horror to be endured or an eternal journey?

What link does this have to human suffering? If part of us, as consciousness, survives death could it mean that this life is meant to be a place of evolution of the soul? Learning through suffering … But what if some people see death as the absolute end? Then life ultimately means nothing. Suffering is a horror to be endured until there is at last relief in death. But if consciousness is more than ‘of the brain’ then this existence could be part of an eternal journey. And the suffering would have a deep meaning because it is through suffering that we learn the most valuable lessons. The meaning of the suffering is learned through the process of suffering. Suffering makes one look to the Creator of suffering and the Creator of love. For it is in the midst of suffering that we learn the meaning of love. Love is ultimately the gift of God, for God is Love.

At the peats
Margaret lighting the fire for the tea when cutting peats in the 1960s

Carloway Cattle Show
Carloway, Isle of Lewis, cattle show in the 1960s

In today’s diary extracts I mention some of the books I was reading last year, an after-dinner speech we were at, and Margaret’s preparation for the operation.

Monday 12th November 2012

The social media – a potential force for good

The social media are a marvellous means of communication. No doubt, as with everything, they can be used for good or ill. But they are a potential huge force for good. Globalisation. We know what is happening on the other side of the world in minutes. They bring the human race together in a manner undreamt of even 50 years ago. I use Facebook and it was on FB I learned about the American author Richard Rohr. The Scottish poet Andrew Philip, sometimes puts up Christian quotations from Rohr and I was interested enough to buy one of his books, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. I’m glad I did. It’s fascinating.

Richard Rohr – a Roman Catholic in the Franciscan tradition

I’ve discovered that Rohr is a Roman Catholic in the Franciscan tradition. He looks on the Bible as a mystical text. It is a means of discovering about yourself and the true nature of the human / God relationship. It’s a book of profound depth and a book that I’ll be reading again and again. Although I happen to go to a Protestant church – the Free Curch of Scotland – from now on I’ll be thinking of myself as a Free Church Franciscan! Rohr talks of the apophatic and the kataphatic tradition within his church. The kataphatic refers to knowing the divine through seeing God in nature, public worship, the rosary, church singing, religious icons and so on. The apophatic refers to the hidden God of the mystics, where God is hidden and we approach him through inner transformation. The two traditions, of course, are linked and overlap in the life of the believer.

‘A bunch of ideas … or a new set of eyes’

The way Rohr talks of the Bible resonates with me. It is not a text for the literalist but a spiritual text which, read properly, will lead to an inner transformation. This is what Rohr does in the book; he leads us to key texts in the Bible and invites us to see the texts in the context of the Bible as a whole and in the context of one’s own spiritual life. He says, and this is key to the way he looks at the Bible: ‘The trouble is that we have made the Bible into a bunch of ideas – about which we can be right or wrong – rather than a new set of eyes.’ How very true.

Inge and Christian Mysticism

I’ve also been reading another book called Christian Mysticism by William Ralph Inge who was once Dean of St Paul’s. They are a series of lectures, The Bampton Lectures, delivered in the University of Oxford in 1899. Inge looks in depth at what mysticism is and how Christian mysticism developed from other forms, including eastern and Greek mysticism. His is a very learned look at mysticism (he is always dropping in Greek and Latin quotations) but he obviously knew his stuff and was extremely well-read in ancient texts.

‘Ridiculous fables’

He has an interesting caveat in the Preface. He does not want a Mysticism that would clash with modern science and, speaking particularly of the Roman Catholic church, he says: “Those who find edification in signs and wonders of this kind, and think that such ‘supernatural phenomena,’ even if they were well authenticated instead of being ridiculous fables, could possibly establish spiritual truths, will find little or nothing to interest them in these pages. But those who reverence Nature and Reason, and have no wish to hear of either of them being ‘overruled’ or ‘suspended,’ will, I hope, agree with me in valuing highly the later development of mystical thought in Northern Europe.”

Inge – a child of his age?

My first reaction was ‘a child of his age.’ The date is 1899 and he is probably influenced by the prevailing mechanistic Newtonian science of the 19th century. But I also had to laugh after all the ‘supernatural’ phenomena that have occurred in mine and Margaret’s life. He might be right when he says that they cannot ‘establish spiritual truths’, meaning dogmas of faith. They cannot be as precise as that. But that signs and wonders can happen and that they can have meaning for the person involved, I am absolutely certain. Before the age of 50, I couldn’t have made that statement. Of course, wonder or sign is not the interior life itself and Inge is quite right in pointing that out. The inner relationship with God in Christ is anterior to and more important than any sign. But a sign, especially a trans-physical sign, can be a huge help in helping the person who has doubts. The work has already started: the sign is confirmation.

Sunday 18th November 2012

An after dinner speech

We were in Inverness on Friday at the Inverness Gaelic Society annual dinner in the Kingsmills Hotel. I wanted to give Margaret a treat before her operation, which is next Thursday. Professor Donald MacLeod, who is the society chieftain for this year, gave the after-dinner talk on the theme ‘Chuala mi’ (I heard). His talk was in English and he recalled the Island of Lewis in the 1940s and the changes that have taken place since then. He also mentioned the changes that have taken place with the Free Church. At the October Royal National Mod in Dunoon, a Free Church Minister’s wife won the traditional gold medal. That would have been taboo a generation ago. Minister’s wives wouldn’t attend a Mod, never mind competing in the singing competitions. Interestingly, he also said that although the church was more open about the arts that the same wasn’t true of the attitude of the arts to the church.

A bit of luxury

Our room in the hotel was fantastic. Huge room, huge bed and a door opening on to the gardens. With the day of the operation looming, this bit of luxury is worthwhile. ‘If I come out of it alive,’ Margaret sometimes says. And then, ‘O well, I’ll be in a better place.’ It’s ridiculous, she feels so well. She is going into hospital feeling okay and she will come out feeling ill. But then we say, ‘That’s the nature of cancer. You can feel well just now but if you let it go it will make you ill later.’ We hope and pray. It’s all we can do.

Tuesday 20th November 2012

Inverness again

Tomorrow we will be leaving for Inverness in the morning. Margaret’s daughter is coming from Stornoway and meeting us for lunch and going back the same day. Margaret is going for a pre-med. at Raigmore at 4pm. We stay in Kyle Court adjacent to the hospital on Wednesday night and Margaret goes into hospital on Thursday morning and she will have her operation sometime on Thursday. It will be a very worrying time.

Wind and grass

Today is a day of preparation, thinking what we will need and also mental and spiritual preparation. There is nothing like the thought of our own mortality to focus the mind. And there are always the coincidences. On Sunday morning we had a visiting preacher. The chapter he read, Ephesians 1, was our reading on Saturday evening. The first psalm was 103 verses 8-16 but leaving out verses 14-15. Verse 16 goes ‘For over it the wind does pass, / and it away is gone; / And of the place where once it was / it shall no more be known.’ We had been discussing this very verse on the road to Inverness on Friday.

A staff nurse from the hospital phoned today to see if there was any change with Margaret’s health. After her operation, when she is in intensive care, which will be for two days, ‘all being well’, visiting hours will be as normal, that is, 2-4
and 6-8pm. I’ll also be able to visit her at other times if necessary.

Wednesday 21st November 2012

Peasan (Rascal) the cat

Margaret had to get a blood test yesterday because the Monday one hadn’t worked out. She was given a label on her wrist with an identification number. We left the house today about 8am. We had to take Peasan, the cat, to the cattery. So funny how she seems to know that she’s going to go there. The only clue she has is that we have packed our bags and are preparing to go. What does she do? She comes out from under the duvet and hides behind the couch in the living room. She does this every time she thinks we are going to put her in the cattery. It’s as if she’s reading our thoughts. She tries to escape but she knows it’s useless because the doors and windows are all shut. Poor Peasan!

Pre-operation procedures

We take our bags to the accommodation at the hospital and go to the admissions lounge in the hospital for 4pm. We thought we would be seeing the surgeon and the anaesthetist but Margaret won’t see them till tomorrow morning. She is to be in for 8am and the operation is scheduled for 8.45am. There was a nurse there in the admissions lounge and she took some particulars. She also took Margaret’s blood pressure which was a remarkable 146/62. Amazing, given the situation! Later the registrar came in and told Margaret about the operation and mentioned some of the risks involved. She signed the consent form. As the time for the operation draws near, the pressure increases. Margaret says that her trust in the Lord keeps her calm, and I believe her. Lord help her and be with her tomorrow.

Gingerich and the evolving universe

I’m reading a book God’s Universe by Owen Gingerich, who was a professor of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard for many years. The book is based on three talks he gave on the links between science and religion. Gingerich himself is a Christian, but a Christian who believes in evolution and the scientific method. I found his analysis of how science is evidence – not proof – of a supreme creative intelligence very helpful. His thinking on intermediate and final causes strikes a cord with me, e.g. the way the elements necessary for life were formed in the evolving stellar universe.

Quiraing, Skye

The’fangs’ of the Quiraing from the north.

Ceumannan (Footsteps)

The north ‘gateway’ to the Staffin ecomuseum, Isle of Skye

More snippets from last year’s Diary

Tuesday 23rd October 2012

A date for the operation

Margaret has been given a date for her operation. It is Thursday, November 15th. We are both very aware of what the operation entails. She will be in intensive care or high dependency for two days and be in hospital for a week to ten days. After such an operation, it is a long convalescence, six months to a year. We don’t know what is ahead of us. If it wasn’t for Margaret’s faith, she would be in a much worse situation. She has said as much herself more than once, she would be in a terrible place without her faith in God. God has so often spoken to her in so many wonderful ways. I can see myself that to be a great comfort for her. And for me as well. Despite the suffering, what wonderful experiences we have been through together. The feeling that there is a spiritual dimension beyond this one, and yet interpenetrating this world, is overwhelming.

Thursday 25th October 2012

‘The four worlds’ again

So talking of the four worlds, as I have been, (nature, man’s creation, history and the present moment) is seeing things from a human perspective. Because, in reality, all four ‘worlds’ are really one, in and from the Origin, they can be thought of, from a human point of view, as a loop. The important thing is that the God, who is outside time, enters time in the present moment of the living heart. Why? Because we are mind and consciousness and God is the eternal consciousness. We are but drops in this universal ocean. Like a spark from a fire we rise up from him and descend again into him. Although the world is contingent, it stems from an eternal necessary being.

Monday 29th October 2012

Christianity explored

We went to Christianity Explored on Friday. Most of the people there were already Christians, although there were perhaps two who weren’t members of a church. Christianity Explored is, as far as I can see, to help people who are not sure, to make up their minds and to believe. It would probably work better in the city where there is anonymity and people can come and then disappear again. In the rural setting of the village people are probably reluctant to come because everyone knows everyone else and if you start something like this you have already partly committed yourself, or at least expressed an interest.

Monday 5th November 2012

Trusting in God

Less than three weeks to go now until Margaret’s operation and the nearer we get to it the more worried, I suppose, we become. The worst is always the unknown, the not knowing. How will the operation go? What will it be like after the operation? We sit down and talk about it sometimes. We talk about how God has dealt with us in the past. All the signs and marvellous things that have happened to us. We are astonished that God should bother with sinful people like us. But unless we are completely deluded, he has and he does. Again and again things happen that astonish us. We see how God has been in control of our lives even before, perhaps especially before, we started putting our trust in him.

God – real or self-delusion?

I can only speak for myself. I know how I was for many years. I’m thinking of my state of mind. I didn’t really believe in God. I did things whose memory now, before God, makes me feel ashamed. I lived as if there was no God, only God as an idea, not a living reality. Naturally, in that state I didn’t see God working in my life. Now, it’s different. Because I now believe and trust God in Jesus, I see his hand everywhere. Is this self-delusion? Or are we both deluded? I don’t think so. Why? Because far too many things have happened and keep happening to us which can only be explained if there is a God. I’m thinking of how we met first, how we were later brought together, the amazing coincidences which happened and keep happening, how the Bible speaks to us and the trans-physical events which have accompanied all this. This is all the more remarkable when I remember the type of mind I had, namely, a philosophical sceptical mind which questioned everything. I was determined not to be taken in by the naivety of believers! And yet, now, I am one of these believers myself. And because of the experiences I have gone through.

When we think of these experiences, Margaret and I feel an assurance that, whatever happens, all is for the best. It is not a naive assurance but one qualified by all that has happened to us.

C.S. Lewis –‘intellectual assent’ or ‘trust’

This week I’ll be preparing for the radio programme Smuain na Maidne (Morning Thought). Not difficult because I’ll be doing it for National Book Week and will discuss some of the books I’ve been reading recently. One of them has been C.S. Lewis’s essay collection Faith, Christianity and the Church. Lewis, for me, is a fascinating writer because he’s an orthodox Christian and at the same time subtle in his analyses of issues and he’s splendidly learned, and, better still, carries his learning lightly. In his article ‘Is Theism Important?’ he discusses faith and makes the useful distinction between faith which is mere ‘intellectual assent’ and, secondly, ‘a trust, or confidence, in the God whose existence is thus assented to.’ This strikes me as a very useful distinction. To be daily waiting upon the Lord and relying upon him in all sorts of ways, as friend, judge, creator, adviser, is very different to merely giving intellectual assent to the proposition’ ‘There is a God.’ To have a relationship with the living God, as a person who revealed himself through Jesus, is entirely different to just believing that there is a God.

God’s time

Because of the personal experiences I’ve had, I believe in this kind of God who in his own way and in his own time communicates with human beings. ‘In his own time’ is vitally important. God cannot be used. The initiative is always with God. God ‘stoops’ to our level and it happens when we least expect it or when we have given up. When we stop relying on our own brains or whatever, God steps in.

Coming through the snow

When we came home on Saturday night (we had been to a ceilidh) it began to snow heavily. We came over the Bealach (pass) of the Quiraing. Anyone who knows the Quiraing will know how steep and twisting the road is in parts. It was horrendous coming down the Staffin side. I slowed to a crawl. Margaret was ready to jump out of the car; she is terrified of snow because of an accident she had involving snow years ago. However, we got home safely and praised the Lord for it. We did our evening reading which includes a sequential reading of the psalms. It so happened that the reading was psalm 68 verses 13-19 which includes the lines ‘When the Almighty scattered the kings in the land / it was like snow fallen on Zalmon’ and ‘The chariots of God are tens of thousands / and thousands of thousands.’ But verse 19 was probably the most appropriate: ‘Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, / who daily bears our burdens. / Our God is a God who saves; / from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.’ We pray that it may be so!

We pray it may be so
When the whirlwind descends
On our desert, may your chariot
Take us to the silent stream
Out of the wind and heat;
Your presence there stilling
The pool, and reflections
Of the evergreen tree
Saying, ‘Be still, and know
That I am God.’ Be still,
Be still, O heart, and know.

Dawkin’s The God Delusion

In last year’s Diary I discussed Richard Dawkins and his book The God Delusion. I describe my doubts about writing the Diary and how apparently I got confirmation that I should continue.

Christ in a postmodern age

Postmodernism is a term which is remarkably fuzzy, it could, more or less, mean anything but one thing it does appear to imply is that a person comes to his own ‘truth’, whatever that ‘truth’ is. This has percolated into everyday thinking, streaming originally from philosophy, and influencing art, literature, film, architecture and even religion. I could say a lot about postmodernism but I won’t except to say that an exploration of postmodernist philosophy is liable to leave the reader all at sea and without any moral or even human foundation. The exploration of this chaos of ideas led me to Christ, the Logos, as the ground datum of existence. The God who stooped to the level of the human, in fact who assumed human form and suffers in our suffering.

To counteract the postmodern fog and its plasticity, the challenge is to experience this trans-physical Christ in the lived life. One believes and then one experiences. Christ is the eternal foundation of which we can have a personal experience in our own lives. He is a person and the foundation of all personhood. Martin Heideggar (1889-1976), an important forerunner of postmodern thought, talks a lot about Dasein or Being. Well, in Christ true Being is realised and we, as humans, can partake in that Being.

Saturday 20th October 2012

Richard Dawkins and The God Delusion

Some weeks ago, I was asked to do a review of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. His book is an international best-seller. If it is meant to rationally challenge a believer’s faith, it fails dismally to do so. In fact the book is proof, if proof is needed that the world desperately needs Christ and a true Christian piety. If Dawkins, with his hatred of religion, his loud-mouthed arrogance, his absolute certainty that only his view of the world can be right, is an example of the new atheistic age, then God help us. The book is proof that a Christ-centred peace-loving religion is needed.

An absolute faith in a physical monisn

He starts off with absolute faith in a monist view that there is only one material from which the world, life and consciousness arose and that material, in his view, is physical. Any evidence that might challenge that view is dismissed as delusion. Because he starts off with and is stuck with his monist faith, regardless of evidences to the contrary, his book is an exercise in polemics and totally worthless. For example, he doesn’t allow that personal experience is of any worth as evidence for the existence of God. Yet millions of people have had these experiences and have attested to the reality of God in their lives. Many have experienced miracles, that is, events which happen that appear to be contrary to the ‘laws of nature.’ But because miracles cannot be proved scientifically, in Dawkin’s eyes they haven’t happened. In other words, his mind is closed to anything outside of what can be scientifically determined. Everything must have a naturalistic explanation. He is an advocate of scientism, which Collins Dictionary defines as ‘the uncritical application of scientific methods to inappropriate fields of study.’

‘Queerer than we can suppose’

Unhappily, it’s only after 400 odd pages of turgid and often boring prose that Dawkins admits that he might not have perfect understanding after all. He comes to that admission in the face of quantum mechanics. He quotes J. B. S. Haldane ‘Now, my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose …’ Why didn’t he admit that at the beginning. It would have saved him from writing 400 pages in a hectoring ‘I know more than you’ tone.’ So much for the scientific method as practised by Professor Dawkins.

Monday 22nd October 2012

Why bother?

I sometimes have wondered about writing this diary. Why do I bother? I say to myself. It will probably never see the light of day, and if it does and somebody reads it, will they believe what I’ve written? I myself find it hard to believe all that has happened to us. I was up till the age of fifty (like Dawkins) apt to look at the world in naturalistic terms. I believe this is the way many people in the West, if not most, look on the world today. For them the world of miracles is long past. Educated modern Western people just don’t believe in miracles. That belongs to a credulous past age when people were poorly educated and would believe almost anything, especially if they were told it by an authoritative body like the church.

Personal proof of a trans-physical side to the world

Now, I cannot claim not to be ‘educated’. I have a degree from one of the top universities. I have been an omnivorous reader from my youth and have authored numerous books. I have always had a very sceptical turn of mind. I consider myself to be an unlikely candidate to be deluded. And yet I can now say, hand on heart, that I am convinced that there is a trans-physical side to the world. (I don’t like using the the word ‘supernatural’, as it has all the wrong connotations.) And the reason I can say that is the amazing personal experiences I have had, especially since meeting and marrying Margaret.

Gabriel brings an answer

I have had doubts about writing this, as I have just said. One other doubt I have, and the most important one, is: Is this God’s will? Does he want me to tell what is happening to us? Yesterday was a day of such doubts and I asked God to give me a sign that I was doing his will. I opened the Bible and it opened at Daniel 9: 20-23. The Bible is the ESV (Crossway) and the scriptures are broken up with headings. The heading is ‘Gabriel Brings an Answer.’

Daniel’s vision

The verses read: ‘While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before the Lord my God for the holy hill of my God, while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the evening sacrifice. He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision.’

A confirmation of what I had to do

I was greatly affected by this because I believe the universe is in the palm of his hand and it is possible for God to do anything, and to see everything from an eternal perspective. Things that happen in time might surprise us, but they are no surprise to God. I was greatly encouraged by these verses, for I had just asked God to confirm or otherwise whether I should carry on with this diary. Margaret was in the living room on the laptop at the time. She was looking up the address of a patient whom she had met in hospital. I had gone to the kitchen and she shouted me through. ‘Look’, she said, ‘what’s on the computer.’ At first I didn’t see what she was talking about. Then I saw a website advert at the side. It said FOLLOWGABRIEL. I was surprised and not surprised. Not surprised because similar things just keep happening. I praised the Lord for giving me such a sign and for confirming what I had to do. Of course, the unbeliever would say that such coincidences are ‘selection effects’, the natural bias we have for selecting what suits us from the mass of information surrounding us. To believe or not believe that is the question! Well, it has been and always will be like that. It is
up to the individual to interpret what happens to him or her.

Humbled before God

Not that I consider myself to be a ‘Daniel’ or a prophet or anything else! But I do feel humbled once more before the almighty and merciful Lord God of heaven. I will carry on writing this testimony of what God is doing for us.

The colours of night sing his praises,
The colours of day proclaim his presence
Lord of unerring aim
Single out my heart for the arrow of your love.
Write your praises on my tears
Joy and sorrow mingle
In the infinite river flowing
From the unseen to the seen.
O most holy One,
Praise to your ever mighty name!
Creator of flower and stone,
Of sun and star and unending light
Let it shine into this shadow of sorrow.

Trans-physical happenings

Today’s three Diary entries from last year describe how a framed picture of the Turin-shroud Jesus fell off the table and why we think it fell, the theme of the sermon on Sunday and a trip to the hospital in Fort William.

Saturday 13th October 2012

Loch Hasco
Loch Hasco in the shadow of Cnoc Hasco, above Flodigarry

The effects of chemotherapy

Margaret tires very easily as a result of the chemotherapy. Her third and last chemo session finished on the 28th September. The chemo seems to have a cumulative effect. This time her throat was very sore, so sore that she couldn’t eat solid food for a week. Also she had very painful blisters in her mouth which meant that she had to drink through a straw. Her throat and mouth are now very much better and she is able to eat again. She likes to keep herself busy in the house, in fact she hates to sit down for too long. She’s a doer and likes to be physically active, unlike her ‘lazy’ husband who sits working at the computer most of the time!

The picture of Jesus falls again

So, despite being tired and not fully recovered, she decided to get the hoover out and she had plans to do some gardening. There was a bag of bulbs in the cupboard in front of her. Just as she was taking the hoover out, the framed picture of the Turin-shroud Jesus fell with a clatter off the table behind her and on to the floor. She was about two feet away from the picture, which is in a heavy frame and can’t possibly fall off on its own. I was at the computer in the room a few feet away and I heard the noise and Margaret saying ‘Good heavens’. The tone of voice told me there was something wrong. I went out to see what had happened. I could see for myself. The picture was lying face upwards on the floor.

Questioning why it fell

The previous two times the picture fell we tried to work out why it had fallen. In retrospect, we think we know why the picture fell the first time. It was telling us not to go to Romania. We cancelled the trip and on the 28th of June Margaret got her diagnosis and it became all too clear – at least that’s how it seemed to us – that we had been right. The picture falling was a warning not to go. The second time it fell Margaret’s interpretation was also that the picture was telling her not to do something. On that occasion, not to buy cigarettes. If that interpretation was correct, it showed that God, or his spirit messengers, is caring for Margaret.

This third time, Margaret isn’t so sure why the picture fell. Was it telling her to take it easy? She was feeling tired and it would probably have exhausted her. Or was it telling her not to bother planting the bulbs … that she would not see them? Whatever it was, it stopped her in her tracks and she had a restful day.

Sunday 14th October 2012

All in God’s plan

A person came to church today for the first time. The minister preached from Luke 18: 35-43 where the blind beggar received his sight. Unusually for the minister, he mentioned from the pulpit that he had another sermon prepared but that he had been moved to change his sermon and instead to preach from Luke 18. Later we found out that he had prepared the sermon that afternoon just before coming to church. As we came out from church, we met the the person, who was astonished. (S)he had been reading Luke 18 that afternoon. The minister firmly believes that everything is in God’s plan. When things like that happen, it indeed confirms the hand of God in things.

Wednesday 17th October 2012

A trip to Fort William

We were in Fort William today at the Belford Hospital where Margaret got a CAT scan. This is procedure after the chemotherapy to check whether there has been any change in her condition. You’re not allowed to take food for six hours before the scan, only clear liquids. We arrived too early in Fort William and went to a cafe. Poor Margaret had to watch me eating a bacon roll while she had a drink of water. Later, in the hospital, the schedule was running late but she got the scan in the end. The consultant himself wasn’t in the hospital, but had a clinic in Broadford in Skye. The nurse told us he would be happy to see us. We would pass Broadford Hospital on the way home and we could call in. By that time the results of the scan would be in the system.

The result of the scan

When we arrived at the hospital in Broadford we waited for some time. There is nothing worse than waiting for such a result. One tends to think the worst, at least I do; what if the cancer has spread? The Fort William consultant and the Broadford surgeon ushered into a consulting room. They soon reassured us. The scan didn’t show any spread and the cancer was confined to the stomach. Margaret would have to prepare herself for the operation by exercising as much as she could to keep her fit. It would be sub-total gastrectomy, a major procedure.

We left the hospital, relieved that the chemotherapy appeared to have worked. We stopped for a meal in Portree on the way home. Margaret is aware that she won’t be able to eat big meals after the operation. The meals she is eating now are doubly sweet!