Archives for posts with tag: Mircea Eliade

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.’

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(Contnd from entry 94)

stick in hall
(The stick in question Photo: M. Caimbeul)

Effect the fall of the stick had on me

The fall of the stick on five occasions was a profound experience for me. It shattered all the pretences I had in regarding the world from a naturalistic perspective. For both of us, what happened was no less than a miracle. Not merely was one of the fundamental laws of nature broken – the law of gravity – but the stick appeared to be giving us specific messages. I was awestruck. In my younger sceptical days I had wanted proof of the supernatural. Well, here was living proof of an extra-mundane dimension. But more was to come.

The loft access

Road to Damascus’ experiences

But before I carry on with the story, I should make one thing clear. As a Christian, I don’t believe ‘road to Damascus’ experiences are necessary for conversion. As far as I’m aware, most converts don’t have these experiences. What is important is the conviction of being a sinner before a holy God, true repentance and trusting in Jesus Christ, that he died for our sins and rose from the dead, and making a public confession. Everybody is different. I needed something that would break me from the post-Enlightenment scourge of naturalism. Not everybody does.

At the risk of repeating myself, the reason I’m telling our story is because it overturns and refutes the prevailing postmodernist world-view in the West, that there is no supernatural agency or dimension. There is and it has been proved to us beyond doubt in our lives. What I am about to recount is not explicable in naturalistic terms.

A reminder of what happened

A friend from Romania recommended a book to me The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade. In it Eliade discusses the sacred space. When something deemed to be sacred happened, the person or tribe would commemorate the occasion with a memorial of some kind. Such Jacob did at Bethel when God met with him in a dream. He used the stone on which he had lain his head as a memorial. Reading Eliade’s book reinforced an idea I had to have something to remind us of God’s dealings with us.

Table in hall
(The table in question Photo: M. Caimbeul)

The table placed in the hall

So at the end of 2009 I bought a small table and placed it in the hall with 4 items on it – a candle as a symbol of God, a Turin shroud image of Jesus, an image of the Madonna and child, and a white stone representing the Holy Spirit. (At the time I didn’t have a white dove, but I was to get one later.) This table was meant as a constant reminder of the presence of the Lord.

The first fall of the Jesus picture

On May 28 2012 something remarkable happened. I was walking past the table into the living room when the framed picture of Jesus fell off the table on to the floor. Margaret was in the living room on the other side of the wall from the the table and she heard the clatter. I was entering the living room. She could see that I wasn’t near the picture. We were both dumbstruck. We just didn’t know what it meant.

The phone call

Two minutes later, and before we could discuss it properly, the phone went. It was a poet friend from Wales. We were meant to go to Romania in September for poetry workshops. I had already booked the plane tickets with KLM. We chatted about what we would do in Romania. And all the time at the back of my mind was what had happened with the picture just minutes before, although I didn’t mention it to my friend. I was worried.

When I came off the phone, Margaret and I sat opposite each other with the same question on our minds, What did the fall of the picture mean? We were so worried that very reluctantly I cancelled the trip to Romania.

Bad and good news

It was exactly one month from the fall of the picture that it all began to make sense. The 28th June 2012 is etched on both our memories. It was the day Margaret was given a diagnosis of stomach cancer. The trip could not have happened because in September she was going through a course of chemotherapy. To our minds, the fall of the picture was a warning of what was to come.

Fortunately for Margaret, the cancer was at stage 1 and could be operated on. This happened in November 2012 and we thank God that she has made a full recovery.
(to be contnd)