Archives for posts with tag: the profane


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.


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.’


Loch Hàsco below the Quiraing


A recap


In my previous blog I commented on the implications for the Christian of Chagall’s images in the painting White Crucifixion and also the image of the vividly red barbed wire, one of 5 photos I received from my friend Scott Murray on the day I wrote the commentary on the painting (blog 60).
A brief recap of what happened: I had finished writing the blog on Sunday afternoon of 18th August when the 5 photos came from Scott. He had no idea what the subject of my blog was, yet the images he sent fitted perfectly with what I was saying. It was as if the risen Christ was saying: ‘Look, what you have written is incomplete, I will provide the rest.’ Not only that, but when Scott was taking the photo of the barbed wire that afternoon, the words from a Bob Dylan lyric came to him ‘She walked up to me so gracefully and took my crown of thorns’ etc and also the thought of Easter.


Flower of the Okra plant (2)


(Photo: Scott Murray)


The cross and the rope


Here I want to comment on the 4 other photos Scott sent and their possible spiritual and metaphorical significance. One is of masses of rope tied to the wreck of a boat in Vatersay. The vertical timber and the horizontal strake make a cross. The cross and the strake behind have red paint on them. There are pieces of old dried jagged seaweed on the cross. For me the red paint symbolizes the blood that was missing from Chagall’s cross. The jagged seaweed could symbolize thorns. The rope could symbolize the bondage of the Jews and of mankind. They are everything that Chagall’s sanitized cross is not. His is a tau cross, shaped like a T. This one has an obvious upper arm.


The window-pane with ice drops


There is a photo of a window-pane with icicles and frozen drops of rain. The icicles and ice drops are beautifully coloured, shades of violet and white against a dark background. Considering that the subject of Chagall’s painting is the approaching Holocaust, this image is a powerful memorial of that unimaginable horror.


Cùl nan Cnoc from Rubha nam Bràithrean




Chains on top of a strainer in Vatersay


Of all five images, perhaps this is the most intriguing and, for me, the most profound. The post represents the axis mundi or the cosmic tree. It is a symbol of the connection of heaven, or the world of the Sacred, with earth. Mircea Eliade, a major historian of religion, discusses this symbolism in his book The Sacred and the Profane. He acknowledges the disconnect between how contemporary human beings see the world in secular terms only, in contrast to the past where the world only had meaning in terms of the Sacred.
So, for me, this post in Vatersay represents this axis mundi. But it is in poor shape, as befits a world where the Holocaust could happen. The chains represent the Nazis’ total rejection of the Sacred. They are completely cut off from Heaven and the Sacred. The chains could also symbolize bondage, the bondage of the Jews by the Nazis and also how the Nazis were in their own form of bondage, the bondage of evil.


Sweet pea


(Photo: Scott Murray)


The barbed wire and the web


The last image is the barbed wire and the partial spider’s web. Is it being constructed or destroyed? Whatever, it is a powerful image and it awakens many ideas of what it could mean or represent. A spider’s web is of course a symbol of prey and a victim. That they were a victim was true of European Jewry as it was true of Jesus on the cross. Yet Jesus was victim only temporarily. He is now victor and Lord. He is the true axis mundi.


The apparently weak web is in contrast to the strong and cruel barbed wire. But the web symbolizes love and faith. The wire though strong and cruel is dead. The web is of the living and will survive long after the wire is rust. The Jews survived despite the Nazi onslaught. The Sacred in the end is stronger than the profane, despite all appearances to the contrary.