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Christian Viewpoint: Symbol represents not lightening from heaven but grace and peace


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The life of an early gospel bearer inspired a commemoration.
The life of an early gospel bearer inspired a commemoration.

A small group marked the anniversary of the historic meeting of St Columba with the Pictish King Brude at the site where it was said to have taken place, writes John Dempster.

It’s the 1500th anniversary of the birth of this pioneer who brought Christian faith to what is now Inverness.

I’ve been reading a new novel by Martin C Haworth which vividly brings to life the challenges facing the early gospel-bearers. Chosen Wanderers, the first volume in the Z-Rod trilogy depicts Scotland, not yet a nation, occupied by mutually-suspicious warrior tribes.

We meet Taran and Oengus, two cousins in the Ce tribe, rivals to succeed the ageing warlord Talorgen. But why does one of them later find himself on the run, despite bearing the tattooed ‘Z-Rod’ symbol, representing lightening from heaven, the mark of a warlord? And are the powerful druids, intent on placating the gods, implicated in his flight?

But interlaced with this is a gentler drama, focusing on the coming from Ireland half a century before Columba of ‘chosen wanderers’ Kessog and Fillan. They cross to present-day Argyll, carrying news of the high king of heaven and his ‘way of peace’. Travelling north-east, they set up a muintir (‘colony of heaven’) at Loch Lomond, and another at the great Pictish fort of Dundurn near Loch Earn.

The book that got John Dempster thinking.
The book that got John Dempster thinking.

Other than Pictish symbols, there are scanty written records of the time, so Martin has used his imagination, prompted by scholarship, to depict contemporary life.

He honours the goodness in Pictish religion. The characters have a desire for a better way of living, seeking springtime renewal. And the words and spirit of some of the prayers offered to Pictish deities would, I’m sure, be heard by heaven’s high king. But there was also fear of evil spirits, the threat of human sacrifice, the capriciousness of the gods.

Kessog and Fillan considered that every good thing in the indigenous beliefs was a pointer to, a gift from the God who, as the occasional miracles accompanying their preaching testified, overcomes evil.

A few folk celebrate a birth 15 long centuries ago. The relevance of the old saints is their reminder that the ultimate source of all we have ever longed for – goodness, equality, justice, peace, wisdom, meaning, love – is Jesus Christ.

This Christ walks with us in our fear, and brings freedom and hope. This Christ’s power is not normally seen in our society in demonstrably supernatural events, but is regularly discerned in the divine breath which awakens us, changes us, nourishes us, and draws us into the imperfect muintirs of Christian community.

And the Z which marks our hearts symbolises not lightening from heaven, but grace and peace.

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