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Posts tagged ‘Christians’

Ghostly Encounters, Earthbound Spirits and a Promise of Love

Recently my sister in Australia sent me a set of DVDs – ironically made in England,  containing a documentary series on Great British Ghosts narrated by Michaela Strachan for the BBC. The set also included a third documentary, narrated by Paul McGann in a balanced, neutral tone, called Ghosts of the London Underground, and this was by far the most compelling of the three.

Traditionally in England, sightings of ghosts such as grey ladies in sixteenth century properties can be attributed by sceptics to over sensitive or highly-imaginative people tuned in to the atmosphere whilst staying overnight in Tudor coaching inns.

But the ghosts of the London Underground have a different character. Each story in this documentary is told by a worker whom you would describe as ‘a totally down to earth, practical no-nonsense bloke’ whom many might  consider diametrically opposite to the popular image of the type of person who claims to have ghostly encounters. Some of those who told their stories said “I don’t believe in ghosts… but I’ve had an experience I will remember for the rest of my life as something which happened to me which has no explanation.”

Beneath the ticket halls, walkways, escalators and tunnels through which so many people stream, carrying out their daily lives, there is another story: the lingering residue of the souls of people who died terrible and tragic deaths,   and somehow imprinted a psychic recording into those tunnels; and not just the ones which have been abandoned.

One day I believe we will fully understand why and how these things happen, but right now, to my knowledge, we have no satisfactory over-arching philosophy to account for these experiences. I shrink from believing that the soul of a human being can possibly be condemned to wander for years close to the place where they had the worst experience of their life on earth. And I cannot fathom why the essence of a person should continue to walk in the place where their life ended, apparently unaware of the fact that they’re dead. Yet living people have had and continue to have experiences which would indicate this as an immediate explanation.

My new upcoming novel A Passionate Spirit contains several ghost stories and an element of the unexplained, and I admit to being fascinated by these phenomena. I used to love Tales of Mystery and Imagination on TV in the past, and not long ago read and reviewed Classic Tales of the Macabre by masters of the ghost story genre: a dazzling display of atmospheric writing from masters of the craft, that demonstrate the art of suspense, with the build-up of horror. The stories in this book are must-reads for anyone seeking to write in the genre nowadays; they range from supernatural to psychological subjects, and all of them are beautifully-written..

However there is another aspect of these experiences. If they are psychic recordings of energy, the fact that they draw the living to engage emotionally with certain tragic life events that happened to individuals in the past, is on one level a good thing.

Of all the millions of beings who’ve been through this world, ghosts are few and far between. And many pass through leaving no mark at all. Nevertheless, there are a few who do indeed leave a mark. And people who’d otherwise be ignorant of their existence are drawn not only to them and to their story but in such a way that they engage emotionally with it.

What we do with this idea depends on a number of factors, not least our worldview.

From a Christian point of view, the fact that every diocese of the Church of England has a “deliverance ministry” (no longer using the term “exorcism”) this presupposes that Christians do actually accept the idea of “earthbound spirits” who need to be released.

Christian theology asserts that each individual soul who has ever lived is loved by God.

In Revelation 21: 3-4 we read these words “One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes and I’ll take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth.”

This is a promise to hold onto, for those of us who are drawn to investigating these ghostly encounters.

Philosopher Tramps, Fall-Guys and Authority Figures in BBC 2 Sitcom ‘Rev’

I’ve loved many TV sitcoms over the years and have attended sitcom writing workshops when I aspired to write sitcoms myself. I think it’s true to say that a few sitcom characters have influenced my own fiction. My current favourite is Rev (BBC 2 Monday 10pm). Our family has watched every episode of the 2 previous series and is now enjoying series 3 broadcast on BBC 1 on Mondays at 10pm.

the cast of BBC 2 sitcom Rev (photo credit bbc.co.uk)

the cast of BBC 2 sitcom Rev (photo credit bbc.co.uk)

There’s much in common between a novelist and a sitcom writer, and as a story-writer I like to ask myself why Rev is so compelling and so good on several levels.

The top ingredients seem to be authentic situations and sharp characterisation. I’ve written before about archetypal characters in fiction.

Here’s a selection of characters who particularly appeal to me as archetypes:

In Rev we have  an endearing main character (the Revd. Adam Smallbone, played by Tom Hollander) who is modest, self-effacing, well-intentioned but hapless: he’s supposed to be in a position of authority but often seems to be a bit of an underdog – the fall-guy. And yet there is an underlying message which tells a different story.

Then there’s Colin (played by Steve Evets), the unemployed alcoholic, who we often see sitting on the bench outside the church with the Rev. We love Colin so much because he’s an archetypal philosopher tramp.  Words of wisdom and insight come from the most unlikely mouth, along with foul language, tales of drug-peddling and the low life.

Then we have the cunning Mick |(played by Jimmy Akingbola), an oddball drug addict and street loafercunning and opportunistic, always calling at the vicarage door and making contradictory claims and asking for – but never receiving – money. Until, that is, he hits on inspiration – by bringing back the child Rev left in the grocery store, insisting on exchanging the child for money, and threatening to tell “the nasty Mrs Vicar” what Adam has done.

We have the Archdeacon (played by Simon McBurney), sardonic, high-handed, revelling in his status higher up the church hierarchy than Adam, and sometimes rivalling the Spanish Inquisition in his interrogations and threats to Adam that his church might be closed down; he’s the authority figure who’s always on Adam’s case, ditches him unexpectedly out of taxis, and accepts offers of tea then ends up throwing it away. And yet again there’s another message; the moments when the Archdeacon relents, the revelation and the twist in the relationship when Adam unexpectedly meets him with his gay friend out of working hours…

Then there’s Roland Wise, the media vicar, (played by Hugh Bonneville). He answers his mobile during his “Transforming Church” course and tells Adam, “Oh it’s Michael Burke pestering me to do The Moral Maze again.” and accuses Adam of having “conflicting personality blocks” on his Myers Briggs personality type indicator test; to which Adam replies, “That’s because I filled it out as Jesus.”

And finally I might mention Nigel, Adam’s Lay Reader (played by Miles Jupp), whose main problem is that he’s a bit ‘anal’ and pedantic. He takes himself too seriously, he always tries to play by the rule-book, and would really like to be in Adam’s position. Occasionally his frustration causes him to break out, but usually when he does he ends up being reprimanded or overruled in some way.

One of the most effective elements of Rev is the voiceovers. We hear the thoughts in Adam’s head as he talks to God. “People like rules. If Christianity had as many rules as Islam, perhaps my church would be full too,” and “Why does the church want me to be a businessman rather than a vicar?” and “I bend over backwards to try and please everyone and I end up pleasing no-one… maybe that’s what You want, me in a lot of trouble. Jesus liked trouble.”

And the truth is that Adam is good-hearted, caring, unpretentious and real.

I hope you too enjoy this brilliant sitcom. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why So Many of Us Love Doctor Who

So many children’s bedrooms up and down the UK and around the world must look similar to this one, in our home.

Doctor Who display in teen bedroom (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Doctor Who display in teen bedroom (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

In the recent celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the BBC drama series Doctor Who, the question has been posed:  why do you think Doctor Who is so popular?

Since everyone in our house loves the Doctor,  I’ve asked myself this question.  And I concluded that we love the Doctor because:

* As a fictional character, he is a perfect combination of science and religion. He has the Christlike qualities of power, knowledge and goodness; combined with the vast possibilities of science. He plays into our archetypal longings for balance and justice in the universe, plus our thirst for knowledge and our fascination with the potential of science and our quest for empowerment.

* he has power over time. Time, death and the ageing process are among those things we cannot control, though we dream of doing so.

* he engages us on a spiritual level. He represents the perpetual battle between good and evil.

* the character of the Doctor, with all this  power, knowledge and goodness, contains both playfulness and gravity. We respond at a deep level to paradox. Every one of the eleven actors who has played the Doctor has at some level combined the weight of ultimate responsibility and moral integrity with a quirky, mercurial quality. And the twelfth Doctor seems set fair to carry this same quality.

* we are always learning new things about the Doctor. He always retains his mystery.

* the Doctor is essentially lonely and poignant. He loves, and he evokes love. Yet he can never become emotionally attached to any one human – not without tragic repercussions or complex tampering with the space time continuum.

* he regenerates, just like nature, just like the Green Man, a symbol of rebirth, found in many cultures from many ages around the world.

The Doctor is all these things and  more.

Doctor Who rules in teen bedroom (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Doctor Who rules in teen bedroom (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

And we love him not only because of all this, but  because of the genius of all those involved: the executives, actors, writers, directors, producers, monster-creators, technical people, visual and special effects people and composers and musicians. They will have overcome  everything that human weakness can throw at them, during the fifty years of the programme’s life, as we saw only too well from the Adventure in Space and Time episode about BBC executive Sydney Newman, actor William Hartnell, producer Verity Lambert, and director Waris Hussein.

It all seems summed up in David Tennant’s cry: “I don’t want to go.”

Yet the archetypal power of this fictional character, his relationships, his story represents for many our dream of transcending those limitations and that frailty.

Challenging False Ideas of God: The Judge-Who-Could-Never-Be-Pleased, or Perfect Love and Limitless Goodness?

‘”These things are sent to try us.”

Rev Kenny Borthwick, Church of Scotland minister (photo credit holytrinity-westerhailes.org.uk)

Rev Kenny Borthwick, Church of Scotland minister (photo credit holytrinity-westerhailes.org.uk)

This is just one among many cliches in the English language that we use without thinking.

Yet how often do we stop to realise they are meaningless?

Who sends these hard things to ‘try’ us? An almighty sadist in the sky?

This  stands as one of the most popular arguments against Christianity. How can a supposedly all-loving sovereign God allow  terrible things to happen to innocent people?

When I was in the sixth form at school we had an atheist English teacher who enjoyed challenging us on a personal level, arising from discussions about Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Thomas Hardy was “a philosophic pessimist” and in Tess’s tragedy he suggests there is no purpose or meaning to her suffering, other than that “we live on a blighted star.”

Our teacher said, “All the evidence suggests that there is a random pain-inflictor, scanning round over human affairs, occasionally dropping a huge lump of tragedy onto someone.”

Discuss.

This would indeed be a good exam question in Religious Studies.

Two days ago I listened to a Church of Scotland minister, Kenny Borthwick, talk about why God does not send things to try us, and why  the real battle when we suffer is to hold onto the goodness of God.

Kenny spoke to a large audience as part of a day organised by The Well Christian Healing Centre in Leamington Spa.

God, he said, is not a harsh God whose main aim is to teach us hard lessons through hard things.

Although it is  true we can sometimes learn valuable things through suffering, we must be aware of this danger: if you over-stress a truth it can become a lie.

God does not send cancer to teach us a lesson.

God sent Jesus to teach cancer a lesson.

Kenny Borthwick is exactly the opposite of a traditional fire-and-brimstone preacher so beloved of numerous novels written by Catholic authors about their upbringing among religious authorities with a harsh view of God (how can I ever forget the sadistic priest in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?) No religious authority figure has ever spoken to me like that; and yet we somehow recognise the cruelty and the fanaticism in this character.

Benny Borthwick spoke of Christians who magnify badness and repentance and magnify the strictness of God with a zeal He would not own.

Kenny’s message to Christians was this:

“You have been saved into the love of God, the goodness of God that He wants to pour into your life day by day.”

The face of God-the-Judge-Who-could-never-be-pleased disappears for ever.

BUT once we accept this, there is still a process.

When we live from the goodness of God which is limitless, we realise that today and every day we always have something to offer, whoever  we are, even if we believe we have  nothing – we always have something to give.

We need to reject a false spirituality which is frightened to use words like illness or depression, and  frightened to cry and be distressed.

We can live each passing moment as a gift from God.

Jesus gave the water a new history when he turned it into wine.

He can give us a new history, with a sense of our new identity. When we are able to accept this, we can realise that our present doesn’t need to be controlled by our past.

Then we are able to make new choices – hope and trust rather than fear.

Then we can replace the old false spirituality and lies with a great truth:

“God can give me a new destiny”.

Darkness into Light: Celtic Spirituality

Heart of Darkness, Sharing the Darkness, embracing the darkness – the archetypal theme of darkness versus light is ever-present in our lives, through books, movies, media, faith, life experience.

The church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

Last week – on the night of the full moon – I was at a Celtic Christian service in the 13th century church at Morton Bagot, Warwickshire.

And the theme: “Sun, Moon and Stars: Finding a Way in the Darkness.”

The Celtic-inspired service was led by Annie Heppenstall, and comes from her book The Healer’s Tree.

Ten of us gathered together in the chancel, where Annie had hung from a central chandelier a large hoop, to which she had tied the feathers of local birds, which she had found in her garden. The hoop represented the circle of the year. During the service we tied ribbons to the hoop to represent ourselves.

This lovely ancient church (which has no electricity) was lit only by candles.

I am one of those who is sensitive to atmospheres, and the feeling I receive from this church is one of deep peace, goodness and harmony.

Angel in the church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

Angel in the church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

My sister Julia, on a recent visit to the Uk with her husband, visited this church with me,  and both were conscious of this very special atmosphere. Julia took the photographs that illustrate this post.

During Annie’s Celtic Christian service, we each took two dark pebbles, and considered how these represented different aspects of the darkness for us, then we carried the pebbles to the lighted candle and placed them there.

Annie loves to focus on animal symbolism, rich in Celtic spirituality and in the Bible. The two animals she chose for this service were the bear and the cat, to represent different aspects of the darkness.

Interior of church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

Interior of church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

I find the incorporation of pre Christian Celtic spirituality into contemporary Christian practice very moving.

Religions and all thought systems assimilate elements of what went before, and then we move on.

To me, the ability of the Christian faith to assimilate aspects of the pagan world – nowhere more evident than in our Western celebration of Christmas – is part of its strength and enduring power.

In all things, we take with us something of what went before, and we move on.

About the Writer

SC Skillman is a British romantic suspense author Her debut novel “Mystical Circles” is available to order at your local bookstores or online. A signed copy may be purchased direct from the author’s website, and the ebook may be downloaded on Amazon Kindle.

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 7 – Arriving Where You Started and Knowing The Place For the First Time

Throughout this series, mountains have been an important image for me. And now we arrive at the end of my mini-series, we find ourselves on a mountain again. And this mountain is on the opposite side of the world to the mountain where I had my first childhood experience – in Australia.

mountain view Great Dividing Range

mountain view Great Dividing Range

I’ve told this story before on this blog. And so it is with important experiences – the story must be told again and again.

On the border of Queensland and New South Wales, behind the Gold Coast, you may find the Macpherson mountain range, part of the Great Dividing Range. The road leads from Southport via Nerang up through Mount Tamborine to the town of Canungra where you may continue your journey to one of two mountain resorts: Binna Burra or O’Reilly’s. I was negotiating the mountain passes on the way to O’Reilly’s. In the passenger seat was my 18 year old niece Caroline, who was visiting Australia for a month (where I lived at the time).

Caroline had mentioned that she and her friend Jo (her fellow traveller to Australia) had gone to Sydney to stay in a house of students who they knew nothing of. And discovered that they were all committed Christians – just like Caroline and Jo. Caroline found that wonderful. I said, “Well, like attracts like” – for I at the time believed that this apparent coincidence was the operation of the Universal system / the principle of  “reality follows thought.” But Caroline was having none of this. “No, it was God,” she said.

I didn’t want to argue with her. Especially as I was driving up a perilous mountain road at the time. My own beliefs were a mixture of NeoPaganism, Pantheism and Eastern Mysticism. I pursued gurus, tried Buddhism, practised eastern forms of meditation and various esoteric philosophies, teachings and techniques.

I prepared to go into “indulgent tolerance” mode whilst we climbed higher up the mountain range. It was because of that very black-and-white “certainty” that I had long mistrusted evangelical Christianity.

But Caroline then launched into a full exposition of the gospel and of the fact that Jesus Christ had come to bridge that divide between God and humankind; and when we reached our cabin in the resort, she drew for me a picture of a cross bridging that chasm. All the time I was in tolerance mode. I didn’t need evangelising. I considered myself knowledgable about the bible, & had been good at R.K. at school. So I just let Caroline do her thing, until she at last got distracted by a  snake lying in the path.

For the next year I continued in my usual way, following my own spiritual interests, occasionally thinking of this episode. OK I hadn’t liked being evangelised. But I was impressed by her conviction, by her belief that her religion wasn’t a private matter, it was to be shared; and by her courage. I thought, “I wouldn’t do that.” It’s a personality thing too, but I actually believed everyone has a right to their own beliefs & it was no business of mine to try and convert someone else to my beliefs. But Caroline believed she not only had a right but a responsibility to tell me what she believes. I was impressed by that. But I didn’t do anything about it until 1991 a few months after I’d returned to live in England, with my parents in their Kent village near Tonbridge – and it changed my life.

Have you ever changed your life as a result of a conversation with one person? Or was it a long process, involving several people, covering a number of years? Please share your own stories with me!

Here is a list of some of my glimpses of eternity, listed by one identifier or the place where the experience occurred:

  1. Mountain at end of road in Wales.
  2. Hedge parsley in Kent.
  3. Dream of the sea
  4. Mount Neel Kanth in India.
  5. Violin passage in Bach’s “St Matthew Passion”
  6. Twilight on the beach at Mynt, Pembrokeshire coastline, West Wales
  7. Taize service in church
  8. Chalice Well Gardens in Glastonbury
  9. The woodland between Conishead Priory & Morecambe Bay, Barrow-in-Furness
  10. St Cuthbert’s Tomb in Durham Cathedral
  11. On the mountain top at Binna Burra, Queensland.
  12. Journey through the Cambrian Mountains to Aberystwyth in Wales

Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!

Seeking Personal Growth; and Sitting at the Feet of a Charismatic Guru

We find ourselves in a culture where many seek answers to the deep issues of life in spirituality, beyond the boundaries of organized religion.

dreams and mystical visions

dreams and mystical visions

Different needs within people draw them to seek spiritual relief – and for some, esoteric New Age spiritual groups hold a strong appeal.

You’ll meet some of those who are attracted to such groups, in the pages of my romantic suspense novel Mystical Circles.

"Mystical Circles" new print edition published August 2012

“Mystical Circles” new print edition published August 2012

Another example of such a group – which was pointed out to me by one of my early readers – is the Fellowship of Friends. Also known as the School Group it was founded in 1970 in California by Robert Burton aka The Teacher. There are certain fundamental aspects of this Fellowship which find their counterpart in many other esoteric groups:

  • The group is led by “a conscious teacher”. His only true credentials are his own presence and his effect upon his students.
  • The group’s location is a place for students to “work on themselves” in an atmosphere of beauty, effort and friendship.
  • The group is trained in “self-remembering” which involves “being present” within a moment – this is the universal message of esoteric schools.
  • The members of the group gather daily to “work on themselves” at meetings, study groups and dinners.

I have in the past been impressed by the teachings of George Gurdjieff (upon which Robert Burton based the Fellowship of Friends) and have participated in a number of such groups myself. Gurdjieff, a mystic and spiritual teacher, called his discipline “The Work”. At one point he described his teachings as “esoteric Christianity”.

In theory, the “work on oneself” which Gurdjieff recommends should indeed bear fruit in greater self-knowledge. But does it in practice?

My own experience has shown me how powerful a charismatic figure can be and how the most intelligent of people might fall prey to such a person, and therefore create situations in which many people become victims of “mind control” or “brainwashing”. I must also say this applies to a wide range of situations in life, not just esoteric groups.

Christians may like to reflect upon how easily a charismatic leader can draw people into a place where the main focus of attention is his or her own magnetic personality. This can be as much of a danger for Christians with a public speaking ministry as it can be for inspirational leaders and gurus in the world of the esoteric.

St Paul spoke of the danger of “false apostles” attributing miracles to themselves rather than God. He expressed his fear lest those he taught had their minds “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) And as Jesus himself said, “Beware of false prophets – by their fruits will you know them.”

I’ve certainly tasted a few of those fruits myself in the past, and have learned from personal experience whether their juicy flavour lasts, or, indeed, whether you bite through the fruit to find a maggot at the centre!

What about you? Have you ever tasted any of these fruits? I’d love to hear from you! Perhaps you, like me, have sat at the feet of various gurus? Please share your own experiences by leaving a comment!

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