These past days since posting my last article have seen me in a hiatus – between the glories of time in the wilderness, including a solo journey to the mountain of the Lord – and the still small Voice once again stirring me to action to write this blog entry today. Walking out of the bewildering beauty and silence of the wild places, to throw myself back into the world of the everyday, has lead to another reevaluation of my path across our world of wonder.
The trip back to London was a sad and lonely affair. As I travelled farther and farther from the source of my joy, I felt my heart tearing and pouring forth a torrent of grief at the separation. How high can one ascend, how far descend?
That day of departure will forever be etched in my memory. The morning begun, I walked from my B & B into the main street of Inverness, wandering almost aimlessly, at a loss emotionally. I felt empty and alone. The previous day my walking companions, my Angels, had departed for more holidaying in Pitlochry, a town a couple of hours to the south of Inverness. Bereft, I dragged my still tired feet along the pavements and cobblestone streets, the low cloud cover and light rain reinforcing my overcast emotional state.
For months before leaving Australia, my plan included visiting a local landmark, Craig Phadrig, a mountain that overlooks Inverness. Craig Phadrig had been the site of a Dark Age Pictish hill fort, seat of power of the Pictish over-king Brude [the generally accepted academic view]. There is nothing there now on the summit, merely a wind-blown, sweep of open field with a raised earthen mound around the perimeter where the wooden walls once stood. I knew this well having done the research. Debating with myself whether I should bother making the effort to go and see the place, in light of my mood, I tentatively approached a parked taxi and asked the driver how much it would cost to drive me to the site. He hummed and hared in an incredibly strong Scottish accent words I barely recognised as English. He was non-committal, I said ‘thanks, I’ll think about it’, and walked away twenty or thirty metres still none the wiser, and at the point of giving up on the whole idea – with the shower still coming down and beginning to turn to rain.
Ready to walk away, the sense this was the wrong decision suddenly gripped me. Turning, and returning to the taxi I asked the driver to take me to the place. For something like fifteen minutes we drove through Inverness and the outer suburban area, eventually turning to begin the climb up the sloping sides of the mountain. Shortly, the taxi pulled into a car parking area, and the driver said, ‘there you go, that’s as close as I can get you’, at least that is the gist of what I think he said. I was a little nonplussed to say the least, expecting to see all that I described earlier. The driver proceeded to clarify the situation – I still had a mile and a half to walk up a mostly narrow, winding, track to reach the summit. As he had confided to me earlier he had never actually been to the summit, I asked if he would like to accompany me for the walk – replying he wasn’t much of a walker, he promptly pulled out his newspaper and began to read. I had my answer. I knew now the Lord was testing me – would I go all the way, alone, without knowing the way, to see an empty field at the top of a mountain, with no wet weather gear and increasingly threatening storm clouds rolling in overhead. Getting out of the car I heard the still small Voice asking me, ‘are you committed to Me, Barry? How far will you go?’ I had to say, ‘all the way Lord’, He said, ‘then go’.
To be certain I had a ride back to the city on my return, I pulled twenty pounds from my wallet and said, ‘here’s twenty quid as a sign of good faith, I’ll be back’, and leaning into the taxi, placing it in his hand, ‘I’ll pay any extra when we get back to town’. He seemed quite content with this arrangement, turning back to his paper.
Thus began my ascent of Craig Phadrig. Initially, the walking was not difficult. The track being overgrown at some points did not however impede progress, but I was in a hurry and the ticking meter of the taxi hovered at the back of my mind; a fine misty sprinkle began to fall. Initially making quick progress tracks then began to converge and diverge in a number of different directions. The thought came to me, ‘follow the one that appears to be going up’. This I did until it began to go down. Pausing momentarily, I resolved to continue; progressing awhile longer an intersection of three paths appeared. All paths having been unmarked, a brief second of panic gripped me – ‘lost’ flashed across my mind. Instantly recoiling from this assumption I resolved to continue following my strategy of going up.Taking the path of greatest resistance, what seemed a steady climb confronted me. Things began to turn very muddy and slippery farther up the track, the incline too became far more challenging, that, combined with carrying my camera case, made for a relatively tough climb at a number of points. Eventually though, persistence bore fruit; finally, the track leveling out I could see I was approaching a raised area about thirty or forty metres ahead. Climbing up another narrow path I found myself at one end of an area not much larger than a football field. Yes, this is exactly as I knew it would be, much more over-grown than expected based on the photos I had seen, but the same nonetheless. I looked around at the field expecting something of significance to leap out at me – nothing – so began taking photos thinking this to be the purpose of the Voice leading me up the mountain.Ten short minutes there on the summit, a few quick photos done, I began to head back down when I noticed out of the corner of my right eye an overgrown track that lead away in the opposite direction to that returning down the mountain. For some unknown reason I felt impelled to explore the slushy overgrown path. Thirty metres on it came to an abrupt end on a rocky ledge from where I could see the city below and look far out to the North Sea – an incredibly beautiful natural vantage point!It was then that I knew why I was bidden go see this place, to be on this mountain alone [yet not alone], my story, the novel I am writing, yes, but far more importantly, to hear His Voice. For it was there in that blessed place that He spoke to me, a very powerful inner Presence and Voice – that almost literally knocked me down from that high position. The Voice spoke of His great love, of my faithfulness and obedience in responding without hesitation to His calls upon me, and of other, deeply personal things. Of these things I cannot speak – suffice to say they are real and meaningful to me. The Presence touched me, so profoundly, I long for that touch once again………………
Following the revelation on the summit, filled to overflowing with joy, I ran much of the way down the mountain! You have to understand, I do not run – this has injured my back in the past – but nothing could restrain me – no pain touched me! The steep and slippery track no obstacle, I paid it no attention. The tangle of paths descending the mountain unwound themselves of their own accord. Exhausted and soaked in sweat I got down from the summit in ten or twelve minutes- all ok, and rejoicing! My driver still reading his paper welcomed me back as I quickly climbed into the car. The rain falling steadily now, rapidly increased to a heavy downpour as we pulled out of the parking place. Driving what seemed a few brief seconds he returned us to the spot where we began next to the museum, all for a total cost of 19.80 pounds!
The loving Presence of the Spirit of God in our life reaches down to the depths and up to the heights, from the valleys of the deepest, darkest despair to mountain tops bathed in the glory of the Lord! No matter where we go – He is with us. I have been in both these places over these last eighteen months and continue to be amazed by His compassion for me, His willingness to suffer with me, His graciousness in persisting despite me, and His joy in blessing a sinner who is now a changed man.
Blessed is the God who lives for ever
And blessed is His kingdom
For He afflicts and He shows mercy
He leads down to Hades and brings up again
And there is no one who can escape His hand……………..
If you turn to Him with all your heart and with all your soul
To do what is true before Him
Then He will turn to you
And will not hide His face from you
But see what He will do with you
Give thanks to Him with your full voice
Praise the Lord of righteousness
And exalt the King of the ages
[Tobit 13:1&2 and 6-9]
Extract from The Order of Morning and Evening Prayer, from An Australian Prayer Book (AAPB), 1977