Friday, July 26, 2013

Island Spirituality

One of the joys of a beach bumming holiday is being able to catch up on one's reading, between dozing in the leisurely heat and with swims to revive.

Alastair McIntosh's 'Island Spirituality' is a short book, built around a lecture and extensive and fascinating endnotes, on the spiritual values of Lewis and Harris. It is an exploration that is biographical, historical and theological.

Three themes emerged for me.

The continuity of a Creation-centred spirituality through striking historical change as if the beauty of the Isles always demanded a more than natural explanation and response.

The way in which the austerity of a Calvinist interpretation of Hell can be not simply rejected, watered down or evaded but responded to by taking the reality of Hell up with renewed seriousness. Hell is 'the place' we inhabit with all that we are temptingly not - our egotism and selfishness - and where we meet the purifying burning of God's love. As long as we refuse that love, which we are always free to do, we remain in Hell. The invitation of God's love is relentless however and, therefore, we can hope that Hell will be empty at the fulfilling end of things, what the Orthodox tradition calls the paraousia.

The importance of a religion of experience that embraces the signals of transcendence that are often labelled the 'paranormal' most commonly on Lewis and Harris, the gift of second sight (vivid examples of which Alastair gives). If we are going to have renewed confidence in the realities of the spirit, we need to faithfully build communities where stories of such signals can be told and welcomed.

These themes, and others, are woven into a compelling account of what the islands' traditions may have yet to teach us and how such an act of cultural criticism and recovery may be of value in other contexts. It is a real joy to see history woven with such insight from theology and both together making a wider, more embodied whole.

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