The symbol does not represent lightning from the sky but grace and peace


The life of one of the first bearers of the Gospel inspired a commemoration.

A small group marked the anniversary of St Columba’s historic meeting with Picte King Brude at the site where it is believed to have taken place, writes John Dempster.

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

I read a new novel by Martin C Haworth that brings to life the challenges faced by early bearers of the gospel. Chosen Wanderers, the first volume of the Z-Rod trilogy portrays Scotland, not yet a nation, occupied by mutually suspicious warrior tribes.

We meet Taran and Oengus, two cousins ​​of the Ce tribe, rivals to succeed aging warchief Talorgen. But why does one of them later find himself on the run, despite wearing the tattooed “Z-Rod” symbol, representing lightning from the sky, the mark of a warlord? And are the powerful druids, determined to appease the gods, involved in his flight?

But intertwined with this is a milder drama, focusing on the arrival from Ireland half a century before Columba of the “chosen wanderers” Kessog and Fillan. They pass through today’s Argyll, bringing news of the High King of Heaven and his “way of peace”. Traveling north-east, they set up a muintir (“sky colony”) at Loch Lomond, and another at the Great Picte Fort of Dundurn near Loch Earn.

The book that made John Dempster think.
The book that made John Dempster think.

Besides the Pictish symbols, there are few written documents of the time. Martin therefore used his imagination, driven by erudition, to represent contemporary life.

He honors kindness in the Picte religion. The characters have a desire for a better way of life, seeking a spring revival. And the words and spirit of some of the prayers offered to the Pictish deities would, I am sure, be heard by the High King of Heaven. But there was also the fear of evil spirits, the threat of human sacrifice, the whims of the gods.

Kessog and Fillan held that every good thing in indigenous beliefs was an indicator, a gift from God which, as the occasional miracles accompanying their preaching testify, overcomes evil.

Some people celebrate a birth 15 long centuries ago. The relevance of the ancient saints is their reminder that the ultimate source of all that we aspire to – goodness, equality, justice, peace, wisdom, meaning, love – is Jesus Christ.

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

And the Z that marks our hearts does not symbolize lightning from the sky, but grace and peace.

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