History, Mystery, Endurance

When I found a branch of a wild rose growing through a stone wall it made me ponder the history and mystery of endurance. I had just left the Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie, Scotland, which contains Pictish carved stones dating back to the 6th century AD after the Picts converted to Christianity.

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The Picts are mysterious, thought by some to have been fierce warriors who painted or tattooed themselves. After carving beautiful, intricate patterns and designs that included Christian crosses, the Picts simply disappeared from history in the 9th century, leaving behind place names like Pitlochry, Pittenweem, and Pitsligo, and enigmatic standing stones which—lacking a written Pict language—have never been interpreted.

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The recently discovered Pictish monastery in Portmahomack proves that at least some of the Picts were educated and capable of great art and architecture. Amazingly, the monastery, which housed 150 monks and workers, was built to the proportions of “The Golden Section,” or “Divine Proportion.” This 1.618 to one ration of dimension is found in spiral seashells and was used to construct the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the Acropolis in Athens, and the Egyptian Pyramids. Along with the single-line carvings of wolves, salmon, and eagles, a piece of broken stone was found at Portmahomack with the Latin inscription: “This is the cross of Christ in…”

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Scotland thrives on history and mystery. As enduring as the rose growing through the rock wall are the Highland Travellers, also called Gypsy/Travellers. Descendants of ancient Roma, they date back to the 12th Century and up until the 1950s, Travellers continued to traverse the Highlands in their brightly painted horse-pulled carts, supporting themselves with metal working and seasonal labor. Plastic replaced tin, motorized vehicles replaced horses, and the Travellers gave up Gaelic as their first language, replaced horses with motor homes and travel trailers, and learned new trades. Their nomadic way of life is a part of their ethnic and cultural identity. Unlike the Picts, they have not vanished into the pages of history—but their numbers continue to decline.

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In his book “Highland Folk Tales,” Bob Pegg credits Travellers for keeping Scotland’s rich resource of folklore alive. Alec Williamson was born to Gaelic-speaking parents and knew only three English words when he started school. He and his parents traveled through Ross-shire—where the Groam House Museum stands—by horse and cart and lived in tents. His father taught the art of storytelling to Alec.

One of Alec’s stories involves Roddy from the “wee glen” of Glutan who left his wife and family to go to America. He never returned, never wrote, never sent money. The eldest son went looking for his dad. Passing a bar, he heard a familiar Gaelic song. Thus, he found his father and sent him home by ship. The father never strayed from home again.

Then there was a young man who went to Aonghas Donn (Gaelic, Brown-haired Angus) for a horse. He walked through the hills looking for the horse, and was approached by what he thought was a stray dog. The dog caught him by the arm. His only weapon was a wee penknife. He sunk the knife into the dog’s neck and twisted it until the dog let go of his arm, sank down to the ground, and died. His arm was so badly mangled that he couldn’t catch the horse. He used his shirt for a sling and went back home to tell everyone about the tiger-striped dog that had attacked him. He continued telling the story years later because, as he explained, “I’d never seen a dog that color before—tiger striped. You’d be surprised at what you might see or meet in the hills even yet.”

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History, mystery, endurance. The rose in the wall brings me back to Picts. As a Christian, it’s comforting to know that Christianity was so strong in the Black Isle of Scotland as far back as the 6th century that Picts carved their faith in stones. We still carve our faith today. Stones not needed. We carve the same message of God’s love in our hearts.


Sailcats, Crucifix Fish & the New Year

Sailcats, Crucifix Fish & the New Year

Kindhearted volunteer Marshall Scott answered the U.S. Marine Corps call to rescue me at the Charlotte, North Carolina, airport on Thanksgiving Day after I attended my son Luke Parker’s memorial service. Marshall took time away from his family Thanksgiving to make sure I made my connecting flight. Additionally he shared the legend of the Crucifix Fish.

Jesus on the cross is outlined on the front of the sailcat’s skeleton, complete with the hilt of the sword that was plunged into Jesus’ side. The back of the skeleton displays the Roman shield. When you shake the cross, you can hear the dice being tossed for the Lord’s clothing.

When I got back to Scotland, my research disclosed that gaftopsail catfish witness God’s love in life, too. For example: Jesus died on the cross and went down for hell for three days to take the keys of death and hell away from satan and secure eternal life for us. The sailcat lives on the soft bottom of the ocean – but unlike other catfish – it doesn’t feed there. Just as Jesus loves and accepts everyone of every color, every country, every social status in life, the sailcat feeds up and down through the entire water column.

Male gaftopsail catfish brood their young in their mouths until they hatch. During this entire period of up to 65 days, males do not eat. What a great parallel of Jesus’ nature; His willingness to sacrifice even His life that we might be born again and grow into His image. Jesus never leaves us nor forsakes us when we are weak.

Sailcats are saltwater catfish. As Christians, we are instructed to be salt in the world. We should walk in love, but also in truth. Our truth – salt – has great healing power.

Crucifix Fish skeletons are popular for jewelry, but rare. Imagine my delight when I received a Christmas present from the Scott family, a box containing a Crucifix Fish! It will be freely shared here, going so much further than just our house.

What a great New Year it would be if we all took lessons from Crucifix Fish: witness Jesus openly both in this life and in the memories left behind when graduating to heaven. Love and accept others, no matter how different. Get out of the comfort zone and dare to be salty! Put others first. For 2014, I want to live like a Crucifix Fish.

Texas Eugenia Thornhill, in my new Christian mystery-romance-suspense “Fear of Shadows,” reminds me of the lessons of the Crucifix Fish. She is too self-reliant and self-sufficient to need God until she solves the mystery of her fear of shadows. The truth almost destroys her. There is power in the Cross of Jesus, but to tap into it – Texas would need to get out of her comfort zone and get salty. Can the proud, independent Texan who embraces one rebellion after another do that?