In her little booklet ‘Christian Women’ Annie Morrison summarises the lives of women from the Isle of Lewis who were well known in their generation, highly regarded and who lived in such a close communion with their God that knowing his mind and, at times, unseen current and future events, were second nature. These women came from the same spiritual pedigree as Tormod Sona, the Rev. Murdoch Campbell, Norman MacLeod and countless others – some of whom we have been examining in these last few posts. Such were the beautiful flowers of Highland and Island Christianity in a past generation. That is not to say women of deep faith, living in communion with God and gifted with foreknowledge did not exist in more recent times – they did and I knew of some of them. Nor is it to say they do not exist today – I am sure they do. But the history of our Godly heritage should, I would suggest, be our teacher, guide and in this case, inspiration.
Time and space precludes us from repeating all that Annie records regarding these women but I just want to mention four of them briefly and to acknowledge them in a day when some would despise them and cast doubt on the source of their spirituality and intimate relationship with The Father. Most of the information which follows comes from the booklet mentioned.
Catherine Mackay (Catriona Hangie)
Catriona was born in Bavas on the Isle of Lewis in 1789. She was described by the Rev. Alisdair Macrae as being ‘Tall and handsome in her bearing with a face that radiated spiritual beauty.’ She wrote and sung her own Gaelic hymns.
Catriona’s life was difficult in the extreme. When her father died she had no right to the land he crofted and the landowner denied her the use of the field to plant crops. One day she was pulling up old potato plants in an attempt to find something from last years crop. Seeing her the landowner attacked her – pushing her face into the ground. As she rose she told him his days were numbered and that his horses, which were grazing nearby, would soon carry his remains to the nearby cemetery. It was not long before her prophetic words were fulfilled.
One of her friends, a John Mackay from Barvas, had been treated similarly by the landowner – and had been forced to emigrate to Canada. On the day he died Catriona said – ‘My loved one has no need of my prayers tonight.’ Later a letter arrived from him which said – ‘By the time you receive this, I will be in Glory and you won’t be long after me.’ Catriona died on a Sunday morning in the year 1871.
Gormelia MacLean (Goramal ‘An Fhivig)
Gormelia was born in the little township of Fhivig near Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis. Like Catriona Hangie, Gormelia lived a life of poverty and constant dependance on God.
One day, as a young girl, while she was working on the seashore with some other women she suddenly left and set off for the nearby village of Bragar. On arrival she entered the home of an elderly Christian, Malcolm Campbell. Malcom and a friend had in fact been praying for someone to come and help them. That day Malcolm had been given a silver half-crown and was convinced that the money was for someone else. However, with no transport they were unable to travel and pass to coin on. Gormelia was the answer to their prayers! She received her instructions and took the coin to a dying woman who was praying that God would not allow her to die till her outstanding debt to the local shopkeeper had been paid.
There are a number of other fascinating stories and records of answers to prayer in the life Gormelia MacLean in the booklet I am referring to. One of the marks of Gormelia’s life was that, like (Blind) Christy Mary who we wrote about in another post, and many others who walked in close communion with God, she would have no tack with petty denominational differences and fellowshipped with all of God’s children irrespective of their background or denomination.
Margaret (MacIver) MacKenzie (Cailleach Tob)
Margaret was born in the village of Cross, Ness on the Isle of Lewis in 1870. She came to know the Lord when she was about twelve years of age and went on to live as an exemplary Christian. While she was still very young she had a strange dream which made a deep impression on her mind. She saw in her dream that resurrection morning had come and saw herself rising from the grave to meet her ‘glorious redeemer’. The vision was so vivid that she retained the imagery throughout her life. Many years later when she settled down as a married woman at North Tolsta she recognised the place of her resurrection exactly as she had seen it in her dream – ‘a green bank decked with a variety of wild flowers, and near which the restless waves spent themselves on a golden strand’. It was here her body would subsequently be laid to rest.
In February 1935 a sudden storm caught several local Tolsta boats at sea. By evening all but two had reached port. Aboard one the of the still missing boats was the the brother in law of Annie Morrison – Murdo. Of course the family were distressed but Margaret assured them that Murdo was safe. He arrived home within an hour of her assurance. However, the other boat was still missing – and on board was Margaret’s grandson, another Murdo. Again the family looked to Margaret for assurance – but she remained silent. However, in the early hours of the morning she suddenly told her daughter in law to prepare a meal for her son as she had just received a promise from the Lord that the boat had made it harbour. And so it proved to be.
Margaret could neither read nor speak English. Neither was there a radio or newspapers in the house. However, on hearing reports of the death of George V in 1936 she predicted that his elder son would never sit on the throne. As we now know Edward abdicated before his coronation. She also expressed concern for a young girl in the Royal family who would, as a result of the succession of George VI, be called on one day to bear a heavy burden – and asked people to pray for her. It was not until 1954, some 25 years later, and long after Margaret’s death, that Queen Elizabeth II had this heavy responsibly laid on her shoulders.
Margaret’s wisdom for every age becomes apparent in a piece of advice she once gave a young Christian – ‘Be sure you acknowledge the Lord in all your ways, and He will direct your path. Pray especially for a bridled tongue, for it is an ensnaring member. Never unbosom yourself unwisely, and pray much when you are in the company of others that you may not be damaged by your own words. You will be surprised to find that you feel more devoted to God’s people of whom you know little, and that your heart will open out to some who are not yet Christians more than some who profess to be. Eternity alone will reveal why this is so. Ask the Lord to enable you to pray in the Spirit. Only in prayer do we enjoy true nearness to Him and taste of His love. Hide nothing from Him and the more He shows you of your sins and sinfulness the more you will thank Him. Whatever you do take Him at His word.’
On one occasion a Minister from another denomination called to see Margaret – apologising that he did net belong to her church. She replied – ‘Everyone in whom I see the image of God, to that person my heart is knit in Christ.
Margaret MacKenzie died in 1940.
Jessie (Macdonald) MacIver (Bean Aonghais Ruaidh)
Jessie was born in the village of Carloway in 1835. Her father was from Skye and had gone to the Lewis village of Tolsta Cholais as a Schoolmaster.
It is believed Jessie came to faith during the Lewis revival of 1858 under the preaching of the Rev. John MacLean. The 1858 revival is said to have been marked by much ’emotionalism’ (as was the case in 1934/41) – something that was later spoken about generally in negative terms.
Jessie, as with all the women we have been examining, possessed the gift of prophecy. However, she was very careful as to whom she shared her insights with as some mocked. Nevertheless her prediction proved accurate. Jessie became well known for predicting which unborn children would become ‘servants of the Lord’. One of these prediction related to the youngest of her 8 children. When he was born he was named ‘Roderick’ – but a short time later she returned to the registrar to change the name to ‘Samuel’ – stating that the Lord had given her the name ‘Samuel’ before the child was born along with the promise that he would become ‘a servant of the Lord’. Samuel grew up to be a minister.
Another unborn child she predicted would become a minister was the man who was to become the well known Rev. Murdo MacAulay, Carloway. For many years this seemed unlikely as the boy showed no interest in Christian things – but in 1936 came to faith. Later, having been taken prisoner by German forces during WW2 he started his preaching career in a Prisoner-of-war camp in Germany! The Rev. Norman Macleod of Callanish told a similar story of Jessie in relation to himself.
On one occasion it appeared that Jessie had overstepped herself when she predicted that the unborn child of a friend would also become ‘a servant of the Lord’. The baby was a girl – and in these days in Lewis it was highly unlikely, if not impossible, that she would become a minister! However the girl, Mary Ann MacDonald later trained to be a nurse and subsequently went to India as a missionary.
Jessie died in 1922 almost in her 80th year.
‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.’