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Friday 27 October 2017

Looking Back: Light in the Darkness

Writing in October 1967, Charles Brister looks at the faith of Scottish miners.

THE SCOTTISH mining village, in spite of modern transport, continues to be a tightly knit community with a common interest in a shared craft of which the rest of the world remains largely ignorant. Many misconceptions, therefore, prevail about the toilers in the darkness.

Perhaps that which is most commonly held is that colliers are, as a class, irreligious. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is the miner aware of God in the way of all who pit their strength against nature and attempt to control elemental forces; but he has a more vivid comprehension of “a power strong to save.”

Certainly the miner is a brave man; but he is also humble, aware as are few others, of his own puny strength and of his utter dependence on God and his neighbour. No doubt it is this “humility of the brave;” this sense of helplessness, that makes the Scots collier such a staunch supporter of another sure source of strength – the Kirk.

It is natural enough to feel close to God on mountain summits: it is very different in the gloomy galleries far below the earth. There, men go on their knees and tremble to every sound; hot air and blinding dust oppress the spirit and the world is constricted by the darkness to the ring of a feeble lamp beam. Here, a man is aware, not so much of a fellowship with God, but of a need for Him.

It is not surprising that the miner is a humble man; not surprising that the Scots collier calls his workmate “neighbour” or, as is more usual, the affectionate dimunite “Neeb.” Unless indeed he truly loves that neighbour as himself; unless they are joined together in a mutually trusting union, then the relationship becomes void, and work underground is impossible.

An existence sptn largely in this cramped unlighted world might – one would think – bring out the darker side of men’s natures: but this is rarely the case. Perhaps such a situation lends emphasis to a declaration of faith: certainly I have seen deeds of Christian charity far below the tumbling waters of the Forththat could never have had the same impact in the sunlit pleasant world that lies above. It may be that only, as in the pit, when man has been shorn of his vanities and the trappings of conventional life; only then can the true nobility of the spirit shine through as our Creator meant.

Joining a small group, we huddled together for shelter in a low working while a shot was being fired. The talk, as is so often the way at such times, was of God and the works of God. A brash young voice began to ridicule all forms of faith as superstition or hypocrisy.

Beside me crouched an elder of the Kirk. I can be forgiven for not being immediately aware of the fact for he was half-naked, his powerfully muscled body matted with filth streaked by the runnels of his own sweat; the eyeballs rolled white and red in his black face and his chest heaved in the hot foetid air as he slowly enunciated his own declaration of faith.

He spoke quietly, almost softly. To hear such words issuing from the mouth of one so unprepossessing was so impressive a thing that I shall not forget. Every Sabbath since, I have seen that man, grave of mien and in solemn garb, but he does not impress me half as much as when far below ground I first heard him witness to the truth.

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