A cleit and dwelling places at St Kilda.
I had the privilege of visiting St Kilda this week. It is a group of islands over 40 miles from Uist off the west coast of Scotland, where for thousands of years, people lived in a very harsh enviroment. The group of islands and stacs are stunningly beautiful, with incredible rock formations, a vast and varied colony of birds, including puffins, and the physical remains of a community, who chose to leave in 1930, when the community was no longer viable. When we visited, the cloud was often very low, and it gave it all a very atmospheric and mysterious air.
Walking around the village, you can see the remains of blackhouses (traditional stone cottages from the 1830’s), almost 1,300 cleits ( stone larders), dykes, the church, the factor’s house, graveyard etc. There are sheep everywhere, and you can imagine a little of trying to work the land, looking after the sheep, and capturing birds for harvesting.
Traditionally in Scottish literature, the relationship between humanity and the land is depicted as harsh, think for example of George Mackay Brown, where in ‘The house with the Grem shutters’ rural life is seen as cruel and desolate. Or we might look at Lewis Classic Gibsons ‘ A Scots Quair’, and the changes that war brought to the farming community. People often work hard in all weathers, only for the crops to fail, or financial ruin to strike.
We sometimes have an ideal concept of farming life, but listening to the stories of the people on St Kilda soon dispels this. They were out in the fields in all weathers, and in the evenings spinning and crafting wool, distilling oil for export from birds, making skins into shoes etc, and often living with their animals. Life is depicted as relentless, and yet the people persevered, through illness and little medical support, and terrible storms, when the community were completely cut off. You can’t help but admire their stoicism. And when you visit, you almost here the song of lament in the air, for the loss of so many lives over generations.
Today, we perhaps face different types of adversities and obstacles, sometimes more subtle ones, but they are there- poor health, the loss of work opportunities, the impact of the pandemic, climate change, injustice in our society. We have to try to navigate these, whilst keeping our self respect, and a constructive sense of purpose..
Christians are not exempt from seasons of frustration and hardship. Everyone has to work through difficult stuff. Yet God always encourages people to keep going, and to have hope, even when things are tough.
In Galatians 6:9 it says: ‘let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.’
Creator God, You have made this beautiful world, yet we live in a state of rebellion and disharmony, and it is hard work to care for nature, and to make a living. We give thanks for those who persevere in what seem like impossible circumstances. Sometimes we lament for the pain people experience just trying to put food on the table, and we think of story of the people in St Kilda in the past, and many other places today. Lord Jesus, help us all to work together for a just and fairer world. And when it all seems too much, holy spirit give us courage to persevere, and hope that things can get better, Amen.