Towards the end of ‘In Search of the Lost’ Richard Carter includes an interesting section based on his correspondence with Charles Montgomery, a Canadian writer who was at the time researching the effect of Victorian missionaries in Melanesia – this included his great grandfather. ‘The Last Heathen: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in Melanesia’ was published in 2004 to much acclaim. Unlike Revd Richard Carter, Charles Montgomery is a proclaimed atheist but he corresponded with Richard Carter about faith. Richard Carter writes that although Charles Montgomery came to the islands as ‘the sceptical dilletante’ it seemed rather that ‘he came in search of faith’ and was profoundly moved by the story of the Brothers.
In the book Charles asks Richard about the literalness of the Bible. ‘Was Jesus just the greatest teacher of teachers or did he walk on the water?’
‘Did Jesus actually walk on water? My answer would be yes he did in their memory of him; he did in their faith experience … it was profoundly true for those who witnessed it. The event in their minds became a drama of an even greater truth that Christ, a flesh and blood Christ, not a spirit, was there with them, crossing the water (water the symbol of chaos, the home of Leviathan the devilish monster of the deep), reaching out to them in their fear and calling them to trust him and come to him, even when fear and doubt were undermining that call. They too could do what was impossible if they truly believed in him. And they did do what was impossible: this group of fishermen have profoundly changed the world with their lives and proclamation, until this very day. And their story lives on in the waves and fears we too face, with Christ bringing life out of chaos. Do such things really happen? I believe they do if we are receptive to them’.
Richard Carter then writes of an experience he had in 1985 during a time of personal crisis. He was on a beach in Java lost and alone and feeling very disturbed by events in his life and praying for help he saw three crosses shining in front of him: ‘literally burning with light in the dark’. Many years later he remembered the crosses when directing a passion play in the Solomon Islands where they enacted the Calvary scene where three crosses have been erected on a hill.
‘It is dark and we move toward that hill with flaming torches and there in front of me are the same three crosses. And in my memory something speaks so profoundly. This is the cross I have been following which has led me from Java and has somehow provided the meaning and shape to my life, the underlying thread which has pulled me and led me here through apparent confusion. It has made sense of things. You may ask was the cross real when I saw it in Java? And I can only answer yes, it was for me profoundly real, for in the following years it became the sign of Christ’s love, which gave meaning to my journey.’