Wisdom from the Western Isles

Wisdom from the Western Isles

The Making of a Mystic


When he loses his son and his wife in childbirth James is totally bereft. An introduction to a hermit gradually changes his life irrevocably. Although the Hermit turns out to be a Roman Catholic, James finds he can completely identify with his profound spirituality, precisely because it is so scriptural and drawn from the same Christian Masters who had originally inspired him.


This book is a trilogy with the pats entitled, respectively, Peter the Hermit, Peter the Prophet and Peter the Mystic.The Peter in question is the central character of the book, and his hermitage is located on the remote Hebridean island of Calvay. reading the opening pages rang bells - I had the feeling that I had read this book before. Sure enough, a rummage through some shelves uncovered a small book, published in this 1970s, called Peter Calvay, Hermit by Rayner Torkington. It seems that the same author is now called David and the first part of this trilogy is largely a revised version of that book. The other two parts, I think, were also published as smaller books some years later. The theme of all three parts is the spiritual life, the relationship of the human soul to God, particularly as expressed in personal prayer. the methodology used to explore this theme is intriguing - the book is mostly a narrative of conversations and dialogues between a (fictional) Dr. James Robinson, who speaks in the first person throughout the book, and the main character, Peter, the hermit of Calvay. James Robinson is a seeker after spiritual wisdom, coming from a vaguely Anglican background, and Peter is the voice that speaks of the riches of the Catholic Christian tradition. The core idea in the first section (the Hermit) is that of receptivity, of making space and time for God to enter one's life. This includes the regular and generous giving of time for personal prayer, whether one feels like it or not. It includes an attitude of patient waiting for God and a humble awareness that prayer is God's gift, not our achievement. The second section (the Prophet) uses what seemed to me a rather contrived device of having Peter disappear in a mysterious boating incident and James having the task of organising his writings and papers. These papers include a number of essays in which Peter records the story of his personal journey, which took place in a great variety of locations from Dublin to Moscow, from Paris to Mount Athos and to several Franciscan locations in England and Italy. I got the impression that these locations are the spiritual journeys they encompassed may have been largely autobiographical, not just if the fictional Peter, but of the author David Torkington. At the end of this section, Peter re-appears and continues his discussion with James on the topic of mystical prayer. The third section (the Mystic) is mainly an exploration of the teachings of the two great Spanish mystics, St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila. In the ongoing dialogue, Peter elucidates in contemporary terms concepts like the interior castle, the dark night of the senses and of the soul, the prayer and mystical union. Much of his explanation is based on a comparison wit the marriage relationship of his own parents. The narrative style of this book, with the various comings and goings to and from that small island int hr Hebrides, takes a bit of getting used to and at times seems a somewhat artificial device for linking together the conversations between James and Peter. However, the great merit of the book is that it presents in an easy and readable style all the major themes of what used to be called ascetical and mystical theology. Though much of the trilogy seems to date from several decades ago, it is in no way dated in language or content. It is a useful account, for anyone beginning or revisiting the study of the great truths about the journey of the prayerful soul towards God. ~ Aidan Ryan, The Furrow: A Journal for the Contemporary Church

David Torkington owes his discovery of prayer to dyslexia which, when he was a teenager, opened for him the love of a God who, he felt, would know and understand his problem. He owes his subsequent perseverance in prayer to St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila, particularly the former's dwelling on the night of the senses which leads from prayer felt as consolation to a deeper contemplative prayer as a candlelit path through the darkness. This book written in the form of a novel is Torkington's attempt to write a guide to prayer for beginners up until this night of the senses, thus making St John of the Cross more accessible. In the first part we are introduced to the two main characters: James, the first-person narrator, whose wife has recently dies in childbirth, is an Episcopalian who has lost the habit of prayer but now feels the need to turn to God in a crisis that has involved alcoholism and suicidal thoughts. Through a chance encounter with a young woman on a retreat he hears about a hermit he actually glimpsed years before while on holiday on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The hermit, Peter, lives as a part-time shepherd on the uninhabited island of Calvay, and carries on an extensive correspondence as a spiritual director, but refuses to meet any of the people he directs. The book brings us up against our own tendencies and hopes: in the character of James, we too are over-keen to resort to subterfuge in order to meet the supposedly reclusive Peer who, comically and poignantly perhaps, turns out to be "an ordinary bloke". But this is precisely the point, as Torkington shows. Through the story, we are drawn into this ordinariness and in it we discover what is extraordinary about Peter's life and potentially, our own. It is Peter as well as James whom we are called to imitate. Peter's prayer life is deeply attractive, opening for us what Scripture has to offer in his slow meditative readings- namely, Jesus as mystic, with the power to change us. Peter guides James - and the reader- on to a level of spiritual understanding where the paralysis we feel when faced with the great truths of the Faith dissipates. Torkington contrives a good balance between suggesting ways of prayer and the need to let go when mystery takes over. This fascinating novel speaks of its subject in ways other than through Peter's explanations. The mystery of the latter's disappearance at sea in the second part, and the narrative of James' return to Barra to discover what has happened, give a keen sense of the effect that a life filled with God has on the attitudes and views of those with whom it comes into contact. James' learning from his relationship with Peter continues even in the latter's absence, through his autobiographical essays. The novel's final part takes James' experience as a jumping-off point for the subject of mystical prayer. Torkington's approach is successful because he has recognised that what draws us to God are people who are alive to God, so he sets out to paint us models who are fully human, with whom we can identify. To show is more powerful than simply to tell. As humans we are storytellers, and we need entertainment: the story of these two characters and their encounter touches us on a level that a treatise on prayer is perhaps hard pressed to do. The narrative tension is there in the background of Peter's spiritual exposition, encouraging us to read on to see how James will develop. The style is limpid, full of simplicity and a sense of awe, but also touched with humour. The beauty of the Scottish Highlands comes off the pages. This is an original, deep and surprising book. David Torkington has done for prayer what Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World did for philosophy. ~ Rima Devereaux, The Tablet

A thought-and-action-for-prayer packed trilogy from English author and retreat master David Torkington -- it deals with the experience of being rooted in the great spiritual traditions of the Church in a way that will enrich life in any century. By itself, it may just bring back the written word, at least in terms of spirituality. Filled with insights into spiritual growth and the options for meeting God in daily prayer time. ~ Crux of the News

If this book ends up on the shelf next to Introduction to the Devout Life, they will be in fitting company. ~ David McLaurin, winner of the \"Daily Express Book of the Year Award\" for his novel Bishop of San Fernando

Immediately reminds one of that rich tradition which stretches back to the first days of the church and moves on through the Middle Ages with masters like William of Saint Thierry and reaches into our own century in such works as the masterful Three Ages of the Spiritual Life of Garage-LaGrange. ~ M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. USA

The format and flow of a novel but the impact of a work of deep mysticism. This little book can revolutionize the way you pray. To get better at doing 'the most important thing' in your life, we recommend you read this book. ~ Larry Holley O.S.B., Book Nook , USA

A master of prayer. His engrossing style masks the depth of his practical advice and specifics about many forms of prayer from the traditional to the new. ~ Stanley M. Grabowski, Ph.D., Pastoral Life

David Torkington writes about prayer, the true deep prayer of the heart that surrenders us to the Father of Jesus. So simply expressed, so colloquial, that we understand the total love of God as the essential act of being human. Their seriousness is that of Jesus himself, a matter of the inner spirit and not that of the outer casing. ~ Sr. Wendy Beckett, Mount Carmel

David Torkington
David Torkington David Torkington is a Spiritual Theologian, Author and Speaker, who specializes in Prayer, Christian Spirituality and Mystical Theology. ...
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