Wisdom from the Western Isles
After losing his wife in childbirth, young American James Robertson visits spiritual director, Peter Calvay, who lives in the Outer Hebrides. At first James learns how to pray and how to meditate. Then when Peter is lost at sea, James finds details of Peter’s own spiritual journey that inspires James to deepen his own spiritual life. As well as practical advice on prayer this part describes the deeply human story of the young woman with whom Peter falls deeply in love. Eventually Peter is found alive and the two men meet on the mainland at Peter s mother’s funeral. Peter uses the teachings of the Cloud of Unknowing, St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila as well as the paradigm of his own parent’s love for each other to explain the mystic life. Deeply moving lessons are drawn for those committed to paths that can lead to the fullest possible experience of love here on earth.
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Extract from Wisdom from the Western Isles
I put the phone down, walked into the dining room, and there was Peter Calvay, sitting next to the table. He got up as I came in, smiling naturally as he took me by the hand. I winced with pain. For a moment I thought he intentionally meant to do me an injury.
‘I’m terribly sorry!’ he said, immediately releasing his frightening grip. He had genuinely hurt me. I sat down nursing my hand, to the accompaniment of his profuse apologies. He had hurt me all right, but I made the most of it. Things couldn’t have turned out better. The moment we’d met, the psychological advantage had gone to me. Instead of me feeling guilty and trying to apologize to him for what I had done, he was the one who was apologizing to me!
‘It’s all right,’ I said, bravely forcing a smile.
‘I just forget about these hands of mine,’ he said, as if he’d only had them for a few weeks. ‘I’ve always been in trouble with them ever since I was a teenager. You see, I have to depend on my hands so much because of my leg. I have to grip things more firmly than anybody else for security. My father was endlessly telling me off at home because I would casually turn the taps off in the bathroom and go out for the evening, and nobody could turn them on again!’ He laughed guiltily, as if he were anticipating another scolding.
The words ‘father’, ‘home’, ‘teenager’ broke the spell I had cast round him. So far, he had been little more than a stereotype stamped out in my mind. All of a sudden he had come alive. He was a person; an individual with a past, a mum and a dad, a home, and a history. He had a face too and a body – a big body!
He was a well-made man, about five foot eleven, with strong, powerful shoulders, supporting a heavy, well-shaped head with a mop of black hair, not shoulder length, but long enough to cover both his ears.
The man I was expecting to meet would have been at least fifteen years older. Peter looked in his late thirties, or possibly forty, but even my arithmetic told me he must be at least forty two.
I would say he had worn well, in spite of the telltale grey hairs, which were by no means abundant. A handsome man, no doubt about that. This was something I’d not expected either. It was a strong face with a touch of stubbornness about the chin, but the face had been softened through suffering, and was mobile with compassion. He wore a large donkey jacket, heavily patched with genuine leather at the elbows. Perhaps it was the thick white Arran sweater underneath that gave him such a heavy, powerful appearance. His trousers were strong black ‘cords’, and his right foot was supported by a large built-up boot, fitted to an iron caliper; oddly enough, he was wearing a massive homemade sandal on the other.
‘Are you all right?’ he insisted, with genuine concern.
‘Yes, yes, I’m fine, thanks, though I wasn’t expecting to meet an “all-in wrestler”,’ I replied, attempting to be funny. ‘Well now,’ I said, trying to take control of the situation and play the host, ‘Would you like a drink before dinner?’
‘If you don’t mind, James,’ he said, breaking out into another guilty smile, ‘I’d prefer to have a bath. Father Callum usually lets me have one each Sunday before dinner, so I’ve just got time if I go now.’
‘By all means,’ I said. ‘We’ll meet in half an hour for dinner, if that gives you enough time?’
‘Plenty, thanks,’ he replied. ‘It won’t take me long.’ He picked up an old sports bag, took his stick, which had been hanging over the back of the chair, and went upstairs.
I sat down with a sigh of relief. The worst was over; the introductions were done.
Reviews for Wisdom from the Western Isles
My husband and I have both agreed to print our feelings about this book even though it means going public in the hope that it will do for others what it has done for us. Our marriage was about to break down irrevocably when my sister urged us to read `Wisdom from the Western Isles’. It explained to both of us perfectly the dynamics of what had been a widening gulf that seemed to be separating us from one another. The book explained in such a profound way that what we thought was a gulf was in fact a call to a deeper, loving union that has brought us together as never before. We both feel that if in going public we both lose our anonymity, this is a price that we are both willing to pay with all our hearts if it will encourage others to read and have their lives changed irrevocably by this `spiritual masterpiece ‘How to Pray: A Practical Guide’.James Wright-Walker
I was initially annoyed when I received an unsolicited invitation to a book launch through the post for `Wisdom from the Western Isles’, especially as I live in Scotland and the launch was to be in Southampton. However when I saw that the principal speaker at the launch was the distinguished historian Christopher Lee, the author of `This Sceptred Isle’. I decided that it must be something out of the ordinary for a spiritual book. I wasn’t wrong; this book describes profound truths in simple language. I found myself seeing new depths in the ordinary and will be reading it again to see what else will emerge. This book can change your life. I’m about to re-read it to see how it will change mine. It’s like having your eyes opened to what has always been there. If any book is a `must read’, then this is it, if it’s the only book you ever read.Eleanor Carter
One gains the immediate impression on taking up these books that they are not some glib response to an editorial suggestion but rather something carefully meditated. Torkington writes about prayer and one feels that he writes from experience, with the authority of one who has prayed. The hermit in question is Peter Calvay, who lives off the island of Barra in the Hebrides. The narrator is in pursuit of Peter and his knowledge of prayer. When the two meet, various conversations ensue and, with Peter as our guide, we are taken on a tour from the depths of semi-Pelagianism to the heights of mystical experience, encountering some serious spiritual theology on the way. Torkington has the happy knack of marrying style and content. At no time do we think this is a prayer manual dressed up as a novel, the novelistic trappings being the honey to snare the flies. Rather, we realise that prayer isn’t simply a matter of theory, but something to be lived — and these books succeed in presenting theology as lived experience. In an age such as ours where faith and life are so dangerously divergent, this is a considerable achievement. Torkington’s books may well end up on the shelf marked “Popular Theology.” This is a little unjust, as these books are far from simplistic; indeed, they are a welcome antidote to modern ignorance. But St. Francis de Sales wrote “popular” works too, and if these books end up next to Introduction to the Devout Life, they will be in fitting company.David McLaurin
David Torkington’s book, has the format and flow of a novel but the impact of a work of deep mysticism. The story itself is intriguing, and includes a genuine ‘Blue-Print for Prayer’ (and an explanation of how best to use it) that is powerfully practical. 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
An adventure in serious prayer life: Reading like a rambling, atmosphere-filled 19th Century English novel: A thought-and-action-for-prayer packed trilogy from Torkington. Filled with journeys, island-seaside-and-urban vistas, the English language artfully employed, British wit at its best, deft insight into the essential human quest for intimacy with God. Filled with insights into spiritual growth and the options for meeting God in daily prayer. By itself, it may just bring back the written word, at least in terms of spirituality.Crux of the News (USA)
David Torkington’s Trilogy on Prayer 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. That rich tradition which stretches back to the first days of the church and Origen, moves on through the Middle Ages with masters like William of Saint Thierry and reaches into our own century in such works as David Torkington’s Trilogy on Prayer immediately reminds one of the masterful Three Ages of the Spiritual Life of Garage-LaGrange. Indeed ‘three ages of the spiritual life’ might be the best way to sum up Torkington’s volumes. The first, The Hermit, gets us started on the journey, inculcating basic openness to God through humility, listening to the Scriptures and practising the other virtues. The second, The Prophet, drawing from monastic and Franciscan spirituality, moves us along from conversion and repentance to openness to the mystical life. And it is the third, The Mystic, which gives the reader a quick over-view of the teaching of St. John of the Cross with some helpful practical applications. But Torkington’s three-part presentation is no ponderous tome. Rather these slim volumes — which form a whole and are to be read in order — delightfully use the vehicle of story so dear to the Lord himself and increasingly popular in our time. And David Torkington, an experienced lecturer and retreat master, is a good storyteller…. [This] threefold journey is a refreshing experience, enlightening and promising, and calls us to the living, for the proof of the pudding is in the eating.M. Basil Pennington
I thought this book did an excellent job of outlining the spiritual adventures involved in seeking a relationship with God. Though the narrative is told in first person for the most part, it incorporates several points of view and experiences through letters and stories. This is not for readers looking for a quick thrill or fast action. More appropriately, this is a wonderfully meditative encounter with the stages of prayer leading toward a closer union with God. I found much of what Mr. Torkington said to be amazingly true. Like C. S. Lewis, I felt I was discovering truth again, but in a new light, from a fresh approach that helped (and will probably help me for years to come) to step a little closer God, or rather, to let God reveal His constant presence to me. As someone once said, “If you have lost God, it is not God who is lost.” This book helps to point the reader’s spirit in the right direction.Ann Frailey
I had read “The Hermit” before and was pleased to find three of David Torkington’s books condensed into one volume.this is a book I shall refer to again and again and am grateful you have been able to get this to me- Grateful thanks.Stella Ray
Mysticism is a frequently misunderstood word. It is sometimes presented as a modern phenomenon coming solely from the East and entering our Western world under the guise of the occult.
In a beautiful, personalized portrait, the author depicts a real person delving into the depths of the human condition. It reveals a practice deeply imbedded in the original Wisdom of the Judeo/Christian tradition.
This is a must read for both initiates to the subject and as a teaching method for those tasked to direct others.Paul J Williams
The original (and brilliant) trilogy (Hermit, Prophet, Mystic) has now been rewritten as a single book “Wisdom from The Western Isles” (with ‘raconteur’ changed from a Catholic Priest to an Episcopalian layman.)
There is now a sequel to ‘Western Isles’ – “Wisdom from Franciscan Italy”. All are great; with teaching on the mystic pathway (Western Isles) and Franciscan Spirituality (Franciscan Italy) being presented in the form of a novel. They are not dry and dusty ‘academic’ studies but are vibrant and alive. If you struggle with prayer (as most people do) then give these books a try.
Also highly recommended is Ian Morgan Cron’s “Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale” – another novel written in the first person on the subject of St Francis! Here the ‘raconteur’ has a crisis of faith and starts to resolve it by ‘Chasing Francis’ around parts of Italy with the help of a Franciscan Spiritual Director.
Being novels all these books are readable on many levels from ‘a simple story’ to a deep challenge of one’s own prayer life and understanding of Medieval Spirituality (The Dark Night of the Soul; St. John of The Cross; St. Teresa of Avila; Bl. John Dun Scotus) and its application today.John - Kidderminster