BY DAVID TORKINGTON 3ESPITE HIS OBVIOUS learnrig, Abbot Williams was such . good and simple man that it eemed the most natural thing n the world to open myself to inn as I'd never opened nyself to anyone before. I told tirn about a new and exciting levelopment in my Prayer life hat I'd never told to another lying soul.
I felt that if none of ihe inests that I'd approached in he student house seemed to inderstand the desert I had wen going through for the ast eighteen months or more, hey'd hardly understand the ,ases that I'd come to at the nd of it. At first these oases ,nly refreshed me but. briefly, efore I found myself back in he desert again thirsting even nore for what I had thirsted or before.
The first oases were hardly ioticeable, it was just that midst all the dryness and ridity, that made me feel rayer was pointless, I occaiotally became aware of a ubtle strengthening power. lien it gradually began to awn on me that something 'as happening on a level far eeper than the dissipating istractions that never left me 31a moment.
The conviction that trength was being received las eventually confirmed by the subtlety of a gentle inner recollectedness that was not self-imposed. It came and went at will, not however at my will, for I would have willed it all the time. At first it felt almost exactly the same as those natural mystical experiences that had aroused my sense of the sacred in the past, but it was not triggered off by any form of external stimulus. It made me feel that I was not alone after all, nor had I been alone despite the months in the wilderness.
Then on several occasions 'all subtlety was cast aside, and the gentle recollectedness became profoundly absorbing. The deep inner peace that errveloped me ebbed and flowed with varying degrees of intensity.
Shortly before Abbot Williams had come to visit me, these experiences that had left me for a time returned more powerfully than ever before. I could only explain them to him in the light of two experiences that I'd had at school. Like so many other adolescents I'd been hungry to have exotic
experiences that would enable me to glimpse another more exciting world that transcended my boring boarding school existence with all its drabness and drudgery.
I was using a bottle of Dabit-off to remove custard stains from my Sunday blazer, when I was attracted to the smell of the solvent. I started dabbing it on my handkerchief so that I could savour the smell more intensely. Three smells later I was on the floor of the locker room, totally absorbed in a strange stupor.
In future my "experiments" were confined to the dormitory after lights out, until I was discovered. I was referred to the chemistry master, who warned me that I could well end up even more brain dead than my escapades suggested if I continued with my lunacy. Although I'd found these dangerous experiments enjoyable, they were nothing to compare with what I experienced when the nurse pumped me full of Pethidine before I had my tonsils out. I knew then what Nirvana was like, without all the ascetic efforts that the book on Buddhism I was reading insisted must precede it.
Despite my embarrassment Abbot Williams knew exactly what I was trying to say, and assured me that far from being an unusual development in prayer life, my experiences merely confirmed what should be the norm, not the abnormal. He told me that the deep interior peace that had enveloped me was one of the first signs that led the earliest monks to believe that the presence of God was beginning to draw them to Himself.
In order to describe these spiritual oases they had to borrow the word "Apathea" from the stoics and christianize it. Then it came to mean the inner peace that progressively permeates the whole being.
However he warned me that spiritual oases have an uncanny knack of drying up just when you think you can rely on them. Then once again one has to travel on in the desert that comes alive with what the Desert Fathers called "demons", which have to be defeated before peace can return and return permanently.
These were indeed prophetic words that I found out to Trw cost in the barren years that lay ahead of met