In the last post I was looking at Harry Williams’ experiences and described one as a sense of exclusion from the beauty in Regents Park and another as the sense of surrender to the encompassing glory he felt when swimming in the sea. Williams sees his exclusion in the first as linked to when he was ‘a conscientious and God-fearing clergyman’ and so alienated from the glory by his false self or persona. But after his surrender to the sea he begins to have similar occasions of becoming aware of being enveloped in God’s glory and in strange unexpected contexts. The strongest experience of surrender was when on a bus journey in Trinidad:
The journey took about two hours, but I was unaware of the time passing since I was caught up in a bliss which is impossible to describe. It was an experience of the ultimate reconciliation of all things as Love, a living presence, flooded over me and swept me into its own radiance, combining in itself an infinite grandeur with a tender personal intimacy.
Williams goes on to describe other times when he experienced God’s love and presence though he also knew the ongoing emptiness and despair that still lay within him. He knew from these different experiences that suffering need not be the dead-end it seems but that the emotional responses he had both to God’s glory and to his own pain meant that he needed to fully surrender and offer himself with all the mixed emotions and feelings that he had to God on behalf of others. He writes, ‘The challenge with which all people are confronted is to find their true identity in the encompassing mystery from which their being is derived.’
The question Williams mused on was as ever how to do this? How to become closer to God with all that might mean. Sometime after writing this Williams went on holiday to Shetland and went to the small Episcopal Church in Lerwick where one sentence of the prayer book epistle…
…burnt itself into me like fire: “Ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” The words overpowered me … if the impact of the words was merciless, it was the impact of merciless mercy … an invitation … is never compulsive. It has about it a supreme graciousness which frightens only because it attracts so mightily. From that moment I knew… that I was being invited to die somehow to an old life in order to find a truer identity in the encompassing mystery of which I had so long been aware.
The eventual decision he reached was to enter Mirfield, The Community of the Resurrection. Leaving behind his academic and theological positions exacerbated anxiety and some depressive incidents and looking back Williams could see the path that he had taken – through:
… great torments to freedom and the inalienable inheritance of my humanity. The last step of that journey was still in the far distance and might never be taken in this life. But the first step… belonged to the past…There is a sense in which the best things in life have to be surrendered as well as the worst, the good as well as the bad. For it isn’t only good food which grows stale and rotten if kept too long.’