US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Day 19: Edwina Gateley

No matter how far we travel, how much we accomplish, how deeply we suffer, or how joyfully we dance, God is always with us in all of those things.

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Edwina Gateley: Contemplative prayer
When I was a small girl, I was fascinated by all things religious and holy. God, obviously, fitted squarely into that category. God lived (so they told me) in our huge, greystone cathedral, and there, indeed, he was to be found—hiding in a gold box surrounded by flowers, candles, and velvet curtains. I spent hours in the silence and the darkness of the huge cathedral—often all alone—just sitting, breathing, awed by a deep, intuitive awareness that I sat with God.

Little did I know, at such a tender age, that I was engaged in contemplative prayer. I was simply absorbed by a sense of divine presence. It has never really gone away. As I grew older, however, life became busy and demanding. I went to college, then to Africa as a lay missionary teacher, and later founded the Volunteer Missionary Movement. I didn't really have the time to sit in dark and holy places, wide-eyed by mystery. I was very busy about the business of saving the world.

But I didn’t save the world. That has already been done. I am in a sense—like everyone else—trying to save myself, to become fully myself for God. My journey is coming full circle. Older, wiser, and deeper than in those earlier years when I sat in the cathedral, I now sit again, not in my cathedral but in myself. I “sit” wherever I find myself, for my cathedral is within me.

I know now that no matter how far we travel, how much we accomplish, how deeply we suffer, or how joyfully we dance, God is always with us in all of those things for the whole of our life’s journey. That dark, silent, and mysterious place stays with us, housing the holy. Like the Lenten experience, there are no extra props. There is just the darkness and the emptiness and, at the very heart of all that the divine presence, the Holy One whom we seek, breathing, hidden within us, eternally loving and waiting.

Reflection questions

1. How do you pray? Do you sit in contemplation of God? Work to bring about justice? Maybe you find God through song, liturgy, or the psalms. How do these prayers bring you closer to God?

2. What does that “dark, silent, and mysterious place” mean to you? Where do you find God’s presence?

3. Gateley speaks of contemplation and action as two separate, but related, parts of her faith life. How are these two things related in your own life? How do you live in the tensions between social justice and silence, prayer and deed?

Gateley is the founder of the Volunteer Missionary Movement.