Standing Still

Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896–1985) was a Russian baroness whose family emigrated to Canada to escape the collapse of Russia’s tsarist monarchy. Eventually, she gave up everything in her commitment to live “the gospel without compromise.” She served the poor and promoted interracial justice through her work at Friendship House in New York City. She then formed a contemplative community called Madonna House in Canada, where she helped bring the spirituality of the Eastern Church to Western Christianity. Like many mystics, Doherty experienced God’s presence and deep love in silence: 

True silence is the speech of lovers. . . . True silence is a key to the immense and flaming heart of God. It is the beginning of a divine courtship that will end only in the immense, creative, fruitful, loving silence of final union with the Beloved.  

Yes, such silence is holy, a prayer beyond all prayers. True silence leads to the final prayer of the constant presence of God, to the heights of contemplation, when the soul, finally at peace, lives by the will of [God] whom she loves totally, utterly, and completely.  

This silence, then, will break forth in a charity that overflows in the service of the neighbor without counting the cost. It will witness to Christ anywhere, always. Availability will become delightsome and easy, for in each person the soul will see the face of her Love. Hospitality will be deep and real, for a silent heart is a loving heart, and a loving heart is a hospice to the world.  

She truly was a contemplative in the world, understanding that silent prayer is an experiential gift for everyone who desires greater intimacy with God:  

This silence is not the exclusive prerogative of monasteries or convents. This simple, prayerful silence can and should be everybody’s silence. It belongs to every Christian who loves God, to every Jew who has heard in his [or her] heart the echoes of God’s voice in [the] prophets, to everyone whose soul has risen in search of truth, in search of God. . . .  

Deserts, silence, solitudes are not necessarily places but states of mind and heart. These deserts can be found in the midst of the city, and in the every day of our lives. We need only to look for them and realize our tremendous needs for them. . . .  

But how, really, can one achieve such solitude? By standing still! Stand still, and allow the deadly restlessness of our tragic age to fall away. . . .  That restlessness was once considered the magic carpet to tomorrow, but now we see it for what it really is: a running away from oneself, a turning from the journey inward that all [people] must undertake to meet God dwelling within the depths of their souls.   

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude and Prayer (Combermere, ON: Madonna House Publications, 1993, 2000), 5, 7.

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