For me, as for so many others, the call to religious life came with a call to prayer and contemplation. And equally strongly came the conviction that this call was to be lived in an apostolic context - physically as well as spiritually in the heart of the world. So, regardless of my curiosity about what might go on behind enclosure doors, I never even thought about contacting any of the many Carmelite, Benedictine or other monasteries in this country. When I first encountered the Society I was drawn by their strong contemplative core, just as much as by their commitment to their mission, finding here, in the Sacred Heart, the means to be a contemplative "in the heart of the world". And here I still am, more than twenty years later, seeking to understand and live that call as fully as I can.
Every so often I read or experience something which reminds me why this is the right way of life for me, much as I imagine might happen for anyone else. Yesterday, the reminder came in an article in The Tablet, written by Katherine Backler, a young woman I know here in Oxford (sorry, this article isn't available online, so I can't post a link), describing a visit to a Benedictine monastery. Towards the end, she writes:
...the joy of being in God's house. This was a joy I do not think I truly understood until I came to St Cecilia's, until I knew what it was to get out of bed at five and hurry to the church to sing there in the company of women who had vowed that this would be the place, the only place on earth, where they would find God and dwell with God.
The only place... There is a thrilling gloriousness to her words and a beauty to what they describe... and yet... for me, the beauty and the glory lie in finding and dwelling with God in a thousand places. One house or church, however lovely and suffused with prayer, would never feel enough. God, for me, lives and loves in Cornmarket, Gloucester Green and Tesco's, as much as in our chapel and garden, chaplaincy Masses and events, or in the silent stillness of Llannerchwen, my favourite retreat centre.
The only place... Three words, four syllables. For an enclosed contemplative they can indeed mean one building, contained within a certain number of acres, wherein she will dwell forever, seeking God and praying for the world. But for me, an apostolic contemplative, the only place for finding and dwelling with God can only be wherever God is, and that means all places, all people, all things. All are alive and filled with the radiance and presence of God: the daily challenge is to recognise this and respond, to discover and make known the uncontainable love of God's wide-open Heart.