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Center for Action and Contemplation
Twentieth-Century Women Mystics
Twentieth-Century Women Mystics

Standing Still

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

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.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Carrie Grace Littauer, Untitled 11 (detail), 2022, photograph, Colorado, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 4 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Florence Morning (detail), photograph, used with permission.  Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s image appears in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: She sees the leaves in the ice, gathers the small, unnoticed things, and cherishes her findings. We accept the mystic’s invitation to sit and ponder.

Story from Our Community:

Once I met her, I found it impossible not to fall in love with Teresa [of Avila]. This 16th century woman was light years ahead of her times. She was a powerful woman in a world of men—a reformer, founder of convents, author and contemplative. She embodied contradiction, a petite woman who was larger than life, who possessed a zest for life and laughter that made her invincible in the face of adversity. Yet, what most impressed me about Teresa was her love of Jesus and her intimate relationship with him. I was blown away by the picture of Bernini’s sculpture, “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” Bernini depicted Teresa’s vision of an angel who pierced her heart with a golden spear, setting her on fire with a great love of God. How I wished to get so close to God, to become one with him like Teresa! —Sonia F.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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