A ladybird on a daisy A ladybird on a daisy

A Solitary within SCL

Mary Vickerage

My Christian journey has taken me from being a wife of 29 years and mother of three, through the testing of my vocation to the Religious Life between 2004-2006, to making my final vow of Celibacy within the Single Consecrated Life Network in 2010.

I became a widow in 2000 and within two years felt the call of God drawing me to 'Himself'. With prayer and guidance, I followed that call to where I am today.

I first made contact with SCL in 2006 when I came to live in Norfolk. I had spent the previous two years in the Benedictine Community of Holy Cross in Leicestershire, first as a postulant, then a novice. The whole idea of testing a vocation is to look at all aspects of your call and see where your particular gifts and talents fit. Entering a convent wasn't the end of my knowledge that God was calling me, it was the beginning of a whole new search.

As time went on, it became increasing clear both to me and to my very supportive novice mistress, that I was being called to a more solitary and contemplative life than that particular community lived. Hospitality and guests formed a major role in the daily life of the Sisters at that time and God was making it very clear that He wanted me to live a life of silent prayer and adoration. As this wasn't possible for me at Holy Cross, other communities were explored while I was still a novice, but sadly, they were not for me either.

It was my novice mistress and the Reverend Mother who talked to me about living the solitary life alone by living the Single Consecrated Life within the Anglican Church. I had never heard of the Consecrated Life, but when it was explained to me, I did think that this way of life was a way for me to continue living the Benedictine life I had grown to love, but outside a community as a single vowed lay person.

The number of people offering themselves to life the Single Consecrated Life has continued to grow steadily since I joined in 2006.1 have watched with wonder and amazement the ever growing variation of the way the consecrated life is lived out by each person that joins. The greatest thing I think I value in SCL is the unique quality it has of embracing the individual journey of each of its members. I, and at least one other member, live the solitary life and others have a much more active role within their parish life. Some make a comfortable balance between both. This is what I love. None of us are boxed into places where we do not fit. We are allowed to live and grow on our own individual journey. We are a network of people living the Consecrated life, not individuals in a community living the same life, as I had been at Holy Cross.

Those who hear about my way of life are often intrigued and ask how I, a mother and a grandmother of five, a person who has an approachable and warm character by nature, very much a people person and someone that people want to be around, would want to shut myself away in a secluded spot, where no one can reach me. The answer is neither simple or easy to understand. Even for me it was difficult, so I can't expect others to understand without further explanation.

Jesus said, “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who is in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6v6). 'Going into your room' doesn't necessarily mean literally going into a room. It may mean that, but it also implies going within yourself to the place in your heart and mind where you and God can be alone.

'Shut the door' can mean shutting out all the distractions that separate us from being with God.

'Pray to your Father in secret' should mean being able to share with God in the silence of your heart and mind anything and everything you know you want to say to Him, but can't put into words or share with anyone else.

'Your Father., will reward you' means that when you have achieved a place in prayer where you are one with God, you will feel the warmth and strength He gives through being at peace within yourself and with those around you. This applies to all who seek and find God through prayer. Silent prayer is helpful to the spiritual life of all Christians, but to those who live the contemplative life it is not just helpful, it is vital. It is in stillness and silence that God reveals Himself. Remember The Prophet Elijah ?

So how does my way of life work out? As a person living a life of contemplative prayer, I must be strong enough to be able to look at God face to face and not turn away in shame. When I open myself to God in silent adoration, I have to look inwardly at myself at the same time. I must see myself as God sees me, the weak and sinful person that I am, though loved by God 'just as I am', as the hymn tells me.

To allow God to come close in prayer can be as awesome an experience as Peter, James and John had on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. And how many of us would be able to go there very often? Union with God cannot be reached during the everyday hustle and bustle of life. It has to be within that quiet room Jesus spoke of, which is the interior silence of the soul at prayer.

Living the life of a contemplative is not solely for my own spiritual growth. God has given me the gift of being able to listen prayerfully to other people and the strength and courage to communicate His love both by listening to and praying for others. Praying for others is not just speaking to God on their behalf. I see it as opening communication channels between those I pray for and God, and in doing this, helping them to speak to Him more confidently themselves.

My life is a continual life of searching. It is the personal search for perfect union with God in my own life and the search to do as much as I can to draw others towards a closer union with Him.

We all desire to see the beautiful face of Jesus, to feel the power of the very Presence of God. But God in His wisdom draws each of us on through what can be long and difficult paths until at last we reach the place of light and peace that prayer opens for us.

God had taken me on a wonderful journey to live the life I live, but it hasn't been easy.

I happen to live in a very enclosed place where gates are locked every day and I am alone and in silence, safe and secure. This is a gift from God in itself. In today's world, silence doesn't come naturally. Everyone is contactable 24hrs a day through the internet and mobile phone. Artificial noise fills the quiet spaces of towns and cities. Background music plays in shops and cafes and even I have to say, in Churches and Cathedrals alike. Finding silence to hear God is a spiritual battle we all have to face. To want to live in silence, as I do, is a thing virtually unheard of. It isn't natural. But silence is the vital ingredient in my life. I live alone and I work and pray in silence. All my work is done in my home, and even when I am out walking, or driving in the car, I am silently praying and glorifying God. All this makes me feel at peace.

My vocation is not unique, many people live lives of prayer. But one thing I have got that I value highly is the network of SCL. I may not be on the internet or have a mobile phone to text people, but I can and do write and receive letters and the occasional phone call which keeps me in touch with others, and of course the prayer diary too. So I am not isolated nor do I feel lonely, even though I am alone. I have ways and means of keeping in touch which helps me to feel part of something bigger. At the same time, not being too involved gives me the freedom I need to live as I feel God has called me to live, that is a life of contemplative prayer and adoration. God fills my waking day, and, as the Psalm says, “even at night I direct my heart to God”.

So it’s a win-win situation. I know that SCL benefits from having me as one if its members. I benefit from being consecrated and being fully recognised within the Church and supported by my Bishop who sees me annually. And God has someone whose promise of stability keeps me firmly grounded and in His loving Presence.

I have been blessed with a double vocation, that of marriage and now a call to live the life of vowed Celibacy. I believe God wants me to live for Him alone, and to help others to come closer to Him. I do this through a life dedicated to prayer and adoration. This may be being done within an enclosure, but it is not a secret vocation. News of my presence at Walsingham, a place known and loved by thousands of pilgrims, has spread over the nearly ten years I have been here, and yet I am given the respect and privacy I need to live out my own pilgrimage journey. All I ask for, and I know I receive, is the prayer of many, many people whose lives have touched mine.

May God give me, and all of us, the strength to live as He calls us all to live, for Him alone.