Posted April 13, 2005 in MH Raleigh NC:
Not What I Expected

by Carl Pemberton (a friend of MH Raleigh).

In the fall of 1992 I was invited to MH Raleigh by a friend who was attending a Baptist seminary. A recent convert to Protestantism after fifteen years as an agnostic, I was at the time active in the Christian Evangelical Movement. We thought we knew most of the answers.

Since Madonna House is a “prayer-listening house,”* I came expecting a deep dialogue about the advanced stages of prayer or a lively discussion about the writings of St. John of the Cross. But soon after I met Theresa Davis, the director of the house, I realized that this deeply intense lady had a very different view than I did of what the Christian life is about.

Her first question to me was quite a surprise: “Why have you come to Madonna House?”  “To experience God,” I answered piously.

Her second question was just as surprising. “Are you married?” “Yes,” I responded.

“Well then, how is your relationship with your wife?”

How odd? I thought. What does my relationship with my wife have to do with mystical prayer or the dark night of the soul?

Though the discussions that first evening were not what I had expected, I left deeply impressed by these two ladies.

The next week I called Theresa to arrange a second visit, and I have been calling ever since. And over the years God has used the various staff who have been here to reveal to me what it means to “experience God.”

He used Elsie Whitty, a woman of prayer, as an example of a person in love with God, and he used Carolyn Desch to teach me the beauty of silence.

He used Marysia Kowalchyk to teach me how to quiet my inner being and listen for God’s still, small voice. And he used Kathy McVady and Echo Lewis to teach me about service to others.

And then there’s Theresa who has been there to listen. She has been there for me through so much—the birth of my daughter, the death of my father, and my confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church. Then when my son left for college, she placed his name on the MH altar.

When I was confused about God’s will for me, Theresa taught me about the duty of the moment. She taught me that I am God’s child and that he loves me unconditionally. She taught me to see Jesus in everyone, especially in my family and friends.

And every time I phone or visit, she asks me about my relationships and gently urges me to “love, love, love, never counting the cost.”

I pray that Madonna House remain in Raleigh for years to come.

(*Our prayer-listening houses are those whose main work is prayer and listening to whoever comes.)

This article was adapted from a talk given on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of MH Raleigh.


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