My Night on the Mountain

By Edwina Gateley

A guest essay by Edwina Gateley. Gateley’s journey has led her to teaching in Africa, founding Volunteer Missionary Movement, sojourning in the Sahara Desert, spending nine months of prayer in a trailer in the woods, befriending and ministering to street people and women in prostitution — “God’s little ones,” and preaching the Good News that God Is With Us. Edwina is a poet, theologian, artist, writer, lay minister, modern-day mystic and prophet, and a single mom. She gives talks, conferences and retreats in the United States, as well as internationally, while continuing to reach out to women in recovery from drugs and prostitution. You can learn more about her at her website http://www.edwinagateley.com/.

When I read Deuteronomy 30:15–20 for this week in my Jerusalem Bible, just three words in particular caught my immediate attention: “Obey His voice.”

I smiled as a vivid memory of doing exactly that many years ago came back to me. There are, of course, many experiences we all have of obeying God’s voice at different levels of response and action. But for me, at that time, living as a hermit in the Sahara desert in Algeria for three months, the call to obey was radical and somewhat ridiculous.

I was alone — staying in a tiny hermitage in the middle of nowhere. The hermitage was built for those few folks who sought solitude and prayer hundreds of miles from any human activity. Most of the terrain was sand, which stretched as far as the eye could see. But there were also volcanic mountains rising to the heavens.

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Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian in Syria.

I became acutely conscious of a call from deep within myself to spend a night of prayer and vigil on one of the mountains. Of course, I dismissed such a call — I did not want to climb any mountain, and certainly did not have the slightest desire to sit on top of one all during the night! Scary! Just my imagination. Quite unreasonable. I have since come to understand that, for the most part, our God IS unreasonable!

The problem was — the “call” persisted. I could not shake it off! I blamed myself for repeating prayers like, “Here I am, send me,” like Isaiah, and for telling God that I would always be faithful and walk in his ways (as we read in this week’s Psalm 119). But this was a bit too much. I have come to believe, however, that when we say YES to God, God bugs us into faithfulness and seduces us to go further than we think we can. God is insatiable for us.

And so, reluctantly and feeling somewhat ridiculous, I set out early one evening with my Bible and a flashlight and began to climb. And climb. And climb. Eventually, I managed to reach the top of the mountain and settle myself on a ledge overlooking the vast Sahara desert. I watched the sun go down. Then I watched the moon rise. Clouds began to gather and darkness fell. I prayed. The silence all around was powerful. I was so glad I had been faithful. I felt rather pleased with myself that I had said “Yes” to the high standards of God’s invitation (Matt. 5:37).

But in the early morning hours I heard a rustling sound — like beating wings. I could not see anything, but suddenly something large and flapping flew around me and into my hair. That was it! Peace and prayer shattered. I was terrified. There was a tangible sense of evil which suddenly surrounded me and I began to tremble. So much for saying “Yes.”

In my terror I did something I had never done before and have never done since. With shaking hands I switched my flashlight on and held my Bible. Then I pleaded with God as I randomly opened the Bible and looked at the page in front of me: “Help me!” “Speak to me!” Immediately my eyes fell on Psalm 91:

“You need not fear the terror of the night,
Nor the plague that stalks in darkness…
He will put you in his angels’ charge
to guard you…”

In that unbelievable moment of revelation, I knew that God was with me. I also knew that because I had said “Yes,” because I had been faithful, God was revealing His presence in a powerful way. I was so relieved and so excited that I did it again! (Ah — how we tempt the Divine!). I closed the Bible and opened it randomly once again, tempting God to reassure me (!). And, once again, I was blessed as my eyes fell on the words from Psalm 84:

“…Happy the pilgrims inspired by you
with courage to make the ascent.
Thence they make their way from height to height
soon to be seen before God on Zion…”

I was elated and deeply grateful. God had seduced me to a place of faith and revelation.

I remained on the mountain until the moon disappeared and the sun arose. There was light. There was comfort. There was hope. I knew with a deep and powerful conviction that has guided my life ever since that, in obeying God’s voice, God had led me to understand that, no matter how afraid we may be, no matter how bad things may seem, no matter the presence of evil in our world, God is with us.

Happy, indeed, are those who walk in God’s ways, who, in the words from Deuteronomy for this week, “choose life,” and who say “Yes.”

We are called to say yes
That the kingdom might break through
To renew and to transform
Our dark and groping world.

We stutter and we stammer
To the lone God who calls
And pleads a new Jerusalem
In the bloodied Sinai Straits.

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Monastery of St. Paul the Anchorite in Egypt.

We are called to say yes
That honeysuckle may twine
And twist its smelling leaves
Over the graves of nuclear arms.

We are called to say yes
That black may sing with white
And pledge peace and healing
For the hatred of the past.

We are called to say yes
That nations might gather
and dance one great movement
for the joy of humankind.

We are called to say yes
To a God who still holds fast
To the vision of the Kingdom
For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes
To this God who reaches out
And asks us to share
This amazing dream of love.

From Edwina Gateley, There Was No Path So I Trod One (Sheed and Ward, 1996, 2013).

Image credits: (1) Wikipedia.org and (2) Wikipedia.org.

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