A Brief Review of
In God’s Womb: A Spiritual Memoir.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.
I have written several book reviews over the past couple of years for the Englewood Review, and I must confess this one has been the most difficult. My thoughts after reading this book seem to range from one extreme to the other. I had to remind myself more than once during my time of reading that this book is meant to be a memoir, which inherently brings with it a particular perspective and way of writing.
After reading Edwina Gateley’s memoirs, I was more than interested in what some of the “fruit of her life” might look like. I took the time to research the Volunteer Missionary Movement, the organization she founded in 1969. She devotes a full chapter to its formation and beginnings (chapter 3). The organization’s purpose was “to call Christian men and women to respond to the Vatican II’s call for full and active involvement in the Church’s life and mission.” The Volunteer Missionary Movement is still in existence today and, according to its website, has had more than 2000 people serving in 26 different countries over the course of its history. The organization has brought together teachers, engineers, agricultural and healthcare experts as well as many others to work in various different areas of community development and support. I was also able to find and read (online) Spirit and Lifestyle, her foundational treatise for the Volunteer Missionary Movement organization. Her writing there touches on many of the things that continue to be on our minds here at Englewood – issues like justice, compassion and faithfulness to God’s call.
I have always greatly appreciated the reflective and contemplative writings of many of God’s people through the years – which is what much of Edwina’s memoirs seem to be as she shares her story. The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis, has always been one of my favorites. In my mind, the purpose of those kinds of writings are to draw us out of ourselves and into the life and work of God.
However, all that being said, I would have to add that I found her reflections and contemplations in these memoirs to be more a “journey into self” than anything else. It became wearisome to read them. The word “I” appeared countless times on page after page. I would say that I did come away encouraged by and thankful for Edwina’s life and her faithfulness and service to God and His mission and purposes. After reading her book and learning a little about the Volunteer Missionary Movement, I’m sure that if I knew her personally there would be much I would admire and learn from her and probably much we could share in common. I hope at some point to be able to read another book she has authored…Christ in the Margins. It seems like it might be valuable reading considering Edwina’s very practical and difficult areas of work and service over her life. But what seemed to be the unending flow of her personal thoughts and inward experiences throughout this book pointed me nowhere. It seemed very heavy reading and easy to get bogged down in.
It’s certainly more than possible that the problem is mine as I struggle with things like reflection and contemplation – especially working in such a busy and full and fast-paced environment. My guess is that most of us don’t do enough contemplating and reflecting on the things that really matter. I appreciate what seems to be Edwina’s discipline in taking the time to think and pray and be still.
Sharing personal experience and those “personal journeys” in such a way that it doesn’t become ‘all about me’ is tricky, if not almost impossible, for most of us. I felt like Edwina’s reflections drew me to her – not to the God who created her and the God who is at work redeeming all things to Himself. Maybe that is an inherent characteristic of a memoir but from what I think I have learned of Edwina, I don’t really think that would have been her intention.
I appreciated very much getting to know Edwina Gateley through this book. I’m thankful she is a sister and co-laborer in Christ as she carries out kingdom of God work within the context of her church and community.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
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