Whenever I cross the bridge to my dark island, I see dimly, then quite clearly, my vigil light twinkling through the large window. It is the only moving sign of life on my island.
There is a deep mystery in “coming to the island.” One feels that one is coming into a place of quite or rest, leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the world. Yet, one has also the feeling that there is some very important task that will have to be attended to when one reaches the island, a task that cannot be done on the mainland with its constant, ever-increasing tempo of life, its demands on all of one’s attention, as well as its tendency to confuse and diffuse mind and soul, tiring them somehow.
As I cross the black, icebound river, I begin to understand that indeed I am going away from men to God, to rest in his silence, to pray at his feet. My task here is to recollect myself so that tomorrow I might return to men to love them and serve them for Christ’s sake, for God’s sake.
I begin to realize, too, that I have yet another task to perform on my island: I must set my mind at rest and quiet my heart—detaching it from all created things in order to turn it to God, the Creator and the Lover.
This is what islands are for. Not everyone has an island to live on, to come from, to go to. But all of us must make our islands within our hearts. Islands where fear cannot dwell. Islands where we can cross over the bridge of our days to rest at the feet of the Beloved, to drink of his silence, to be made whole again and ready for the battle of tomorrow.
Not everyone can be a contemplative religious. Not everyone is called to that very special and high vocation. But we all need a place to rest and be silent before God so as to hear his voice speak to us in that silence. All of us, if we really understand and desire, can make our own islands within us. One can nightly “cross over the bridge” to this place apart. If we do, our days will be full of the fruitfulness of the Lord and of his peace.
Yes, life should be a daily coming from our islands to the mainland, and of returning from the mainland to our islands. I thank God every day for my island.
~ A Reflection by Catherine de Hueck Doherty
Effortlessly, Love flows from God into man, Like a bird Who rivers the air Without moving her wings. Thus we move in His world One in body and soul, Though outwardly separate in form. As the Source strikes the note, Humanity sings— The Holy Spirit is our harpist, And all strings Which are touched in Love Must sound.
We are besieged with endless babbling, and we become too weary to listen; we need to set aside a time to encounter the Lord. He can be encountered in many places, but one way is to find him in the poustinia (the Russian word for “desert”).
A poustinia can be a room or a small cabin—simple, even stark, so that nothing takes away from meeting God there. It has plain walls, a crucifix without a corpus, a table, a chair, a Bible, paper and pen, a loaf of bread and a thermos of coffee or tea, or simply water. The bed will be hard, for anyone who wants to follow Christ into the desert needs to do some penance; prayer and penance are two arms one simultaneously lifts up to Christ.
The poustinia is a place of solitude and peace, exterior and also interior. Everything needs to “quiet down”: the wings of the intellect are folded so that speculation and intellectual evaluation are quiescent. The head enters the heart, and both are silent.
The Bible is the only book found in the poustinia. The Scriptures become a million love letters from God, to be savored and meditated upon, absorbed so that you almost become one with those eternal, fiery, yet gentle words. Reading Scripture is a conversation with God.
When you enter the poustinia, you take humanity with you. You lift everyone before God, with their pain, sorrows, joy. The poustinik walks immersed in the silence of God. Our life of service and love to our fellow men is simply the echo of this silence, this solitude.
Then your own heart becomes a poustinia. You are there when you are travelling the subway and hanging onto a strap with your arms full. You go to a dance and you are in a poustinia. You play cards, wash dishes, you talk to people. That does not interfere with your poustinia, because the poustinia is the secret place where the Lover meets his beloved. God meets man!
~ A Reflection by Catherine de Hueck Doherty
Counsel for Silence
Go without ceremony of departure and shade no subtlest word with your farewell. Let the air speak the mystery of your absence, and the discerning have their minor feast on savory possible or probable. Seeing the body present, they will wonder where went the secret soul, by then secure out past your grief beside some torrent’s pure refreshment. Do not wait to copy down the name, much less the address, of who might need you. Here you are pilgrim with no ties of earth. Walk out alone and make the never-told your healing distance and your anchorhold. And let the ravens feed you.
~ A poem by Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers), O.C.D.
How can you define prayer, except by saying it is love? It is love expressed in speech, and love expressed in silence. To put it another way, prayer is the meeting of two loves: the love of God for man, and that of man for his God.
~ By Catherine de Hueck Doherty
“We ourselves have known and put our faith in God’s love towards ourselves. God is love and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” ~ 1 John 4:16
Prayer: A Progression
You came by night, harsh with the need of grace, into the dubious presence of your Maker. You combed a small and pre-elected acre for some bright word of Him, or any trace. Past the great judgment growths of thistle and thorn and past the thicket of self you bore your yearning till lo, you saw a pure white blossom burning in glimmer, then, light, then unimpeded more!
Now the flower God-is-Love gives ceaseless glow; now all your thoughts feast on its mystery, but when love mounts through knowledge and goes free, then will the sated thinker arise and go and brave the deserts of the soul to give the flower he found to the contemplative.
~ A poem by Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers) O.C.D.
“For contemplation is nothing else than a secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God, which, if not hampered, fires the soul in the spirit of love.” ~ Saint John of the Cross, O.C.D.
On Saturday, February 16th, I professed my Definitive Promises to the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Our OCDS Community gathered for a special day of grace and fellowship followed by a beautiful Mass officiated by our spiritual Father Dominic.
I was admitted to our OCDS Community in June 16th, 2012 and made my First Promise on April 25th, 2015. Over these years of spiritual formation and growth within my Carmelite family, I’ve been discerning my call to this rich spirituality and gift from God and I feel so grateful to my Beloved Lord to lead me into this blessed way.
I have a long way to go and so much to climb up the mountain of God, but with His grace and blessing and inspired by the Holy Spirit, I pray that I will continue faithfully to my journey in Carmel and be an instrument of God and His living flame of love in the world.
I’m eternally grateful, my Beloved Jesus, for calling me to Carmel!
O living flame, O living flame, O living flame, living flame of love!
How gently you wake in my heart. How tenderly you swell my heart with love, O living flame of love!
O lamps of fire, O living flame, O lamps of fire, our warmth and light!
Sweet cautery, delicate touch of life, sweet cautery, living flame of love!
O living flame, living flame of love O living flame, my living flame, My flame of love!
~ Based on “Living Flame of Love”, by St. John of the Cross, O.C.D.
O.C.D.S. (Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites)
“By the promise made to the community . . . the person becomes a full member of the Secular Order.” (Constitution 12) The promise is highly significant for Secular Carmelites and the process of formation moves the person toward making a life promise. The wording of the First Promise and the Definitive Promise differ only in the last phrase.
I, (name), inspired by the Holy Spirit, in response to God’s call, sincerely promise to the Superiors of the Order of the Teresian Carmel and to you my brothers and sisters, to tend toward evangelical perfection in the spirit of the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, obedience, and of the Beatitudes, according to the Constitutions of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, for three years [for the rest of my life]. I confidently entrust this, my Promise, to the Virgin Mary, Mother and Queen of Carmel.
A significant part of formation is coming to understand the commitment made by the promise. It is a promise to live in the spirit of the Beatitudes and in the spirit of chastity, poverty and obedience. Each of these commitments has a separate paragraph in the Constitutions of the Secular Order.
The commitment to the promise to live the spirit of the evangelical counsel of chastity
13. The promise of chastity reinforces the commitment to love God above all else, and to love others with the love God has for them. In this promise the Secular Carmelite seeks the freedom to love God and neighbour unselfishly giving witness to the divine intimacy promised by the beatitude “blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). The promise of chastity is a commitment to Christian love in its personal and social dimensions in order to create authentic community in the world. By this promise the Secular Carmelite also expresses the conscious desire to respect each person as required by God’s law and one’s state of life, as a single person or married or widowed. This promise does not prevent a change in state of life.
The commitment to the promise of live the spirit of the evangelical counsel of poverty
14. By the promise of poverty the Secular Carmelite expresses the desire to live in accordance with the Gospel and its values. In evangelical poverty there is a wealth of generosity, self-denial, and interior liberty and a dependence on Him who “Though rich, yet for our sake, became poor” (2 Co 8:9), and who “emptied Himself” (Ph 2:7), to be at the service of His brothers and sisters. The promise of poverty seeks an evangelical use of the goods of this world and of personal talents, as well as the exercise of personal responsibilities in society, in family, and work, confidently placing all in the hands of God. It also implies a commitment to the cause of justice so that the world itself responds to God’s plan. In combination with these, evangelical poverty recognizes personal limitations and surrenders them to God with confidence in His goodness and fidelity.
The commitment to the promise to live the spirit of the evangelical counsel of obedience
15. The promise of obedience is a pledge to live open to the will of God, “in whom we live and move and have our being” (Ac 17:28) imitating Christ who accepted the Father’s will and was “obedient unto death, death on a cross” (Ph 2:8). The promise of obedience is an exercise of faith leading to the search for God’s will in the events and challenges in society and our own personal life. For this reason the Secular Carmelite freely cooperates with those who have responsibility for guiding the community and the Order in discerning and accepting God’s ways: the Community’s Council, the Provincial and the General.
The commitment to the promise to live the spirit of the beatitudes
16. The beatitudes are a plan of action for life and a way to enter into relationship with the world, neighbours and co-workers, families and friends. By promising to live the beatitudes in daily life, Secular Carmelites seek to give evangelical witness as members of the Church and the Order, and by this witness invite the world to follow Christ: “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).
The madness of love Is a blessed fate; And if we understood this We would seek no other: It brings into unity
What was divided, And this is the truth: Bitterness it makes sweet, It makes the stranger a neighbor, And what was lowly it raises on high.
I saw the Lord hungry and cold and shelterless. I could not rest, I had to take him into my arms and give him comfort. But lo, when I did, it was not God but just a child, hungry and cold.
I saw the Lord bleeding and sick. I could not rest. So I arose to assuage his pain. But lo, when I did, it was not God but just a wasted man, in pain.
I saw the Lord weeping and alone in a new Gethsemane I had not seen before. I could not rest. I had to go and share his tears and woes. But lo, when I did, it was not God but just a beggar-woman by the road.
The title of this reflection is taken from “The Mystery of the Holy Innocents” by Charles Péguy (1873-1914):
Nothing so beautiful as a child who falls asleep while saying his prayers, God says. I have seen the dark, deep sea, and the dark, deep forest, and the dark, deep heart of man. I have seen hearts devoured by love throughout a lifetime. And I have seen faces of prayer, faces of tenderness Lost in charity. Which will shine eternally through endless nights. Yet, I tell you, God says, I know nothing so beautiful in all the world As a little child who falls asleep while saying his prayers Under the wing of his Guardian Angel And who laughs to the angels as he goes to sleep. And who is already confusing everything and understanding nothing more And who stuffs the words of the Our Father all awry, pell-mell into the words of the Hail Mary while a veil is already dropping on his eyelids the veil of night on his face and his voice.
In this famous poem, in the form of a hymn rising from the child’s dreams, Péguy (“the theologian of hope”) effectively evokes the “prayer without words”. There is a distinction between active and non-active prayer. In a strange way, admittedly, the image of a child who falls asleep while saying his prayers is the epitome of the concept of non-active prayer.
There was a time, during traditional devotions in the Marian months of May and October, when families could often contemplate the charming sight of toddlers who, wishing to imitate their parents and older brothers and sisters, had fallen asleep clutching rosaries in their tiny hands. To Péguy, this child whose words at prayer fall away into a murmur, and who finally dozes off, is a perfect image of prayer.
Indeed, the value of prayer is not measured by the number of words we say (Mt 6:7). If praying means “remaining silent before God” or, better still, “remaining silent in God rather than conversing with God,” then the image of the innocent child who goes to sleep while praying corresponds, in a sense, to that fundamental attitude of prayer. And since “awake or sleep, we may live with him” (1 Thess 5:10), can’t we say that even sleep becomes prayer?
There is an old Japanese saying about “siesta in the capital.” “Capital” evidently referred to present-day Kyoto, the ancient capital. The expression points to the appreciation of a Kyoto siesta as different from a siesta enjoyed anywhere else. It’s the same with sleep: falling asleep during prayer, nestled in God’s arms, is very different from nodding off during class or in a train or some other place.
If prayer were merely a matter of sleeping, it would be easy for everybody. Sleep can come from fatigue, discouragement, or perhaps lack of fervor in prayer. Some people have even develop the marvelous habit of sleeping when it is time for mental prayer.
This is not the essence of the child who goes to sleep while praying, the sight that Péguy found so touching. The appearance of joy and security in being united to Christ, “whether awake or sleep,” is what makes the slumber beautiful when one is overcome by occasional bodily fatigue, drowsing in prayer, eventually falling asleep before the family altar.
There is a kind of prayer we could call “sleeping in God” because in its depths lies total abandonment to God with complete confidence and peace of heart. Moreover, if faith and love mean to close one’s eyes to the things of this world and to die to self, doesn’t this confident abandonment into God’s loving hands lead to self-forgetfulness? This is what is meant by “sleeping in God” or ” sleep as prayer.” Just as sleep, by nature of its inactivity, restores bodily strength for action, so does prayer generate the strength to wake in God and accomplish God’s will. Prayer is the mysterious union of the two poles, the sleeping and the waking in God. The words of the renowned Zen master Sawaki, that “zazen is to hibernate in order to perceive an entirely new world beyond earthly reality,” may perhaps be pertinent to the matter in question.
This type of prayer can be compared, on the one hand, to Jesus asleep in the boat during the storm (cf. Mk 4:38) and, on the other, to Jesus awake and attentive to others’ needs, even to the obligation to give a cup of water to a poor person, “one of these little ones” (Mt 10:42). If the former type of prayer is to be called non-active or passive prayer (mui-no-inori), the result becomes “prayer that accomplished everything through nonactivity.” Here, then, is a difference: If Zen practice involves “hibernating to perceive a new world,” Christian prayer, by hibernating, receives from God the power to continually re-create the world anew.
~ Excerpted and slightly adapted reflection by Augustine Ichiro Okumura, O.C.D.