Notes on Spiritual Guidance in the Carmelite Way

 

Tiny bluebird friend by Unknown Artist

 

In the Gospel [Jesus said] … where two or three are gathered to consider what is for the greater honor and glory of My name, there I am in the midst of them… that is, clarifying and confirming truths in their hearts, It is noteworthy that He did not say: Where there is one alone, there I am: rather, He said: Where there are at least two. Thus God announces that He does not want the soul to believe only by itself the communications it thinks are of divine origin, or for anyone to be assured or confirmed in them without the Church or her ministers. God will not bring clarification and confirmation of the truth to the heart of one who is alone. Such a person would remain weak and cold in regard to the truth. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross)

This passage, even though it deals specifically with souls who have received visions and revelations, is pertinent to all of us, for it contains a basic truth, namely, that we are not always the best interpreters of our own experience. St. Teresa of Jesus taught that it is one grace to receive a grace from God and another grace to correctly understand the grace that one has received (The Book of Her life. 154). And the grace of understanding is often communicated to us through another person.

St. John of the Cross does not say that we need someone to tell us the truth but we need a trusted guide who is able to assist us in “clarifying (aclarando) and confirming (confirmando) truths [that] are in [our] hearts.” Aclarando is the process of clearing up obscurity or shedding light upon things that are unclear, whereas confirmando means to confirm and give support.

Good spiritual directors are hard to come by, you may say. This is true. However, the guidance of which St. John of the Cross speaks can come to us through many sources. We can receive clarification and confirmation about truths that are in our hearts from our spouse, a coworker, a support group, a friend, or even a book.

So we may ask ourselves and reflect:

What are the channels through which I receive spiritual guidance? What or who is most helpful in clarifying or shedding light upon my experiences?

 

~ By Marc Foley, O.C.D ~ The Ascent of Mount Carmel Reflections

 

A Reflection on Prayer… God – or ego?

 

A vision, art by Yongsung Kim

 

Prayer. We take the word for granted but ought we to do so? What do we mean by prayer? What does the word mean in the Christian context? Almost always when we talk about prayer we are thinking of something we do and, from that standpoint, questions, problems, confusion, discouragement, illusions multiply. For me, it is of fundamental importance to correct this view. Our Christian knowledge assures us that prayer is essentially what God does, how God addresses us, looks at us.
It is not primarily something we are doing to God, something we are giving to God but what God is doing for us. And what God is doing for us is giving us the divine Self in love.

Any talk about prayer, if we are to stand in the clear, pure atmosphere of truth, must begin by reflecting in firm belief on what Jesus shows us of God. Let us push straight to the heart of the matter.
What is the core, the central message of the revelation of Jesus? Surely it is of the unconditional love of God for us, for each one of us: God, the unutterable, incomprehensible Mystery, the Reality of all reality, the Life of all life. And this means the divine Love desires to communicate Its Holy Self to us. Nothing less!
This is God’s irrevocable will and purpose; it is the reason why everything that is, and why each of us exists. We are here to receive this ineffable, all-transforming, all beatifying Love.
Well-instructed Christians know this notionally but, alas, few know it really. And here I must add an important reminder that knowing it ‘really’ does imply ‘feelingly’. To know really – or really to know – means living that knowledge, living out of it. It means that our way of looking at things, our attitudes, our actions arise from this knowledge. Of this real knowledge we use the word faith. This must give us pause and make us very cautious of claims to faith. ‘Of course I have faith!’ We can feel quite indignant if someone implies otherwise! My experience tells me that real faith is rare and it is best we acknowledge this so that we may really work at believing.

Basing ourselves, therefore, on what Jesus shows us of God (and we Christians have only one teacher, Jesus the Christ, who is our Way), we must realize that what we have to do is allow ourselves to be loved, to be there for Love to love us. It cannot be a matter of our finding some way of contacting God, of making God real to us, of getting hold of a secret key with which to open the mystic door. Nor is this faith in Jesus our Way compatible with such distressed meaning as: ‘I can’t pray’ or ‘my prayer is hopeless’ or ‘I have never had anyone to teach me how to pray and therefore I don’t pray.’ When we find ourselves dissatisfied or anxious about our prayer it is worth asking ourselves the question: ‘What do I really want?’ and trying to listen honestly to the answer. We can be fairly certain that it will be some kind of ego-satisfaction.
I may want to feel I am making progress, that my prayer is ‘working’ or that I am a spiritual adept. I may want to feel I am getting something for my money! True prayer means wanting GOD not ego.
The great thing is to lay down this ego-drive. This is the ‘life’ we must lose, this the ‘self’ we must abandon if we are to have true life and become that self God wants us to be, which only God can know and ultimately only God can bring into being. We have to recognize that a great deal that goes for interest in and longing for prayer is a subtle form of self-seeking. To give ourselves seriously to prayer is to recognize this and face up to the choice it presents: will we cast aside our egotism, allow God’s love to purify it more and more whatever the cost, or will we camouflage it, give it other, more spiritual names, and look around for so-called spiritual guides who will offer us ego-satisfying techniques with the promise of an ‘experience’.
Perhaps we give up the prayer-project altogether with the reflection that, after all, what matters is living and loving and serving our neighbour.
Another very popular form of evasion is just to go on worrying and asking endless questions about prayer with the illusory aim that one fine day we will be shown ‘how to do it.’ The thing to do is, of course, to get down to praying! That will answer our questions.

 

~ By Ruth Burrows, O.C.D – Essence of Prayer     

Faith & Doubt

"DOUBT NOT, THOMAS" BY KIRK RICHARDS.

Art by Kirk Richards, ‘Doubt Not, Thomas’

What is faith? What does it mean to have it or lack it?

Faith is a profound mystery that we can never adequately explain. It is an interplay between divine grace and the human mind and will. We are speaking of Christian faith, and that is faith in Jesus Christ as the incarnate Word of God.
The object of our Christian faith is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Faith is never a mere intellectual assent but always involves commitment. It is always in action, more a verb than a noun. Faith cannot be one facet or a particular aspect of my life, but my whole life. As St. Paul says, “My real life is the faith I have in the Son of God who loved me and delivered himself for me.”

It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to believe…”No one can come to me except the Father draw him”… but we must cooperate with all our powers. And this means we must “labor for the food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). “This is the labor of God that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).
What can be more important?

Many people think they have no faith because they feel they haven’t. They do not realize that they must make a choice to believe, take the risk of believing, of committing themselves and setting themselves to live out the commitment.
Never mind that they continue to feel that they do not believe. Under cover of being “authentic” we can spend our lives waiting for the kind of certainty we cannot have.

What, then, is doubt?

I do not see how we can talk of faith if we eliminate the possibility of doubt. We cannot have the certainties that our nature craves and finds in the evidence of the senses. Perhaps most of the time we do not advert to doubt, but at times it can press heavily. As far as I am concerned, troublesome feelings of doubt seem a matter of the imagination failing to cope. Although we have no scientific verification for what we believe, there is nothing irrational in Christian faith but an enormous amount of data to support it.

In times of difficulty my anchorage is the Gospels. There I encounter Christ, “Light most beautiful,” who overcomes the darkness of doubt. My faith is essentially faith in Jesus Christ: “You are truth. Your word is truth and what is troubling me is a lie.” I believe that there comes a point when a person is so held by God that, no matter how assaulted that person may be, faith stands firm, for “no one can snatch them from the hand of my Father” (John 10:29).

~ A Reflection by Sister Rachel of the Carmelite community in Norfolk, UK

An Encounter

Robert Hagan - Garden Moments

Art by Robert Hagan, Garden Moments 

My Beloved,

Come and visit me in my garden,
the flowers are wild and unkempt,
but they like to grow freely in your space,
breathing from your air and soaked in your warm rays.

Come and stay my Beloved,
the birds greet you with reverence,
and I am still, sinking everything in.

My garden is your abode.
It’s our meeting place…Oh how much I thank you my Jesus!
I thank you for this space filled with the joy of you.
This is my place of retreat, where I come to learn all your mysteries
and rejoice in your unfailing love.

My Rabonni, your eyes seek me and I encounter yours in an unending song of praise!
How do you love me so much?
How do you seek me so much?
I am breathless…my heartbeat stop at your majesty.
I close my eyes,
and I lay in your arms,
and my garden transforms into an eternal bliss of me in you and you in me.

~ My Carmel, A personal reflection