I thought I would give you a glimpse of the answer to that question by sharing the letter I wrote to the Council of my O.C.D.S. Community shortly before my “Definitive Promise” in Carmel after my years of formation and at least three years after my “First Promise” to the Order. In this letter I was to answer a series of questions about how I was living out the life of an OCDS, and how I saw it having changed me, and what my spiritual life was like. I made my final promise March 13, 2011. A lot has happened since then. I feel I am not as good at this stuff now, though I know I have grown immensely. In any case, this should give you an idea how an OCDS might live his or her daily life as a Carmelite in the world.
During my years of Carmelite formation, and through my time since I made my final promise as a Discalced Carmelite Secular, my spiritual life has changed immeasurably. I feel I could say, as Alice did to the caterpillar, “I really don’t know, Sir! I’ve changed so many times since this morning, you see.”
I sometimes wonder if I have a spiritual life anymore – it is so different to me than it was. But then I ask myself: “Is there any other kind of life that I have?” No.
I have wondered further whether I really love God or not- because my love is so different now. But then I ask myself: “Is there any other kind of love?” No, there isn’t.
I used to identify more with Psalm 63. I felt big feelings and had great longings and dramatic experiences in prayer. Then I think I had a few early stays in Purgatory over the years, and nowadays I feel closer to Psalm 131.
“LORD, [I hope] my heart is not proud; nor my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me.
Israel, hope in the LORD, now and forever. “
I have been with my Carmelite Community a long time. They have all been patient with me and my drama and my often childish (bratty) personality such as it is. (I have been known to throw skittles during meetings.)
I don’t know what I would do without their love, support, wisdom, forgiveness, and tolerance- not to mention their amazing example to me of what it looks like to radiate the love of Jesus. That love is clear in all of their faces.
All of them have challenged and loved me and shown me new things, so often relieving my heart and clearing my mind of one silliness or another. I feel very satisfied and happy with them. I would never want to leave them or go very long without seeing them. They are a family to me. I love them. I feel I need them all and that somehow they need me.
Our monthly meetings are days beginning with communal silent prayer, then formation classes, a lively lunch, afternoon study and discussion, business and such, and then Evening Prayer, ending with singing the Salve Regina. Sometimes it is hard for me to break out of my every day life and go to Austin to be with them for these. But I know I am always overjoyed to see my Carmelite brothers and sisters, and for some reason they are unfailingly glad to see me too. My husband, Bob, once asked, after seeing the beautiful way they each greeted me, “Are they always like that?” I laughed and said, “Yes. They are always like that!
Part of our daily life as Carmelites includes spiritual reading. I try to always have a spiritual book that I am working on reading, especially whatever we are reading together as a Community, or the writings of the Carmelite Saints, or others who enrich my spiritual life.
Each of us must try to make daily mass every day we can. As I was a daily mass go-er before I even became Catholic twenty – six years ago that was not hard for me to adjust to. That is just part of my life. I feel like that is where I get my strength and my daily bread. I like daily mass better, really, since it is more quiet, simple and intimate. I usually go to St. Mary’s for daily mass. I like to sit in the balcony, and the 5:30 mass is perfect before I go home to cook dinner.
Secular Carmelites also pray Morning, Evening and Night Prayer from The Liturgy of the Hours. My breviary is always in my backpack along with my journal and Bible. As my kids grew up I prayed Morning Prayer with them before school, and Night Prayer with them before bed. Evening Prayer I have always prayed alone which is good since evening is the busiest time of a mother’s day. I needed the re-centering before everyone came home and everything started.
After a while I noticed that the Psalms of the Divine Office and its’ readings became the language of our hearts. They come often into my personal prayers and thoughts and even conversation among us as a family. We laugh about that- about being “programmed.” I can see why it is such a good practice to pray the Psalms day after day. They often come to mind in situations that are appropriate or keep me out of trouble when I am tempted.
Interior prayer is an important part of living as a Carmelite. I try to spend at least half an hour of Meditation/ Mental Prayer daily in silence and solitude. After years of practice, it is just part of my day now. I used to do this in the afternoon as my sanity time before picking up the kids from school. Now, dusk is my favorite time for this. I have a room at home that I use as an oratory. I usually sit there as the light from its windows gently phases from honey to blue, to gray, to black. I don’t often use any particular prayer method like I used to do. I don’t know how to describe what I do, but I am quiet and still and I promise I’m not sleeping.
I am drawn into meditation or recollection or just some kind of quiet centering often during my day for no particular reason. I’m glad because I think that helps me stay sane. Sometimes I use Lectio Divina or go slowly over a memorized passage, pray St. Teresa’s Prayer of Recollection, or just see what God wants or… nothing in particular as I mentioned above.
Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. ~ Our Holy Mother Foundress, St. Teresa of Avila
Prayer has just become a way of being these days. What I strive for is a constant awareness of God’s indwelling. Simple. Quiet. Absolute. Carmelite Brother Lawrence called this striving The Practice of the Presence of God. Our Father, St. John of the Cross, co-founder of the Discalced Carmelites, wrote about “naked faith,” and the“…secret and peaceful and loving inflow of God.” To me, God is in the dark quiet center of my soul: love solid and real, that I have constant access to. That is where I have learned to seek Him on the simple, well trodden paths of Carmel.
A spontaneous meditation I am always doing is pondering in my heart what God is saying in my everyday life all the time in every situation and everything I see or hear. Maybe it sounds weird but, as people often wonder what our dreams mean and what God may be telling them in dreams; I think: “If this situation was a dream what would it mean? What would God be saying in this event?” God’s Word is written all over life, in everything and everyone and all the time. I often think “this is God.”
A natural ministry of a Secular Carmelite is to share Carmelite spirituality in the world. I am more likely to do this in informal ways. Mostly I just try to be it, to listen with the Heart of Mary when others are in pain, to rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, to reflect Jesus and the joy of loving Him, to make all I do be to His worship and for the good of the Church.
I end up being a spiritual companion often and sometimes even something like a midwife for a soul opening up to God. I usually don’t find out I am doing that at the time. I find out later. Sometimes I am conscious of it and it is a great joy “to form Christ in others.” When they are ready for Him they seem to show up in my life. This is good because God knows I’m a bit lazy.
My prayer life leads me grow in helpfulness. I try not to miss a chance to perform an act of service with love, even though it is more natural for me to be oblivious. Most of all, I try, as St. Therese the Little Flower talked about, “to be love in the heart of the Church.”
St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) said that our prayer lives are for the purpose of, “Good works, my daughters, good works.”
I try to serve as an Extraordinary Minster of Holy Communion whenever I can. It is an active ministry that feels like prayer to me. I usually have an Adoration hour at St. Mary’s as well.
I try to live a simple life so that I have more time just to be, to pray, to read, and so I can be available to God and the people in my life. With kids, even ones that are out of the house now, this simplicity can be difficult to achieve. But this is what I’m trying to do.
Part of the tradition of our Order is to emulate the life of the Prophet Elijah, who lived on Mt. Carmel. Elijah was a man who listened deeply to the inner voice of God in stillness. But he also could be very pointed, to say the least, about faithfulness to the love of God, and about justice and right. Sometimes being a daughter of Elijah means confronting injustice and speaking up. I do this gently, if I possibly can, sometimes boldly and pointedly when I think God wants me to. This is hard for me, but I am getting better at it.
“With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord, God of hosts.” ~ the Prophet Elijah (this is the Carmelite motto)
Mary is Mother, Sister, and Queen of Carmel. When I think of what I want to tell you about Mary in my life, a phrase from Paul about letting “ the Word of God be on your lips and in your heart” comes to mind. That is the way Mary is to me: on my lips and in my heart. She is a living part of me. I would not want to live without Mary. I would never have come to Christ if it were not for her and she immeasurably intensifies my experience and knowledge of Him.
We are to try to do something each day to honor Mary and the most formal way I do this is with a daily rosary (often prayed as I walk my dog, Flower), and by keeping roses at her statue at home.
I try to imitate her in everything and to ponder God’s word in my heart as she did.
And, of course, I wear her scapular. Plus it is tattooed on my back along with her Heart and the Heart of Jesus.
For more about Discalced Carmelite Seculars check out:
Our Provincial web site: http://www.thereseocds.org/home.html
Visit us on Face Book. “Austin Community of Secular Discalced Carmelites”
*the featured image for this piece is of the ruins of the original Carmelite Monastery on Mt. Carmel