As Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus, our religious life is shaped and formed by the ancient tradition of Carmel and its particular spirituality. This spirituality springs from a two-fold source – Mary, the Mother of God, and the great prophet of the Old Testament, St. Elijah. The lives of both exemplify the essential elements of the Carmelite life.
"…And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave.” (1 Kings 19:12-13).
Elijah teaches us that although the Lord is almighty and can certainly make His presence known and felt in any circumstance, He prefers silence. Therefore, the Carmelite yearns for silence that she might fix her attention on her King, who dwells in the deep center of her soul. For, as St. John of the Cross says, “The heavenly Father has uttered only one word; it is His Son. He says it eternally and in an eternal silence. It is in the silence of the soul that it makes itself heard."
As God’s sweetness is tasted in the silence, a desire for solitude naturally arises. The first Carmelites - Elijah, Elisha, and their band of prophets, as well as the first formal Carmelites of the twelfth century - found this solitude atop Mt. Carmel in the Palestinian desert, far from the busy world. In Carmel, distractions and non-essentials are stripped away and an atmosphere of solitude lends itself to an encounter with God. “Therefore, behold, I will allure her. I will lead her into the wilderness, and speak to her heart” (Hosea 2:14). St. Teresa weaves the necessity of solitude into her classic definition of prayer when she stresses that prayer entails taking time frequently to be “alone with Him.”
“As God lives, before whose face I stand…” spoke Elijah, for Elijah recognized the Lord’s gaze upon him at every moment. It is from his words that the Carmelite draws her model and example of recollection, which is nothing but a constant awareness of God’s presence. Elijah understood well that God is a living God who is always near and present to us. It naturally follows then, that we need not stop conversing with God when we leave the chapel, but that He remains at our side no matter our occupation, if only we remain attentive to Him. In the words of St. Teresa, “If you grow accustomed to having Him present at your side, and He sees that you do so with love and that you go about striving to please Him, you will not be able–as they say–to get away from Him; you will find Him everywhere.”
The Carmelite is one who is drawn to the praying Christ, to Jesus who “went up on the mountain by Himself to pray” (Matt. 14:23). At the heart of the Carmelite Rule, we read that the Carmelite is to “stay in [her] own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord's law day and night and keeping watch at [her] prayers unless attending to some other duty.” The spirit of Carmel is the spirit of prayer in imitation of Elijah who sought God in the silence, solitude, and recollection of the desert. This prayer need not be complicated. Rather, it is a simple gaze of love upon the Beloved. “Now, I am not asking you to think about him or to draw out a lot of concepts or make long and subtle reflections with your intellect. I’m not asking you to do anything more than look at Him,” says St. Teresa.
Carmel is all Mary’s. From the beginning, Carmelites have had a special devotion to the Mother of God. She has always been the patroness and protectress of the order. Carmelites were first known as “the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt. Carmel,” and these “brothers” felt a special bond with Mary their “Sister” whose virginity they esteemed and imitated. Carmelites identify a type of Mary even in the life of Elijah. Like the small cloud rising from the sea which precedes a heavy rain that will bring an end to drought (1 Kings 18:44) , Mary gives to us her Son Who showers thirsting humanity with His grace and restores us to life.
Carmelites always keep before the eyes of their heart Our Lady, model of the Carmelite life par excellence. In solitude, silence, and recollection she kept the home of Joseph and Jesus in Nazareth. As the one who first “pondered these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51), she stands forth as the perfect model of contemplation. At the wedding feast at Cana, we see her solicitude for souls and her desire that the glory of her Son be revealed. It is Mary who guides the Carmelite to the perfect knowledge and imitation of her Son and to the attainment of all desire…union with God.
Elijah, who experienced the Lord in the contemplation of the desert did not remain there. His zeal for God’s glory drove him to confront and challenge King Ahab and the people of Israel, to lead them back to the worship of the one, true God. Called to a prophetic vocation, the soul of a Carmelite does not find her final rest in the sweetness of contemplation. Rather, this encounter with the Lord gives birth to another burning desire – that God be glorified. By her prayer and sacrifice, she battles for souls. By the witness of her life she reminds the world that all Christians are called to friendship and intimacy with the living God. The cry of Elijah, “with zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts” is the cry of every Carmelite.