Prayer and Our Life
The words ‘Carmelite’ and ‘Prayer’ are closely related because of their historical and cultural background. The historical association of Mount Carmel with the spirit of prayer is an accepted fact. We cannot find any better example than our forefather Prophet Elija who combined in himself the very characteristics of Mount Carmel that is beautiful, affluent, silent, strong, contemplative and mystical. On these Mountain ranges he lived in the presence of the Almighty and proved the power of the Living God on the day of the great sacrifice. Then we find him yet bearing witness to the essence of prayer on his flight to Mount Horeb. Cultural background is related to the very nature of this mystic who was filled with zeal for the living God.
Prophet Elijah and his followers in mysterious ways and through unknown historical circumstances have handed down the rich heritage of Carmelite charism of prayer to those who desired to continue this holy tradition. The primitive rule of our Order has a very important place for prayer and it recommends each one of us “to stay in his cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty” (Constitutions p. 23). The cave of St. Elijah is the archetype of our present cells or rooms.
Under the inspiration of our primitive rule our Constitutions no. 3f reads that we are called “above all to lead a life of unceasing prayer in silence and solitude, in accordance with the gospel admonition to watch and pray”.
Our prayer is a call to embrace our whole life sustained by the Word of God and sacred liturgy, through which we are led to deep intimacy with God (C 15c). This demands that our prayer life and our consecrated life be ardently apostolic (C 15d). This is clearly spelt out in our charism, which is called “contemplative and active” (C 15e).
Moreover, the emphasis given to “Liturgy” enriches the above charism of our Order (C 56). This does not mean prayer is only limited to liturgical hours but it is a deeper call to live our prayer in ‘secret’ and to pray ‘always’ (C 63). Consequently we are to pray always making our whole life a prayer (C 63).
Now we have an understanding of our charism of prayer that is essentially rooted in our call.
Often in our reflections and talks we give more emphasis to the formal “two hours” of prayer (C 64), which in fact if we read the text carefully is “a means to fostering this life of prayer”.
The Constitutions number 64 reads further thus: “Each community should decide on the two hours best suited for this in its own particular situation. During that time the whole community must ensure that all can give themselves undisturbed to personal prayer. If for some valid reason approved of by the superior a religious should be unable to be present at community prayer, he should make up for this at some other time.”
“There should be a concerted effort to devise and use the best ways and means of fostering a spirit of prayer and promoting its practice, so that our communities are seen to be truly praying communities” (C 69).
Our Constitutions n. 101 reads thus: “down the centuries our Order has fulfilled this special mission (prayer and apostolate) in variety of ways, by the spoken and written word. We must continue this and update our methods so that we can more fully and successfully share with others the treasures of our rich spiritual heritage. We should strive to be well grounded in theology and Carmelite spirituality, and to equip ourselves both as individuals and as communities for our mission of leading people to a deeper knowledge and experience of intimacy with God“. This is a call to teach and share what we have experienced in our prayer.
In all these texts of the Constitutions I gather four important elements for our further discussion:
- Our life should be permeated by the spirit of prayer
- Our communities should be witnesses to prayer
- Our apostolic activity should be the outcome of
- We should be teachers of prayer.
The daily “two hours” practice should be sustained by the constant spirit of prayer that is lived everywhere, in any situation or circumstance. This in fact makes a Carmelite true to the spirit of our forefathers.
The first point, which I consider a fundamental to our life, has to sustain the other three subsequent points. Our life should be permeated by the spirit of prayer is an invitation by both our holy parents St. Teresa of Avila who says “the Lord walks among the pots and pans” (Foundations 5,viii); and St. John of the Cross recommends us to use our whole being “for the sake of going to God” (Ascent III,24,vii). This is a fundamental option we have made through our allegiance to our Order and charism.
When this is taken care of, naturally flows the second point, i.e., to make our communities witnesses to prayer. It is normal that when the whole day is lived in intense activity directing all our senses, feelings, emotions, thoughts and imaginations to the Lord, then the “two hour” formal prayer becomes desirable. Often the two hours become tedious because throughout the day our whole person is either “result oriented for personal gain or popularity” or our work is “done out of sheer duty, fear or with a mentality ‘do for the do sake'”. Consequently, either our prayer becomes totally a bundle of distractions or it becomes veritably an agony in the chapel.
The third one flows from the previous two points. When one is living prayer and witnessing prayer, he does not just remain a burden to the community. The one who integrates well the above two dimensions of prayer, wishes to contribute his share, either through work at home or through his ministry. He loves the home and tries to love everyone contributing his share positively for the joy and good of the community members. Apostolic activity and/or work spring from the desire to serve the Church and the community.
Teaching prayer or becoming teachers of prayer is the last point for our consideration. This mission is an offshoot of the previous three elements lived and personalized. When we are living prayer, producing fruits of prayer there is an instinctual tendency to perpetuate the seed of prayer by teaching others the art of prayer. A Carmelite is born to sow the seed of prayer in the minds and hearts of people through his expertise in this field.
All these four dimensions of our charism make us feel at home wherever we are. When we are out we long to come back. When we are at home we long to serve the people of God and the community through work, apostolic activity and study. This in fact should be the goal of Carmelite prayer. A Carmelite living prayer and experiencing its effects 24 hours a day will be able to say with St. Paul: “I have learnt this secret, so that anywhere, at any time, I am content, whether I am full or hungry, whether I have too much or too little. I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4.12-13).
Let God bless us all in this holy venture of prayer.