Praying Constantly


Tom expresses some legitimate concern that from the Dominican point of view it may seem as if Carmelites get too wrapped up in the extraordinary experiential aspects of prayer.

I can see how that might occur. I can also say that there is as little to be done about the concern as there is about the equally legitimate concern that arguments of St. Thomas Aquinas on "quickening" are frequently used by supporters of abortion both within and outside of the Church. Some Carmelites may well be caught up in the problem sited; however, St. John of the Cross, and the other sainted Carmelites were not among them.

John's seeming obsession about the experiential aspects of prayer stems from the fact that he was writing many of his works as spiritual guidebooks. He was identifying for many the roadsigns along the path of prayer that indicated the times to stand pat and the times to move on. Naturally his focus would be on the experiential aspects of the prayer life.

However, these guidebooks stemmed from his true statements about the spiritual life, his poetry. And his poetry is a series of lovesongs of the soul for God. These are not about extraordinary prayer (although John uses them as launching pads for his teaching), they are about simple acts of love and living in the abiding presence of the beloved.

Thus much of his work stems from poetry. The language is likely to be overblown, fanciful, or metaphorical. Tom particularly questioned my use of the expression "experiencing heaven on Earth," which will obviously mean different things to different people, depending on their image of heaven. He asks whether this is the goal of everyone or even the proper goal of a Carmelite. And it is a legitimate question. I answer it by saying that the way i see "experiencing Heaven on Earth" might be described in the simpler phrase of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection--"the practice of the presence of God." For me, the experience of heaven on Earth is to abide in the presence of God all the time. As St. Paul tells us, "to pray constantly." Not to pray in an overt prayer that sounds like a prayer, but to pray in the way Mother Teresa did--in acts of service to the poor, to the oppressed, to the voiceless, and in acts of actual prayer, such as the Mass, and Eucharistic Adoration, and the Rosay, and in acts of showering and even sleeping. To make prayer so much an ordinary part of every day that no action can really be separated from it. I have not achieved this goal--but to my mind this is what all the talk about extraordinary states and manifestations is about. It is about knowing that the God who loves me intensely is with me every step of the way and it is about living as though I really believe that. It is about life becoming prayer, not about prayer (in any one form or another) becoming life.

This still probably doesn't alleviate the misunderstandings that are possible, but for that I would suggest consulting Garrigou-Lagrange and allowing a Dominican to explain the Carmelites to another Domincan. Therese--thanks so much for the book, I never knew how handy it would be.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on April 3, 2004 2:35 PM.

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