Carmelite: September 2005 Archives

About Prayer

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I loved this passage.

from Ascent to Love Sister Ruth Burrows,
quoting Wendy Mary Beckett, "Simple Prayer," in Clergy Review

The simplicity of prayer, its sheer, terrifying, uncomplicatedness, seems to be either the last thing most of us know or want to know. It is not difficult to intellectualise about prayer--like love, beauty and motherhood it quickly sets our eloquence aflow, it is not difficult but it is perfectly futile. In fact those glowing pages on prayer are worse than futile; they can be positively harmful. Writing about prayer, reading about prayer, talking about prayer, thinking about prayer, longing for prayer and wrapping myself more and more in these great cloudy sublimities that make me feel so aware of the spiritual: anything rather than acutally praying. What am I doing but erecting a screen behind which I can safely maintain my self-esteem and hide away from God?

The writing is less than grand, but the idea is perfect. Too often I take any recourse to escape from prayer. What am I afraid of? Perhaps it is the Keatsian, "Being too happy in thy happiness, thou light-winged dryad. . ." Perhaps it is loss of identity, perhaps it is any number of a thousand other possibilities. But the reality is that I use all of these escape mechanisms and more. Do you?

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Reading once again in the marvelous anthology of essays Carmelite Prayer: A Tradition for the 21st Century (ed. Keith Egan). I cam upon this marvelous observation:

from "Jesus Christ in Carmelite Prayer"
Margaret Dorgan

Teresa urges gentleness, no forcing. "Taking it upon oneself to stop and suspend thought is what I mean should not be done. . . . " She tells us that in regard to "this effort to suspend the intellect. . . labor will be wasted. . ." (BL 12.5). She warns against a kind of mental coercion to empty ourselves of thoughts in order to achieve a held absorption. St. Teresa was familiar with this experience in herself and in others, based on a too-demanding cut-down of outside stimuli, that could lead to quietism. "To be always withdrawn from corporeal things. . . is the trait of angelic spirits, not of those who live in mortal bodies. . . . How much more is it necessary not to withdraw through one's own efforts from all our good and help which is the most sacred humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ." (IC 6.7.6)

In one stroke we are told two important things. Prayer is never our effort unaided. When we think so we become more Buddhist than Christian. Prayer is always an invitation from above to converse. WE needn't chastise ourselves because of our distractions, nor need we try to force ourselves to be empty of them. We need to pursue the invitation in the ways that allow us the best communication. As we no longer need those ways of praying, God will gradually remove them from us. When He starts to do so, we must be willing to let them go.

We are also told something tremendously important to the understanding of the nature of detachment. We are not disembodied spirits, as much as some of us would like to behave so (not me, I'm afraid I'm all too embodied as yet). Having corporeal needs, we must attend to them. It is the right use of created things to meet our needs. It is also the right use of created things to appreciate the goodness that is in them and that is meant for us. Jesus did not constantly eschew food, wine, and company. Indeed, several of His miracles provided food for hungry people desiring to learn from Him. Yes, he fasted, which is also proper use of created things. But He did not fast limitlessly AND he even advised those criticizing his disciples that "the time for fasting is when the bridegroom has left."

It is not the use of created things that causes a problem ever. When we become detached it isn't about trying to become like the angels, but trying to train ourselves to the proper use of created things. We need not empty our houses until they all resemble Japanses interior design (unless that suits us). Detachment is about ever refining our sense of what we NEED against what we DESIRE. As we become more aware of what we need, we become more capable of limiting or seeing what we desire as distraction from the One Thing Needful.

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Some Comments on Humility

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Here's a "more positive" version of St. JoseMaria Escriva's 17 evidences of a lack of humility. Brought to you courtesy of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Blog.

Finally, to hear from one of our contemporary Saints, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Although immersed in an active mission, she indeed is a contemplative. Time for prayer and meditation is an absolute requirement for her and her sisters before they take on the duties of caring for others. In a book called The Love of Christ," she is quoted as saying to her religious the following: "These are a few of the ways we can practice humility" (which is the essence of meekness):

- Speak as little as possible of oneself.
- Mind one's own business.
- Avoid curiosity.
- Do not want to manage other people's affairs.
- Accept contradiction and correction cheerfully.
- Pass over the mistakes of others.
- Accept blame when innocent.
- Yield to the will of others.
- Accept insults and injuries.
- Accept being slighted, forgotten, and disliked.
- Be kind and gentle even under provocation.
- Do not seek to be specially loved and admired.
- Never stand on one's dignity.
- Yield in discussion even though one if right.
- Choose always the hardest.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Carmelite category from September 2005.

Carmelite: April 2005 is the previous archive.

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