I have been reflecting for some time on my own experiences as a Carmelite, and it occurs to me that my own patrimony, my own experience of the rich tradition of Carmel has been long-time coming because we had gotten hold of the tradition the wrong way around. The Carmelite tradition of prayer has never been about her great Saints, but about her motto and her vision of Elijah and Mary as examples.
"In Allegiance with Jesus Christ." The motto of Carmel and the keynote, provide entrance into the central mysteries of the Carmelite order. If we keep in mind that "Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ," we can begin to understand the central focus of Carmel on immersion in the scriptures, the central place of Lectio Divina. All of the revelations of St. John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Edith Stein, Blessed John of St. Samson, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection--stem directly from this complete immersion in scripture. The Saints of Carmel are indeed Saints because of their close relationship and acquaintance with the Lord through scripture.
Any one who is interested in the Carmelites should know this up front. We are not by any means the most intellectual of the orders, in fact, perhaps the reverse, we are by far the Order than emphasizes charity and personal Love of our Lord and Savior above all else. The whole focus of Carmelite Spirituality is the development of this kind of continual conversation with the Lord. Our spirituality stems from intimate involvement in the life of the Trinity. This may only happen by visiting Jesus frequently where He may be found--in the sacraments and in the words of Holy Scripture.
The foundation of the Carmelite Mystical experience is the revealed Word of God taken as choice food for a prayer life. This meal then develops into a love-feast with Christ presiding and at the center. Our Saints may not be known for the greatness of their theological exercises, but they are certainly known for the depth of their love of God.
And putting all mystical experiences aside for the moment, this is what calls me to Carmel--the depth of the love and commitment to God that I see in her great saints. It is true of all orders, I know, and each is called as God will call; however, the true flavor and savor of Carmel is the richness of the prayer life founded on constant involvement with scripture. Love, not knowledge is always raised as the banner of Carmelites. If we were to take the words of some of our saints as guidelines for Carmelite life, they might be these:
St. Teresa of Avila-- Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed.
The important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so do that which best stirs you to love
St. John of the Cross--When evening comes, you will be examined in love. Learn to love as God desires to be loved and abandon your own ways of acting.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux--My calling is love! In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love.
You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.
Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed, I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.