A Point of Clarification

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Reading a note on TSO's blog made me realize how things sound when those not part of a group are hearing an exchange between people who have a subtext between them that fills in a lot of gaps.

Teresa Polk wrote:

"In some respects it is the same as John's since both followed the same Discalced Carmelite Primitive Rule. However, Teresa is arguably more advanced than John in the level of prayer in her writings. The Carmelite Joseph of Jesus Mary and Benedictine Dom John Chapman both considered everything in Teresa's contemplative prayer to be after the Night of the Senses in John's writings. They considered John to be writing more of ordinary prayer, while Teresa wrote of higher ways."

And if you've spent 10 or 15 years studying Carmel, this is unexceptionable. St. John of the Cross in The Ascent of Mount Carmel claims to be writing for beginners. But he is very careful of his terms. The beginners he is referring to are most often those who have been admitted to religious life--so they've already gone through a great deal more prayer than any one of us generally exert in a lifetime. They are beginners on the path to union--sufficiently prayerful that meditation is beginning to be a chore and burden rather than a means of participating in God. They've mostly left off mortal and most venial sin and their concentrating on correcting faults etc.

Hence, even St. John of the Cross's "beginners" are by no means "ordinary" in the degree of praying. Certainly there are some not in religious life who are "ordinary" in the way St. John of the Cross describes. But the way to understand the distinction might be to think of St. John of the Cross as a handbook for the novitiate and preparation, and St. Teresa of Avila as guidance for the professed or the proficient toward perfection.

Do not despair if you aren't on St. John of the Cross's radar! His "ordinary" would be "extraordinary" to any of us in normal life. Which makes what St. Teresa of Avila writes even more extraordinary.

Thanks TSO. Sometimes you just don't know what something sounds like until someone chokes at one of your statements.

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Thank you for reminding of us of this. In the good old days, I used to figure my prayer mansion was really close, and I was really deep into it, almost to the jewels.

Then I started backing away, and got so far that I thought I couldn't even SEE the darn mansions.

Right now, at least I know where the mansions are.

I love to read all our Carmelites, but when I slip into comparing myself to their descriptions, I am tempted to despair. Thanks for reminding me what they mean when they say "beginners."



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 12, 2005 1:42 PM.

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