Two great figures in the Bible have inspired Carmelites through their 800-year history. Elijah, the fiery prophet of Carmel, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, have helped the community see how to be contemplative and active; prayerful and prophetic; reflective and apostolic.
Elijah and Mary are human models. Just as many of us wonder about the best way to live our lives, they felt paralyzing fear, faced difficult questions, and were hurt deeply because of choices they made.
Mary as a model of contemplation
The first Carmelites dedicated their chapel on Mount Carmel to Mary and they began to be called the Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel. From the visit of the angel, Mary ponders the word of God in her heart. Her surrender to let God’s Spirit work in her life is revealed in the Magnificat, a song that praises God for raising someone so lowly. She is a faithful follower of her son, witnessing his miracles and suffering with him to the end. The scapular, the brown cloth that Carmelites wear with their habit, is a reminder that we Carmelites attempt to follow Mary in dedicating ourselves to God’s plan. Through Mary, God’s spirit inspires us to continue to adapt, to be open to what God is calling us to be and do.
Elijah: A Model of Prophetic Witness
In the Hebrew Bible, Elijah is a solitary figure. On Mount Carmel — where the Carmelite hermits first settled — he challenged his people to choose one God for Israel — Yahweh or Baal. According to the First Book of Kings, chapter 18, Elijah’s sacrifice was consumed by fire, which proved to the people that Yahweh was the true God.
Undertaking God’s work, Elijah started a journey through the desert, but he lost his focus and commitment to the project. Sitting under a bush, he wished to die. But God prodded him to continue his journey to Mount Horeb. There, Elijah became aware of God — not with the usual eye-catching signs of fire and earthquake, but rather in the whisper of a gentle breeze. Elijah was sent back to his people refreshed. From Elijah, Carmelites learn to become aware of the presence of God in the unexpected and to be silent enough to hear God’s whisper.
“God lives in whose presence I stand”, says Elijah, and the Carmelites try to follow, recognizing God in everyone they meet and serve.