Climbing Carmel My Bedroom: The World

June 5, 2012

To come to possess all
Desire the possession of nothing.

–St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel

This last Sunday I put clean sheets on my bed and realized that the last time I had slept in a bed, any bed, was in the rectory of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Chicago, February 11, 2012, during the Carmelites’ discernment retreat weekend. I would love to say that my long hiatus from bed-sleeping is due to something noble or romantic, like a Lenten penance in solidarity for the poor and homeless or maybe that upon discovering my true vocation at the retreat (which I did) I got on my knees in the chapel during a blinding snowstorm (which I also did) and tearfully vowed never to sleep in a bed again until I was sleeping in Carith House as a pre-novice (didn’t do that). As it usually is, the truth is far less dramatic. I help care for my nine-month old niece and nephew, both of whom suffer from severe infant reflux. The only way to minimize the condition is to keep them upright. This means that I spend a good part of the night holding my nephew in a chair or pacing the floor to the tune of “Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head”. But how I sleep, or don’t sleep as the case may be, is not my point.

My point is that as I walked into my room last Sunday, I noticed immediately that it had lost something, something I can only describe as its mine-ness. In my absence, my room had gradually become a sort of storage closet/back-up sleeping station, that allows my sister-in-law to rock one baby to sleep in my room while the other is already sleeping in the nursery upstairs. Although my room still has my stuff in it: books, desk, chair, clothes, crucifix, clock, now these items are accompanied by pieces of an half-assembled baby gate laying on the bed, a rolled-up rug pushed into a corner, and a rocking chair I’ve never seen before sitting against the bookcase. As I made the bed in this stranger’s room, it occurred to me that God had tricked me. Maybe not “tricked”, God isn’t the duplicitous type, maybe “re-directed” is the right word. Similar to the way parents re-direct an infant when they want her to let go of something without crying: they simply show her another object that is more colorful/shiny/noisy/chewable than the current object and make the switch. God took my eye off my books, writing, and research by showing me two babies and two parents that need an uncle. When I took the bait and started to sleep on the couch or in a chair “just for the night”, He took my room away, so I could experience a freedom I never would have chosen for myself.

Because I let go of my bed, every place has been a bed to me at one point or another: a chair, the couch, the floor, my truck, a fallen tree by my creek, even an arched doorway once when I fell asleep standing up! Now when I think of moving into Carith House as a pre-novice, I don’t fret over what I will pack; none of it feels like it is mine anymore. My belongings feel like the things I used to define myself a lifetime ago, when I was another person entirely, laboring under the unconscious assumption that what was “mine” gave me my shape: “my” time, “my” interests, “my” books, “my” writing, “my” bed, “my” clothes, “my” desires. All of it seems like it was just stuffing for a hollow heart, feathers in a pillow to fill it out.

As I straightened the bed spread and fluffed the pillows, I realized that what has really given me my shape over the last year has been what I have let go of, what I have disowned to make more room for God and others. The less I possess for myself, the more I make myself available for God to possess for Himself. When God takes possession of something, I find His generous heart always gives it back in a greater degree and in His time. I lost my books and gained this blog, which has been the greatest experience of my literary life. I lost a bed and gained the whole world as my bedroom: not a bad exchange to get tricked into, that is, re-directed into, so I would let go without crying.

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