Climbing Carmel
Yours In Carmel

| August 7, 2012

“Yours in Christ, Yours in Carmel.” It was how Fr. Greg closed all his emails to me. It still is. In most cases, I am sure he never gave it a second thought, but no matter how many times I saw it in the first months of our correspondence, it always made me pause. I understood his first phrase, “Yours in Christ”. All of us are joined in one sacred body, in the mystical body, the corpus mysticum, of Christ. Fr. Greg is mine just as I am his because the love of Christ that saved us both gave us to each other. If we accept it, that same love can also give us to Christ just as Christ gave himself to us so that, as Jesus intended, “We are all one as He and the Father are one”.

But what about the second phrase, “Yours in Carmel”? It just wasn’t as clear cut. At one point I protested to Fr. Greg that I wasn’t “in Carmel” yet, that I was still parked at a scenic viewing area at the foot of the mountain. In the biographies of Carmelite saints I had read it was often said that one “entered Carmel”. Usually, the phrase referred to the date that they first professed or, in the case of a nun like St. Therese, the date that they were enclosed in a convent. That being the case, I reasoned, how could Fr. Greg write, “Yours in Carmel”? He was in; I was out. It was one of those subtle teaching moments Carmelites seem to wrap around their interactions, and it got me wondering what I was missing. Fr. Greg seemed comfortable enough to write it, why was I having such a hard time receiving it?

Entrance archway for original hermit chapel on Mt. Carmel

I started to think about what Carmel actually was. Obviously, it is an actual location in modern-day Israel: 32°43’43.00″ N, 35°02’48.00″ E, elevation: 1,725ft. It is the mountain on which the Prophet Elijah lived out most of his exploits, and for this reason it is same mountain on which the first Carmelites gathered as hermits. Like all archetypes, it is both a place of origin and at the same time a destination. Having a positive and negative aspect as part of its nature, Carmel is both a garden (Carmel in Hebrew means, “garden”) and yet it is also a desert. It is a metaphor for conversion: the arduous climb up and out of our pride, concupiscence and sin toward the summit of a humble, pure, and obedient heart. It is a metaphor for self knowledge and psychological growth: the journey from the dissolution and arid wasteland of an ego-based personality pursuing its own desires toward an open heart that sees the idols it creates and surrenders them to make room for God at the center of one’s thoughts, feelings, behavior, aspirations. It is also a metaphor for the contemplative life: the journey through the recurring deserts and dark nights of our lives, when God appears to be absent, and we must walk on toward the summit of the mountain in faith, sometimes blindly, until we discover to our surprise that it was not God who was absent from us but rather we who had turned away from Him in our hearts and failed to see His grace all around us.

Long view of hermit chapel ruins on Mt. Carmel

After a long time, I began to see that we “enter Carmel” when we say yes to any or all of these metaphors in our lives, according to our state in life. For some this may be the physical entering of a cloister or hermitage to begin a hidden life in Christ, for others it may be a series of vows and a life spent in prayer, community and service, for still others it may be a personal dedication to pursue God in the depths of their lives and hearts, living as a contemplative amidst career and family obligations. No matter what the external circumstances of our lives, Carmel is entered when we make a decision to pursue God and endeavor to stand in His presence no matter where we are. In this light, I felt like I could finally “catch up” to Fr. Greg’s phrase “Yours in Christ, Yours in Carmel” and receive it as an acknowledgement of one traveler on the spiritual road to another, a greeting among family members who are not only joined by a shared Lord but also by a shared dedication to make that Lord not only the beginning but also the destination of their lives, such that we can say with T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
and the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
—”Little Gidding”.

Chris Sedlmeyer
Chris Sedlmeyer
Chris Sedlmeyer works as a Quality Assurance Director and lives on a 15 acre farm in Oregon. He has a Master's Degree in English Literature with a focus on Medieval and Renaissance literature, mythopoeic literature, and archetypal criticism. His scholarly work and poetry reflect his emphasis on archetypal psychology and Catholic spirituality. Chris has been discerning a call to religious life for the last 3 years and has specifically pursued a call to the Carmelites for the last year.

3 Comments

  1. Evie Nowak Day

    This is exactly what I needed to read! I have wrestled with the phrase “I wanted Carmel as soon as I heard of it…” because it FEELS like I relate so strongly to this quote, but I’m a married woman and to me “Carmel” seems impossible for me in the sense it means. But I’m learning that I can feel this way and embrace this quote in my vocation. Uniquely my own experience—made for me by Christ it is still Carmel. Thank you for your words.

  2. Abigail Benjamin

    Chris, requesting prayers please! My baby is now four months old, and we’re still struggling with infant reflux. I’m totally worn out. I went to confession and my parish priest (who is also a 3rd Order Carmelite) told me that I was failing to see my kids as “unique reflections of God.” My husband wisely says “he’s not our spiritual adviser” so don’t worry about his comments–just focus on the grace of getting forgiven. Of course, it’s not that easy for me.

    So my question to you–am I flunking by wearing down? Is there something I’m doing “wrong?” Or is this grey, hard place as a the mother of a baby with infant reflux who cries so often just a part of my walk as a Carmelite–sort of a “dark night of the senses?”

  3. Chris Sedlmeyer

    Of course you have my prayers–I have been there…am still there; although it is getting better. It should not be hard for me to remember your intentions as I will be making my own walk with my nephew, usually around 2-3am, each night.

    Before I start, thank you for being a 3rd Order Carmelite–the Church needs that grace in the laity and thank you for having the courage to take your frustrations to the confessional. Despite the frustrating response you received, it strengthens the body of Christ when we really make use of the sacraments.

    You are absolutely not “flunking”. Although your children are certainly “unique reflections of God”, so was Hurricane Katrina, so is a volcano, or a tsunami, or a swarm of killer bees! Just because all of creation reflects its Creator doesn’t mean we should necessarily find peace and solace in it.

    I always go back to Christ–it is no accident that he just didn’t talk about taking up our cross and following Him, He actually showed us how to do it: He took up his own cross and followed it to the end. (BTW: the Romans who tortured him were also “unique reflections…” as was the cross he bloodied.) Rather than an easy pat answer like “see God in your children”, I would only say that God calls you to walk this burden because He needs you to. I think part of that is because He needs you specifically to experience this particular form of suffering for your spiritual benefit (how and why we can’t know until we look back) but also He knows you can best suffer for Him in this way.

    I know that I am knit together in a certain way that makes me ideally suited to walk with a refluxing baby. Because I can suffer this way, my sister in law does not have to–we are one body. What I suffer for Christ brings me in my own unique way closer to His suffering and He of course is always present in an intimate way in my suffering. So just as you are joined to Christ in the miracle of your children (I can’t resist) “as unique reflections of God” you are also joined in a new and powerful way to Christ in the suffering you carry for your children, for Him, for the world. To truly know Christ, we have to know suffering. To truly know what it is to love, we have to know what it is to suffer for love. This reflux experience (I can say from experience) is one of the most powerful ways Christ can teach us compassion, patience, faith, hope, love, gentleness, forbearance. It is truly the boot camp of spiritual growth and that growth by its very nature is demanding.

    I hope this helps, Abigail.

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