Jedi’s of the Church
During the course of my discernment, I have found that the best way for me to figure out what aspects of a community are resonating with me, I try to connect the community or charism I am discerning with something I know: usually a character in a play or novel or an archetype. This is obviously very subjective and it is meant to be–my discernment is not a science fair project, so I don’t have to find a point outside the experiment from which to observe the experiment. Discernment is intensely personal and I have found it is best to approach God from the depth of my subjectivity, which is the true me He sees anyway. As I started to internalize Carmel as I experience it in my discernment, my understanding of the charism began to crystalize into Obi Wan Kenobi, the hermit-mentor who begins Luke Skywalker’s formation into a Jedi. Recognizing that there is no greater stamp of “geek” than relating anything, much less religious vocation, to Star Wars; I have to press on. My defense is that Obi Wan is actually an archetype of the Wise Old Man common in mythological stories and that, in all probability, the archetype is being activated beyond my control in my unconscious, so my conscious “I” (the geek I am trying to hide) is off the hook.
I noticed that in the movie Obi Wan not only looks like a Carmelite, with the brown robe and hood, but he also lives like a Carmelite, alone in a one-room cell nestled in a rocky desert valley on Tatooine. In the movie, he functions exactly like the Wise Old Man archetype is supposed to. He comes out of nowhere to save Luke’s life from the sandmen. He shakes the hero (in this case Luke Skywalker) out of his limited perspective by introducing him to the Force, the energy that surrounds and connects all living things and acts as the source of the Jedi’s power. Like all Wise Old Men archetypes, Obi Wan’s principal function is to provide a helpful gift for the journey, the light saber, which is both a literal weapon and tool and a symbol of the Jedi’s code of honor. Finally, Obi Wan acts as Luke’s mentor and guide for a short time, and then disappears to allow the hero to move forward on his own with what he has gained from the experience.
For me, the role of the Carmelite in the world is very similar. Carmelites are mendicant friars for a reason; it allows them to be in the world, among the people. This mendicant life, as opposed to the eremitical hermit life of the community’s origins, gives the friar the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time, to be there when the spiritual sandmen appear on the horizon. The essence of the Carmelite, the Force as it were that is the source of his power, is traditionally termed, Vacere Deo, the emptying of the self to allow God’s grace and intimacy to flood into the open, waiting soul. Pointing to the same unity and harmony implied in the Force, Carmelite spirituality actually shows the way, which is of course the ego-deflating challenge of breaking down our illusions, the false idols we create for ourselves, and breaking through to the reality of who we are, all that God is, and our right relationship as dependent creations to our loving Creator and Savior.
Carmelites, like every Wise Old Man figure, also provide the hero with a gift; it is the pearl of great price, the gift of prayer and contemplation itself. With it, one can slice through the illusions and attachments of the world and free himself to stand in the presence of the living God. Not a bad tool for the spiritual journey. Finally, Carmelites guide. Because they live among the people they serve as pastors, teachers, spiritual directors, therapists, chaplains, they are available to teach, re-teach and reinforce the lessons they have learned in the 800 years they have been making their way up Mount Carmel: self emptying, self knowledge, prayer, contemplation, purity of heart, silence, solitude, listening for God’s voice in the slightest wind.
PS: Not to appear overly patriarchal, I have to add that as symbolic containers of psychic content, archetypes can have both male and female, as well as positive and negative, aspects. The Wise Old Man can, and often has throughout human history, appeared as a Wise Old (and not so old) Woman. The best example of the feminine of the archetype I can think of in a well-known contemporary film would be the character of the Elf-Queen Galadriel to Frodo as the hero in Lord of the Rings, especially in the reflective pool scene (Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 7; with her gift being given in Chapter 8).