People often wonder: what makes a Carmelite a Carmelite? Having been with the Order a few years now, I’m still not completely sure. I can recall in my first months living in Carmel having a clear desire and passion to visit Mount Carmel—where it all began! Expressing this desire to another friar, he made a statement that resounds in my heart to this day, “Carmel is wherever the Carmelite is.” In other words, he was saying: ‘you don’t need to visit that Mountain. Our heritage is alive in your heart. Your spiritual home is wherever you find yourself.’
Today, I still have a desire to touch the earth where the first community of Carmelites gathered, but I also have a yearning to find Carmel in the other members of the Carmelite family—friars, nuns, sisters, lay Carmelites, their friends and families and all who have a devotion to our spirit or the brown scapular. So no, I do not need to visit that Mountain. The steady slopes, the dry dirt and streams flow into my soul from the hearts of all who hold fast to our traditions. Anybody who seeks to climb the holy mountain, in a sense, has already made the start of the pilgrimage—or maybe even is making a second or third ascent.
Still, I can’t help but ask: where is Carmel? Maybe it’s in the simple acts of kindness from my brothers in community. Or, possibly it’s in our daily celebrations of Eucharist. Then again, it might also be in the lonesome early morning hours when the only conversations I have are with God.
My need for contact with the places of history is met and filled by the encounters of the present. Welcoming brothers home from a week-long retreat and seeing their joy in returning must be as sweet as a drink from the wadi Carith. Hearing stories of their travels to visit with family members or old friends, I have walked the foot paths of our holy mountain. The connections to the people of Carmel are where I find Carmel.
Where do you find your spiritual home? It’s nice to be at home with myself in any place and time. To be comfortable in the presence of congressmen or a huddle of homeless beggars, that is an experience of Carmel—God’s Garden. I don’t know who I will meet next upon this journey, but I know with God we will become friends in Carmel—friends in God.
Perhaps the question should be restated. Instead of searching for a place, the better search might be for a people. Who is Carmel? Who are those that make up our spiritual home? Who allows us to be ourselves: loved and cared for? These people are all around us; we just have to meet them.