In many cultures people gather at the village well to exchange news. There they catch up on what is happening in the village or beyond. The bulletin board at Whitefriars Hall in Washington, DC, where I am privileged to live serves as a type of village well for me. It is the place where I can go to get information about the local community, the Carmelites in the United States as well as Carmelites throughout the world. Notices of professions, ordinations, jubilees, prayer requests for the sick, death notices, names of visitors to our house and other important news can be found on the community bulletin board. For example recently on the board was an invitation to attend the jubilee of Sister Robin Stratton, OCD of the Baltimore Carmel community. It is always a great joy to be reminded of the people that make up our Carmelite family. Seeing the invitation brought back a fond memory of Sister Robin, and a fond memory of my childhood.
During my sabbatical studies (1996-97) in Carmelite Spirituality through the Washington Theological Union and the Carmelite Institute, Sister Robin was invited to speak with those of us who were part of the program. Sister began her presentation by passing a basket around the table. We were instructed to take a slip of paper from the basket and not look at it until everyone had their slip in hand. It was something like getting a fortune cookie! After everyone had their slip of paper we were allowed to look at ours. Each person had a question to answer or a statement to respond to. My question was “when did you first discover you had a Carmelite heart?” I sat with the question and pondered it. That question led me to another question. What is a Carmelite heart? For me, the word that came to mind was desire. A Carmelite heart is a heart that desires—a heart that desires God. Pondering the question I received brought me back to my elementary school days. I saw myself in 4th grade. I was an altar server and we would be taken out of class to serve at parish funerals. At every funeral mass I waited for one particular moment. Just prior to the Lamb of God our parish organist (who was also the cantor) would sing, one thing I ask of the Lord this I seek, to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. I didn’t know that Mrs. Bonk was singing part of Psalm 27 but I did know that those words gave voice to what I felt and wanted most in life. The Psalms continue to give voice to that deep desire I feel for union with God—as the deer longs for running waters so my soul thirsts.
Throughout my thirty plus years with the Carmelites this desire has grown and been supported and strengthened by the example, prayer and companionship of a great cloud of witnesses. Witnesses of Carmelites I have read about, as well as Carmelites I have met along the way, even my present community. My heart continues to desire and seek God. I spent some time with the Cistercian Monks seeking to deepen my desire for God. My time with them was grace filled and a gift I will always be grateful for. However, living among them confirmed the fact that I have a Carmelite heart. I have a heart that seeks God and finds its road map in this particular tradition we call Carmel.
I am delighted to be a part of the Carmelite Institute. It is a great joy to be able to be of some service to women and men from around the globe who are seeking and desiring a deeper relationship with the God who loves us all and who desires us by studying the Carmelite tradition. It is wonderful to be of assistance to the wider Carmelite Family. Each contact I have with another Carmelite heart strengthens me in my journey.
I hope all members of the Carmelite Family will become more familiar with the Carmelite Institute and see us as a resource for their benefit.
I am grateful to Sister Robin for asking that question. And I ask it of all of you who embrace the Carmelite way of life. When did you first discover you had a Carmelite heart?