Carmelite Saints on Prayer Teresa of Avila Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection Saint Therese of Lisieux Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity Blessed Titus Brandsma & Prayer Saint John of the Cross Nicholas of Narbonne LOADING Teresa of Avila "Vocal prayer must be accompanied by reflection. A prayer in which a person is not aware of Whom he is speaking to; what he is asking; who it is who is asking and of Whom, I don't call prayer - however much the lips may move." - Saint Teresa of Avila, from The Interior Castle Saint Teresa's best known quotation about prayer comes from her book, The Way of Perfection. There she says, "Prayer is a close sharing between friends." But what does she mean by "close sharing"? This is why this longer quotation about prayer, "Vocal prayer must be accompanied by reflection," from her book, The Interior Castle, is a favorite quotation on prayer. It explains in detail what Teresa means by "sharing between friends." There is a lot in this quotation. On a fundamental level, she's pointing out how prayer is tied to reflection, and reflection is tied to prayer. Yes, we know that friendship means spending some 'quality time' with friends, but it's more than just spending time. What makes it 'quality time' is that there is real listening and real understanding going on. When sharing some quality time with friends we often need to think about what they're saying even as they're saying it - reflection. We understand our friends better as they reveal themselves more and more; and we understand ourselves more as we reveal more of ourselves to them. Our friendship with God is exactly the same. No reflection, no friendship. That's why Teresa can say anything less "is not prayer however much the lips may move. On a deeper level, this brings us to how important self-understanding is in prayer. In fact, this strong emphasis on self-understanding is the hallmark of Carmelite spirituality. Of course, self-understanding is an element of any spirituality, but Carmelite spirituality's stress on it is particularly strong. Teresa goes so far as to say, "The path of self-understanding must never be abandoned." The non-reflective person is almost like a mannequin - all show on the outside and only plastic inside. The more we understand ourselves, the less we are like mannequins (all for show) and the more real we become (living out of deeper values of honesty, fidelity, goodness, and truth). Finally, and perhaps most compellingly, Teresa's quotation about prayer stresses that prayer must be going somewhere. Sharing and reflection means friendship. Deeper sharing and reflection means deeper friendship. And it goes on and on. How many times have we heard long-married couples say, "I love him/her more today than when I married him/her 50 years ago" (or 60 or even 75). There seems to be no maximum to our love. And, of course, there is no maximum to God's love. The only obstacle to all this is fear, and the more we understand ourselves, the less impact fear can have. So where is all this prayer going? If we practice prayer like Teresa recommends, it allows us to receive God's infinite love; but most amazingly, allows us to give almost infinite amounts of love ourselves. Yes, prayer is pretty amazing. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection"Prayer does not necessarily mean talking to God; it more often means listening to him." -- Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Practice of the Presence of God For many of us the first thing that pops into our head when we hear the word 'prayer' is the 'Our Father.' The 'Our Father' was the first prayer recited when we were baptized, the 'Our Father' was the first prayer that we memorized, and the 'Our Father' may well be the last prayer many of us may say before we die. It's a powerful prayer, but when Jesus gives us the 'Our Father' he first warns us (Matthew 6:9) "do not babble like the pagans who think that they will be heard by their many words." This may be what Blessed Lawrence of the Resurrection is also warning us about. God speaks to us clearly. But there are a lot of problems hearing God (or anyone else for that matter). First off, our minds are filled with chatter; a non-stop stream of semi- consciousness. It's hard for anything, including God, to get through the noise. But then we can even make it even more difficult for God. Even when God speaks clearly (which He will) we often apply "selective hearing" (i.e., denial) and convince ourselves that we didn't hear that. And when we have finally admitted to ourselves that we heard God then we can provide lots of good reasons why we cannot heed God's will. These are big hurdles in prayer - 1) to cut through the noise, then 2) to cut through our selective hearing, and then 3) to cut through our rationalizations of our own will over God's will. So how do we listen to God? One strategy that is useful is to join 'time' and 'silence' together. Time allows our brains to slow down a bit; it takes time to process any front-burner issues in our lives, and it takes time to see past our immediate concerns. Silence speeds all this up by removing external distractions so our brains don't have to shout so loud, we can focus a bit longer, and we just might ask God, "What did you just say?" and "Can you repeat that?" God will always oblige. Saint Therese of Lisieux "For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned towards heaven; it is a cry of recognition and love; embracing both trial and joy." - Saint Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul Therese's quote offers a truly profound insight into prayer. At the same time however, it also raises interesting questions such as 'where is the mind in this description?' When Saint Therese prays, it seems that there are no texts or words going on at all. Is the mind silent? Is the mind of no regard? Interestingly, Therese's autobiography, Story of a Soul, is an extended reflection on her relationships, especially her relationship with God. What's more, her mentor, Saint Teresa of Avila, puts a lot of emphasis on reflection as an important part of prayer. Why then doesn't this figure in Therese's description of prayer? To answer this question we need to consider her interest in the role of emotions in prayer. All the aspects of prayer that Therese mentions, "surge of the heart" or "a simple look towards heaven" or "embrace of trial or joy" are emotional responses. Our emotions are always reactions to what is happening to us at the moment. If someone compliments you, you are glad. If someone criticizes you, you are hurt. If someone threatens you, you are afraid. If someone bothers you, you are angry etc. So just what is Therese reacting to in this emotion-filled description of prayer? Simply put, she is reacting to God. Yet, God is not mentioned in her description at all though one might say that God is implied when Therese mentions "heaven" and "love." Another observation is that, the word 'God' is used less and less the more and more any true mystic gets closer to God. This is because the closer we are to God the more we realize that the ideas we had about God were wrong. So the mystics start to substitute other words for the word 'God.' For example, Saint Teresa of Avila talks about the 'Great King' and 'Beloved' or Saint John of the Cross will talk about the 'Beloved' and will go so far as to say God is nothing (nada). Without explicitly saying so, Saint Therese is saying the same thing. Ultimately, Therese recognizes that God is in everything, so everything leads us to prayer. That's easy to say when everything is going smoothly and well, but what about when things are rough? Saint Therese reminds us that we can still pray then, because real prayer "embraces both trial and joy." And so we arrive back at the original question: "Just what is Therese reacting to?" She is simply reacting to a deeper Therese! It is not enough to know that God loves us; we've got to feel that God loves us. Feelings are deeper than knowings - much deeper. The heart is much deeper than the head. And Saint Teresa of Avila tells us that 'the Great King' (aka, God) is found in the center of one's heart. That's what Therese's description of prayer is telling us, and that is why it is truly amazing; this description comes straight from the center of her heart. Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity "Consuming Fire! Spirit of Love! Descend within me and reproduce in me, as it were, another incarnation of the Word that I may be to Him another humanity wherein He may renew His mystery." - Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Prayer to the Trinity Greg Houck O'Carm recalls: When I was new to the Carmelites and on a retreat with a cloister of Discalced Carmelite nuns, I was using one of their breviaries when a prayer card fell out with a quotation from Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity. I was so moved by the quotation I stole the card. Don't worry, though. I 'came clean' and confessed my theft and the sisters allowed me to keep the card. Although I was moved, I thought it was also a mighty cheeky prayer. Who does Elizabeth think she is asking to be "another incarnation of the Word"? Isn't that reserved for Jesus Christ? And then it hit me, Exactly! Exactly! That is what Jesus invites us to be - the Christ! And there is a lot of Scripture that says this. Read the passage about the 'head and members' of 1 Corinthians 12, the 'vine and branches' of John 15, or the 'capstone and living stones' of 1 Peter 2. Similarly, when I first started reading Saint Teresa of Avila I said, "wow, this woman thinks that she is the Christ!" and then when I started reading Saint John of the Cross I said, "wow, this man thinks that he is the Christ!" This same idea is seen in Blessed Elizabeth's "make me another incarnation of the Word" idea. The founding document of the Carmelite Order is the Rule of Saint Albert of Jerusalem. He must've been a profoundly wise and holy man. Saint Albert was the Patriarch of Jerusalem who those first hermits on Mount Carmel asked to give them a 'Rule' or 'Way of Life.' In the Rule, Albert tells those first Carmelites that they should remain in their cells always at prayer, but then he adds "unless you have something else to do." Throughout the Rule, whenever he gives an instruction he then immediately gives an "unless" which seems to cancel it. What he is telling us is that prayer must not be an end in itself. Rather, prayer needs to get us somewhere. And that somewhere is Christ. Following Christ is the only instruction that is not given an "unless." Prayer must not be the end; rather, it is a means to an end. Saint Albert of Jerusalem knew this. And Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity knew this. And where is that end? Christ! Not only to be in a relationship with him, but to be shaped into him - to be "another incarnation of the Word." In Paul's letter to the Ephesians (3:17-24) is a prayer to the Church in Ephesus: "May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to God who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or even imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." Isn't this what Elizabeth was just saying? Blessed Titus Brandsma & Prayer "True pupils of the school of Carmel should be in a high degree wrapped up in themselves, to find and meet God in the innermost recesses of their souls." - Blessed Titus Brandsma, Carmelite Mystical Historical Sketches The Carmelites have two 20th-century martyrs renown for holiness - Saint Edith Stein (aka, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) and Blessed Titus Brandsma. Both were jailed and then executed by the Nazis - Edith in Auschwitz and Titus in Dachau - and both wrote of their experiences in the camps. What is striking is how both Edith and Titus kept a spirit of peacefulness and compassion toward their fellow inmates but also for their guards, who were invariably extremely brutal. How? A life of prayer goes someplace. Saint Teresa of Avila describes it in The Interior Castle as a path going through the castle or Saint John of the Cross describes it as The Ascent of Mount Carmel. This prayer-journey leads you deeper and deeper (Teresa) or higher and higher (John) into oneself. From either perspective - deeper in the castle or higher up the mountain - peacefulness is more and more the fruit of the journey. Blessed Titus, in his Carmelite Mystical Historical Sketches said, "Carmel is a mountain of peace high above a world filled with chaos." And the world of Dachau was certainly a world of tremendous chaos. In Chapter Four of his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul describes this state: "Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (4:4-7)." Even in the brutal environment of a Nazi Concentration Camp, Titus and Edith lived in a land where "peace surpasses all understanding" along with "kindness to all" including to their jailers and executioners. That is an awesome place to find and to live in. Let us pray! Saint John of the Cross "Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in anything less or pay heed to the crumbs that fall from your Father's table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart." - Saint John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, 27 How many of us have had the experience of the loss of a beloved pet. An animal that has been such a big part of our lives that when they die we surprise ourselves at how we are affected and how hard we cry. As we're crying we might think to ourselves "But he was only a dog (cat etc). Why is my heart so broken?" We say "but he's only a dog" because a dog and a human live at different levels. A dog's life is mostly instinctual, with some ability to think, and with some ability to emote. A human's life is a lot less instinctual, with lots of ability to think and great ability to love. We love our pets intensely and they return that love but we still lived on different levels - the canine and the human. It is a vertical love. This is similar to our relationship with God. God loves us intensely and we love God intensely, but still we live on different levels - God on the divine level while we live on the human level. It is a vertical love. But there is a big difference! Our relationship with God may start vertically, but we are invited and being led to make that relationship horizontal! Although we can share great love between animals and humans, it's still a vertical love. A human's strongest relationships must be with other humans (a horizontal human-to-human love). God, too, desires horizontal love. That is the relationship between Father and Son. Perfectly horizontal and therefore perfectly sharing in the fullness of love. God wants my love to be less and less vertical and more and more horizontal. To do this, God is inviting me to be God so God can completely share love with me on the same level. Saint Mary Magdalene d'Pazzi, who was a Carmelite mystic in Florence, Italy, in the late 1500s writes in Revelations and Enlightenments, "There is no longer one God, but a thousand-thousand gods; one God in essence and in Three Persons, but a thousand-thousand gods by participation, communion and union." Wow! And this is exactly what Saint John of the Cross is saying in Maxim 27 of his Sayings of Light and Love. This is mega-mysticism and this is what we are all invited to. The word 'wow!' doesn't begin to describe it. Nicholas of Narbonne "Make prayer your business." - Nicholas of Narbonne, Ignea Sagitta (The Flaming Arrow) Prayer is difficult. Nicholas of Narbonne was the Prior General of the Carmelites soon after their founding on Mount Carmel when Saint Albert of Jerusalem gave them a Rule or 'Formula of Life' around 1200 for a life as hermits. With the loss of the Holy Land after the Fourth Crusade, the Carmelites had to go to Europe. They quickly morphed from being hermits to being mendicants (in the model of the Franciscans or the Dominicans). Nicholas of Narbonne then wrote Ignea Sagitta as a call to return to the original life of living as hermits focused mostly on prayer. He asks if the Carmelites are now preaching merely for applause. He asks if the Carmelites are now working in parishes merely for attention. And that there will be no applause and no attention in prayer. Saint Teresa of Avila says this 300 years later in her own call to return to basics and to prayer when she says in The Way of Perfection, "I abandoned you, Lord, under the pretext of serving you." So the first Carmelite document written soon after Saint Albert of Jerusalem gave the Rule, is a document about how difficult prayer can be. But the Carmelite writers all stress initial perseverance. Teresa says in The Interior Castle that the first mansions are the scariest and hardest. And in The Way of Perfection she likens prayer to watering a garden. (Keep in mind that 'Carmel' means 'Garden of God' and gardening is an image that Carmelite authors often return to.) She says, "It seems that the garden can be watered in four ways; you may draw water from a well, or by means of a water wheel, or it may flow from a river or stream, or the water may be provided by a great deal of rain." Saint Teresa's image of ways to water a garden is a beautiful metaphor for how through perseverance, prayer becomes more effortless and fruitful. In the first instance-getting water from a well-we draw a small amount of water only after a lot of work. This is akin to the beginning of our attempts to pray, in which we might feel as though it takes a great deal of effort to gain a little bit of nourishment. A water wheel provides more water but still requires the work of carrying water from the water wheel to the garden in much the same way as our prayer deepens through consistent effort. Like the free flowing water that nourishes irrigated land, once we've done the work of digging irrigation ditches, our prayer grows ever deeper and flows more easily through our deepening commitment to it. At its most effortless, the water finally comes in the form of rain. This is when it's just God doing the work, and all that is required of us is to we do nothing except drink it in. Prayer is easy.