Seasons of the Hearts

John Welch, O.Carm.


John Welch, O.Carm

The Spiritual Dynamic of the Carmelite Life


The Carmelite tradition could be understood as an 800 year commentary on The Song of Songs. This ancient love story in Hebrew scripture is a basic narrative capturing the experience of countless Carmelites. "The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills." (2,8) Thinking they were seeking an elusive God, they returned from their search with the conviction that God had been pursuing them all along in love. The yearning deep within the heart of the Carmelite has been revealed as the trace of an invitation, "Arise my love, my fair one, and come away." (2,10)

Carmelite writers have frequently turned to the passionate love story of The Song of Songs for words to meet their experience. John of the Cross drew on the story and images of the Song for his love poem The Spiritual Canticle. Teresa of Avila wrote a commentary on the Song. And Thérèse of Lisieux identified with its story but, unlike the waiting lover in the Song, Thérèse said she always found the Beloved in her bed.

Whether consciously referring to the Song or not, its lines can be found in Carmelite stories. Carmelites tell many stories, but the story of the lover restlessly awaiting the approach of the Beloved emerges as a common theme. Their union in love and their retreat into the solitude of high mountain pastures finds equivalent expression in the stories of Carmelites. John of the Cross found Hosea's words expressive of his experience, "..I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her." (2,14) Responding to an invitation from a mysterious Presence met within searching lives, Carmelites have been drawn into a relationship which forever changes them: "... the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come..." (2, 11-12)

Fundamental themes of Carmelite spirituality emerge in this story of the human heart. These themes reveal a spiritual dynamism at the core of Carmelite life which can be described as "seasons of the heart." The intent of this discussion is to review these "seasons of the heart" in an attempt identify the spiritual dynamic of the Carmelite life.

There are five "seasons" identified in this discussion:

  • A LONGING HEART (our desire for God)

  • AN ENSLAVED HEART (the worship of false gods)

  • A LISTENING HEART (contemplative prayer)

  • A TROUBLED HEART (the tragic in life)

  • A PURE HEART (the transformation of desire).

  • Endnotes