Prayer: the experience of God who transforms us
The meeting of two paths
In Carmelite tradition, prayer has often been identified with contemplation. However, it is important to speak specifically about prayer, which is the door to contemplation.62
God seeks us out, drawing us close.63 We are invited by the Spirit to focus our attention on God64 , to listen, to welcome the Word, and to open ourselves to God’s transforming action. Our search for God is a response to his voice, and the loving dialogue65 which is the substance of prayer is at once God's initiative and the fruit of human cooperation.
Prayer, however, is above all the work of the Holy Spirit who, present in us, not only suggests what we should do and say - because "we do not even know what we should ask for"66 - but includes us in the prayer that Jesus, the beloved Son, addresses to the Father67 in a continuous dialogue of love. Prayer "penetrates to the very core of the Word in the Father's heart."68 Jesus associates us with his own prayer and leads us, step by step, into full communion with himself and with the Father in the Holy Spirit. Through fidelity to the Word and active observance of the commandment of love, we become open to the Holy Trinity who comes to dwell within us.69
Preparing the way for the encounter
The Rule invites us to remain in solitude in our cells,70 which "give warmth to the children of grace as to the fruit of their own wombs, nourishing them, embracing them and bringing them to the fullness of perfection, making them worthy of intimacy with God."71 The cell is not merely an external structure; we must build it at the heart of our inner selves: therein dwells God72, who invites us to enter and seek the One who is.73
From the outset, our spiritual tradition invites us to immerse ourselves in "the silence of a solitary hiding-place."74 In order to listen to the voice of the Lord and to hear his Word, we must know how to be silent: "The Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and he speaks it in an eternal silence; and in silence it must be heard by the soul."75 To learn God's language and to begin to speak a few tentative words in response, we must allow ourselves, in every aspect of our lives (spiritual, psychological and physical), to adjust to the silent sound of God’s voice76 and to God’s light.77 From our brothers and sisters, masters of the spiritual life, we have received many teachings on this subject.
The silence which we must cultivate does not come from an inability to communicate or an impossibility of communication; on the contrary, it is the fullness of dialogue, where words are often unnecessary and can become obstacles. Solitude is not isolation; it is filled with the Presence, and it sends us back transformed to the company of our brothers and sisters.
Alone before God
Prayer is essentially a personal relationship, a dialogue between God the human person. We are invited to cultivate it and to find time and space to be with the Lord.78 Friendship can only grow through "frequent one-to-one encounters with the One whom we know loves us."79
Our tradition suggests various ways of praying. The Rule invites us to prayerful attention to the Word, which must "live abundantly on our lips and in our hearts."80 Mary, the prayerful woman who "cherished these things and pondered them in her heart,"81 is the sublime model for this form of prayer. From Elijah we learn to remain in God's presence.82 As we become accustomed to his presence and as we learn to receive it silently, we begin to "breathe almost exclusively the essence of God, as we breathe the air around us."83
What is important, beyond all matters of form, is to cultivate a deep friendship with Christ: perfect prayer "does not consist in thinking much but in loving much."84 In prayer, the loving heart reaches out towards God85 and rests in him.
Together before God
In the Carmelite tradition, liturgical prayer celebrated in community has always been a source of spiritual growth, and therefore of inner transformation. Each day, punctuated by the liturgical moments, finds its centre - spiritually, if not chronologically - in the common celebration of the Eucharist, source and culmination of the life and activity of the Church. 86
In the Eucharist, the Lord unites us to his own offering of himself to the Father "so that day by day we may be perfected in our union with God and with one another, through Christ the Mediator."87 From the encounter with Christ, who is Word and Bread of life, comes the strength which enables us to continue on our journey.88 By the celebration of the Eucharist, we are inspired to reach out gratuitously to others and to welcome them with openness.
The celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours in community unites us, with the Church, to Christ's unceasing praise of the Father.89 This becomes our personal and communal way of participating in the sanctification of time and of history.
"The prayer of the Carmelite community is a sign of the praying Church to the world"90 and recalls the example of Mary in the upper room, surrounded by the disciples.
Our Constitutions suggest other moments of communal prayer, in addition to the liturgy. Lectio divina, in particular, provides an opportunity to share our experiences of God on our spiritual journey,91 and to seek God’s will together.
Ways leading to prayer
We must cultivate the various forms of prayer92, especially those that are dear to the Carmelite tradition, such as systematic meditation, Lectio divina, the practice of the presence of God, the prayer of aspiration, and silent prayer. The Eucharist must be seen as the source and high point of our relationship with Christ.
In developing community plans, adequate time and space shall be set aside for prayer, in order that members may learn to pray and gradually develop their own personal styles of prayer so that prayer may permeate all of life. "Prayer is life, not an oasis in the desert of life."93
It is also important to ensure that the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours are celebrated in community, and to insist on the importance of faithful participation.
Finally, a climate of external and internal silence and a simple lifestyle must be developed and fostered, as these are conducive to prayer and reflection.94
62 Cf. St. Teresa of Jesus, The Interior Castle, 1,7.
63 Cf. Hos 2,16.
64 Cf Dominic of St. Albert, Exercitatio, 24: "Cultivating holy prayer consists in genuine, total, and real attention to God."
65 Cf. St. Teresa of Jesus, Life, 8, 5.
66 Rom. 8:26.
67 Cf. Jn 1:1.
68 St. Mary Magdalen de' Pazzi, I Colloqui, 50, 922.
69 Cf Jn 14:15-23.
70 Rule, 10.
71 Bl. John Soreth, Expositio Paraenetica in Regulam Carmelitanam, 13.
72 Cf. Ibid.
73 Cf. St. Teresa of Jesus, the poem "Seek yourself in me"; St. John of the Cross, Canticle B, 1, 6-10.
74 Cf. Institutio primorum monachorum, 1.5.
75 St. John of the Cross, Words of Light and of Love, 99.
76 Cf. 1Kings 19:12; St. John of the Cross, Canticle B, 15, 26.
77 Cf. St. John of the Cross, Ascent, 2, 9, 1; The Dark Night, 2, 5, 3 and 5.
78 Cf. Rule, 10; Constitutions, 80.
79 St. Teresa of Jesus, Life, 8, 5.
80 Rule, 15; see also Constitutions, 82.
81 Lk 2:19, 51.
82 Cf. 1 Kings 17:1; 18:15.
83 Michael of St. Augustine, Introductio ad vitam internam, tractatus quartus, seu Fruitiva Praxis vitae mysticae, 14.
84 St. Teresa of Jesus, Foundations, 5,2; The Interior Castle, 4, 1, 7.
85 John of St. Samson, Le vrai esprit du Carmel, 122,1; St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Ms. C, 25r.
86 Cf. SC, 10; LG, 11; Constitutions, 70.
87 Constitutions, 70; see also SC, 48.
88 Cf. 1 Kings 19:5-8.
89 Cf. Constitutions, 72.
90 Cf. Constitution, 64.
91 Cf. Constitutions, 82.
92 Cf. Constitutions, 66.
93 Bl. Titus Brandsma, Godsbegrip Rede uitgesproken..., 26.
94 Cf. Constitutions, 67.