Attentiveness to God's Word in the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, is essential to all Christians. Throughout its 800 years, Carmelite spirituality has placed a particularly strong emphasis on pondering Scripture. Carmelites, whether lay or religious, are expected to spend some time each day taking up the Bible.
God's Word and the Carmelite Rule
Sometime around the year 1207 the Latin Patriarch (Roman Catholic Bishop) of Jerusalem, Saint Albert Avogadro, approved a text setting out the spirit of Carmelite life. That text, now known as the Rule of Saint Albert, stresses that God's Word in the Bible must have a central place in the life of all Carmelites. The Rule itself is said to embody this attentiveness to God's Word; though a short text, it contains over 200 references and allusions to Scripture.
The Rule states that Carmelites are to 'ponder the law of the Lord day and night' (Chapter 10), the 'law' being the Word of God in both the Scriptures and in the person of Jesus Christ.
The Rule encourages daily contact with the Scriptures through participation in the Liturgy of the Church, namely the Eucharist and the Psalms of the Divine Office (Chapters 11 and 14).
The Rule states that by pondering God's Word in the Scriptures and in silence, the Carmelite will find 'the sword of the spirit, the word of God' dwelling abundantly in his heart and on his lips (Chapter 19).
Inspired by the Rule of Saint Albert, the Carmelite Family has always shown a particular devotion to God through pondering the Scriptures in study and prayer.
God's Word in the Constitutions of the Order
The Constitutions of the Carmelite Friars elaborate on how the Rule of Saint Albert is to be lived in the present day. The latest edition was approved by the Order in 1995, and it continues to place the Word of God at the heart of Carmelite life, as this extract demonstrates:
Hearing, praying and living the Word - in silence, in solitude and in community, especially in the form of lectio divina - Carmelites are led, day by day, to know and experience the mystery of Jesus Christ. Inspired by the Spirit and rooted in Christ Jesus, abiding in him by day and by night, Carmelites allow every choice and every action to be guided by his Word. Inspired by the Word and in communion with the whole Church, the brothers come together to praise the Lord, and invite others to share in their experience of prayer. (§20)
The 1995 Constitutions speak of Mary and Elijah, the two great patronal figures of the Order, as people who pondered God's Word, from whom Carmelites take inspiration.
Lectio Divina is the Latin for 'Holy Reading' and was a form and approach to praying with Scripture that was common among medieval religious orders. The value of Lectio Divina was rediscovered by the Carmelite Family (and indeed the wider Church) in the twentieth century.
Essentially Lectio Divina involves taking a short passage of Scripture and pondering it. This can be done alone or in a group, and normally involves prolonged periods of silence.
Carmelites have been among the leading proponents for a revival ofLectio Divina. Friars such as Carlos Mesters in Brazil and Bruno Secondin in Italy have helped the Order to reconnect with God's Word through the regular practice of Lectio Divina.