Nancy over at The Cloistered Heart has a lovely post on the Divine Office. Read about it here.
The heart stirs up an image of that organ which beats within the human body giving it life. It is the heart that preserves our earthly existence. It is also the heart that makes up that place deep within us that gives rise to emotions and desires particularly to love. The heart holds a place of prominence in the spirituality of a Carmelite. Since it is love of God and love of neighbor that are the focus of all our energies, the heart then holds a place of prominence in the spirituality of a Carmelite. For a Carmelite, God is the longing of the heart. Since a Carmelite longs for God deep within the heart, cultivation of this heart to love is necessary so that this heart will be open to those around them.
The Rule of St. Albert no. 19 mentions the heart and instructs us on how to cultivate the heart:
“Your loins are to be girt with chastity, your breast fortified by holy meditations, for as Scripture has it, holy meditation will save you. Put on holiness as your breastplate, and it will enable you to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Faith must be your shield on all occasions, and with it you will be able to quench all the flaming missiles of the wicked one: there can be no pleasing God without faith; and the victory lies in this — your faith. On your head set the helmet of salvation, and so be sure of deliverance by our only Saviour, who sets his own free from their sins. The sword of the spirit, the word of God, must abound in your mouths and hearts. Let all you do have the Lord’s word for accompaniment.”
It is from the Scriptures that we are to learn to love God and our neighbor. Our preeminent model for how to do this is Jesus. Meditation on the sacred texts will show us what He said and did. It will also reveal to us the well-ordered emotions of our Lord. From the Gospels we know that Jesus had a heart. He had a broken heart and tender emotions. There are also accounts demonstrating his feelings of forgiveness and love.
Luke 19: 1-10
“Zacchaeus…was seeking to see who Jesus was; but could not see him because of the crowd.” (vs 3)
Obstacles get in the way; they crowd out Jesus in my life and prevent me from seeing him. I want to see him. I am always seeking him, but many things crowd him out of my time.
“So he ran ahead a climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus.” (vs 4) Like Zacchaeus, I need to move away from the crowds, the obstacles, and change my perspective. This move will help me to see Jesus better.
Just like with Zacchaeus, Jesus wants me to spend time with him. He wants to come to my house. “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” (vs 5)
Reflecting on these scripture passages about Zacchaeus made me think about the importance of mental prayer and its place in the life of a Secular Discalced Carmelite. Our Constitutions state: “Carmelite Seculars will commit themselves daily to spending a time in the practice of mental prayer. This is the time to be with God and to strengthen their relationship with Him so that they can be true witnesses to His presence in the world.” [Cons.Sec. III, no. 21]
St. Teresa of Jesus explains mental prayer as “nothing else than a close sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us.” (Way of Perfection) And there is the key to all this seeking and climbing trees! I need to be alone with him, taking time to meet with him, to invite him in to my house and to enjoy his presence while developing a relationship with him.
In order to do this I can again look to our Constitutions. “The Carmelite Secular will make sure to have special times set apart for prayer, as times of greater awareness of the Lord’s presence and an interior space for a personal and intimate meeting with Him.” [Cons. Sec. III, no. 20] I need to have a special time set aside. This is going to require me to give away “half of my possessions” (Lk 19:8), those attachments that occupy my time and space that leave no room for Jesus!
I have many distractions that keep me from setting aside time each day for mental prayer. Many of these distractions are really attachments. What are your attachments? What keeps you from devoting yourself to God and making time for mental prayer each day?
Here it is evening. I have just finished evening prayer which closes with the following prayer:
But now it is evening, things have quieted down “the day is almost over”. It is time to urge the Lord to “stay with” me as I break open the Scriptures. Pouring over these words I will let him speak to me and set my “heart burning”.
As a Carmelite the Scriptures hold an important place in my daily life and prayer. Secular living does have an impact on the amount of time I can devote to this each day, but even a short amount of time spend in Scripture reading will help to foster love and devotion for the Lord.
Tomorrow I will arise early and go to Mass. There I will meet the Lord in the “breaking of the bread” and in hearing him speak as the priest “opens the scriptures to us” who have gathered to hear Mass. Another opportunity in my day for the Lord to “make himself known” and to be my “companion along the way”.
This Rule inspires Carmelites all over the world. It is one of the shortest of the great rules giving the Carmelites a Way of Life. It is obvious when reading the Rule that St. Albert lived every moment the Gospel, having internalized it so completely that the words of the Bible are used to express his thoughts. Writing the Rule for the hermits on Mount Carmel, it is quite notable that he relied on the Scriptures. The Rule is steeped in the Gospel’s message; though there are not any explicit passages quoted, there are many allusions to Sacred Scripture.
As Carmelites, we too should be personally familiar with the Scriptures in our daily encounter with them. Then as St. Albert says of St. Paul in number 20 of the Rule we may have “both the teaching and the example of Saint Paul the Apostle, into whose mouth Christ put his own words.” The sacred texts should be in our minds and expressed in our thoughts and words. As Carmelites our day is filled with opportunities to meditate on the Scriptures: Mass, Morning and Evening Prayer, Night Prayer and the practice of Lectio Divina.
you have given us a Rule of Life
according to the Gospel
to guide us on our journey
towards perfect love.
Help us always to keep watch
at our prayers, to live in
allegiance to Jesus Christ,
and to serve him
faithfully until death.
Through Christ Our Lord.
July 16th is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and is the principle feast for all who wear the Brown Scapular. The Brown Scapular is an outward sign of the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our sister, mother and queen. It is a symbol of her protection to the Carmelite Order which includes all its members and associates. Anyone who wears the scapular and practices the spirituality of the Carmelite Order has an affiliation to the Carmelite family and shares in the graces traditionally associated with the Brown Scapular.
Mulling over the Eternal Word and keeping the Truth in the heart…. read more of this great post by Dr. Anthony Lilles at Beginning to Pray
I have been using the Gospel readings for the day for my lectio divina. The readings of late have been from the Gospel of John chapter 6. The Bread of Life discourse has been a beautiful time of prayer for me.
I also came across a nice little book that I though I would share. It is called WRAP Yourself in Scripture. This little book, by Karen and Lawrence Dwyer, is a guide for reading, praying and reflecting on Scripture with journaling. I do find that I like to write things down, so the journaling aspect was attractive for me.
The book follows the traditional steps of lectio divina with the added twist of journaling. The advantage to journaling is that you can go back and review what God had inspired and admire what He is doing in your life. The review also helps to impress His inspiration on your soul. I also have found that journaling can help keep me focused. Besides, I seem to need to have something to do with my hands.
“Seek in reading and you will find in meditation, knock in prayer and it will be opened to you in contemplation“ (Sayings of Light and Love #158 ~ St. John of the Cross)
Reading, meditation, prayer and contemplation make up the four elements of lectio divina. Lectio divina is the way the early monks and desert fathers prayed. It literally means, “divine reading”.
Reading (lectio) is understood as reading and carefully repeating a short text of Scripture. Take a selection of the Bible, read it and when a thought, word or line stands out or captures your attention pause here to reflect on it, carefully repeating it and dwell on it for a time. If you become distracted, simply return to the repetition. Stay with the text until it is dried up and then move on with the reading until you become engaged in another thought, word or line.
Meditation (meditatio) is making an effort to grasp the meaning of the text and to make it relevant to you personally. The word meditate means ‘to ruminate’, to chew the word. Try to enter into the meaning of the text and identify with it. This is not hard work just make use of the faculties. Simply listen to the words. Let them suggest images, thoughts and reflections. Ponder and perceive the message that lies in the words.
Prayer (oratio) is the personal response to the chosen text of Scripture that was used for meditation. With the help of grace, thoughts move to prayer. This is the response of the heart to ask for the grace that corresponds to the text or perhaps just to draw closer in union with God. Prayer is conversation that asks with love and with the intention to grow in the virtues. In this affective element of lectio the soul desires God.
Contemplation (comtemplatio) is the final element of lectio. It is a loving gaze at length where sometimes, by the grace of God, infused contemplation occurs and the soul is raised above meditation to experiencing the mystery and reality of the Scripture text. The experience is one of peace, harmony and quiet. God’s presence is experienced as a loving awareness where His love is felt and lovingly returned.
In summary, reading seeks; meditation finds meaning; prayer demands; contemplation tastes God.
Lent is here. In the days leading up to Lent, I was pondering about what I would do this Lenten season in the way of a spiritual program for myself to use during these forty days as a preparation for the celebration of Easter. I got to thinking about a previous post, and I began to think about my own fidelity to the Promises I have made as a Secular Carmelite.
One of the things that identifies a Carmelite is their formation in the Scriptures and lectio divina. (Constitutions, 35) Also, I was thinking about my prayer. The Constitutions say in paragraph number 18 that, “Prayer, a dialogue of friendship with God, ought to be nourished by His Word so that this dialogue becomes that, ―we speak to him when we pray; we hear him when we read the divine word.”
When I was a candidate a copy of the Gospels was given to me, along with the Scapular and the Constitutions of the Secular Order. Then part of what the priest said to me and the other candidates was, “May the Word of Christ dwell abundantly in your hearts.” (Ritual, 23)
Therefore, I decide to renew my efforts at praying with the Scriptures, picking up the practice of lectio divina with more devotion and fidelity. I also decided to use the Gospel readings from the Mass for my daily meditation and reflection. As a lay person I am called to Christ’s mission and I am to proclaim the Gospel which is why I decided to use the Gospels.
Lectio divina is a way to pray with the Scriptures.
Here is a simple way of praying this way…..
~select a passage from the Bible – read it slowly – briefly reflect on a few words that struck you
~read the passage again – briefly call to mind a few phrases that struck you
~read the passage once more – reflect on what this passage is saying to you
~from your heart offer a prayer based on your reflections