Meeting Place of God


By Mary Joan Loebig

First published in Spiritual Life Spring 1990 - Revised for the internet July 4, 1997

It may surprise many people to learn that the true end, purpose and task of a life of prayer is not really prayer itself.

On the occasion of the bicentennial of the arrival of the Carmelite nuns in America, several of us accepted the challenge of grappling with the big question: after 200 years, how does Carmel live in America today? One result of our "questing" was "Our Vocation" (lyrics by Mary Joan Loebig, O.C.D., music by Mary Anne Schuman, O.C.D.), a poetic and musical statement that addresses the universal character of Carmel, that mysterious activity and work of God that goes on within every human heart.

Like John of the Cross writing a commentary on his poems, in this article we hope to expand and articulate our own moments of inspiration, to describe and explain this transforming action of God we continue to experience.

Most people who enter a monastery get duped by God into praying. Prayer is attractive and satisfying. Hunger for the things of God propels the initiate forward. However, after the initial period of having this thirst somewhat assuaged (a period that for some can go on for two or three years) all kinds of things begin to happen.

One's image of God changes. One comes to realize that this Transcendent Being is not as approachable and knowable as one had formerly assumed. In fact, without the Incarnation, an approach would not be possible. God is not an Object alongside other objects and cannot be incorporated into a human system of coordinates. God is the very Ground of our being.

Still, in spite of this tremendous difference in order, the human heart is made to receive the radical self-communication of God, which is truly God and not just some numinous gift. Because God so ardently wishes to give to the human heart in self-communication, a relationship with this transcendent being is now possible. By entering into this relationship, we become truly what we are, fully human beings, and discover our own uniqueness as persons.

Contemplatives experience this nearness of God as darkness, a movement that has its own work to do. Darkness strips us of a selfishness and self-centeredness we never knew we had. It chips away at our defenses until we are so weary we are forced to surrender. It pushes aside our childish dependence on God for all the good things we think we need.

This darkness of God also brings about within us graced changes that are quite discernible. The shedding of defenses leaves in its place a new freedom and an enviable peace. One becomes more accepting of reality and more aware of how God's will is accomplished in the ordinary and bumpy human interactions and daily condition. Loving others actually becomes easier. One comes to see, in a big way, the inter-connectedness of all of life. Having left "the world" to find God, the contemplative comes to see the world as good. External activity is not as distracting as before and is seen as part of a beautiful whole. One learns that there is no dichotomy between prayer and action.

When the contemplative person yields to darkness, God takes that person within to a place where God and the Self reside. One finds oneself and one accepts and loves that Self, for that Self is "the Christ" the praying person has been seeking all along. Loneliness is appeased.

At this point, even though the praying person may be situated in a small and limited setting, that person is given a global vision, often dealing with Christian community. The contemplative becomes a partner with God facilitating the Reign of God. One understands more clearly what it means to be carried into the basileia, the Reign of God, God's future. Because one is now in partnership with God and because there is deep love for the Reign of God, meaningful suffering is more easily accepted and embraced. In fact, suffering for the Reign of God seems less painful than the suffering that accompanies personal purification. At this meeting place, one becomes completely convinced that praying was never meant to be a selfish activity; somehow others must profit from this life of prayer. Even the benefits of personal conversions are not solely for the person experiencing them.

So the true end, purpose, and task of a life of prayer is not really prayer itself. It is a life intended to help the one who prays to grow in relationship in every way. A life of prayer is meant to help a person become fully human, a truly arduous task. It not only puts one in touch with the true Self, it makes the one who prays a more loving person. This love, emerging from darkness, is a creative power.

Throughout the many years of its existence, Carmel, known for its contemplation, has always pointed to something bigger than what first meets the mystical eye. Carmel begins within. It is a gift accessible to all.

In closing, we offer this gift of song to all who love Carmel. In particular, we present it to the Carmelite nuns in Baltimore, Maryland, direct descendants of the pioneering women who brought Carmel to America. Again, the lyrics point to that mysterious activity and work of God that goes on in each person's heart. This gracious work of the Spirit brings wholeness, joy, and much happiness. Like the vision it carries, it presses on to fulfillment. It will not disappoint. It will surely come. It will not be late (cf. Hb 2:3).

OUR VOCATION

as members of the Order of the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel
is to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and to continue His life of prayer on earth.

ROOTED IN MARY, ELIJAH, TERESA AND JOHN,

inspired by the vision of those who brought Carmel to America,
we give ourselves to an apostolic life of prayer,
standing, waiting before God,
Whom we experience as Mystery.

WITNESSING TO AN ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE ON GOD

we ponder the Law of Love day and night,
willing to be changed,
transformed by that Love,
becoming through the Spirit true Marian contemplatives,
receivers of the compassion of God.

WE THIRST FOR LIFE

and are one with all humanity.
we give our lives as a MEETING PLACE
for God and the world.
Mary Joan Loebig, O.C.D., is a Carmelite nun in Eldridge, IA.

 


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