Our Life of Prayer
Prayer is the heart of the Discalced Carmelite vocation. It is the focus and orientation of our lives, and our whole mission. The Carmelite Saints have much to teach us about prayer. For St Teresa, prayer is simply friendship with Jesus. It is sharing with him the joys and sorrows of our lives, and keeping him at the centre, no matter what: ‘Fix your eyes on the Crucified and everything will become small for you.’ The beautiful love poetry of St John of the Cross speaks of a God constantly longed for and yet elusive. It echoes the Song of Songs in its yearning for union between Lover and Beloved. The God who is sought outside ourselves is finally to be found within our deepest selves. For St Thérèse, prayer is a glance towards God: ‘for me prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.’
Above all, prayer is a relationship. Like all relationships, it is different for each of us. There is no set way for a Carmelite to pray. However, the image of seeking God in the solitude of desert or mountain gives us some indication of where our prayer will lead us. Ultimately it is an experience of silence and emptiness. It can be lonely and arduous. Sometimes we may experience consolation in prayer, or a sense of God’s presence. Often it is simply waiting in silence, without feeling or experiencing anything. This ‘passive’ work of contemplation gives God the freedom to work within us, hollowing us out to contain more and more of God. We believe that this prayer is not for ourselves alone, but on behalf of the whole human race. By it we are constantly united with the prayer of Jesus, Mary and the Saints. It is a mystery, and very often beyond our grasp. However, we trust that this is God’s work, and our part is simply to be faithful to our times of prayer day after day, in all the circumstances of life.