Carmel in the World
2014. Volume LIII, Number 3

Contents:
  • Prayer as a Process of Surrender
  • Transformation through God’s love in prayer (below)
  • The Soul is the House of God – Teresa of Avila
  • Rediscovering Teresa of Avila: A Lay Perspective
  • The Carmelite Way of Prayer
  • Carmel around the World


Transformation through God’s love in prayer
Michael Plattig, O.Carm., is a member of the German Province of the Order and is currently director of the Institutum Carmelitanum in Rome.

An essential characteristic of spiritual life in the Judaeo-Christian tradition is that it describes a historical or, rather, biographical development. Christian spirituality is characterised by concepts such as development, growth, maturation, progression, advance, pilgrimage and ascent. Development and maturation belong to the core of the spiritual life, if it is to be understood as an imitation of Christ. Teresa of Avila explains this in the following words:
“If you do not strive for the virtues and practice them, you will always be dwarfs. And, please God, it will be only a matter of not growing, for you already know that whoever does not increase decreases. I hold that love, where present, cannot possibly be content with remaining always the same.”
Interior Castle VII,4,9[1]

Various images and comparisons, various systemisations to describe this process of Christian maturation are to be found in the course of history. A feature they all have in common is the description of a positive development in the sense of personal improvement or, rather, in the sense of intensification of personal encounters with God. This is not a matter of smooth, ever ascending biographies. On the contrary, breaks, leaps and bounds, detours and crises necessarily form part of the Christian concept of growth, for they are often just the impetus towards the next step in the maturation process.[2] The traditional concept for this growth, which also implies transformation, is “transformatio”. Kees Waaijman, my fellow brother from the Netherlands and former director of the Titus Brandsma Institute in Nijmegen, made “transformatio” the central concept in his definition of spirituality: “Spirituality is the ongoing transformation which occurs in involved relationality with the Unconditional.” This definition is not necessarily Christian or Judaeo-Christian, as “Unconditional” leaves the concept of God open, allowing me to decide on an unequivocally Judaeo-Christian view and to choose the following definition: “Spirituality is the ongoing transformation of a human being replying to God’s call.” This definition emphasizes that the initiative originates from God and presupposes that a human’s reply is, of course, always relational, that is, it is made at points in time and space, in the world, and in the context of a human’s relationships with himself and with other people. However, decisive for spirituality is the relationship with God, which is both personal and dialogical.
A certain hierarchy of relationships is to be found in the Old and New Testaments:
“Listen, Israel: Yahweh our God is the one, the only Yahweh. You must love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Let the words I enjoin on you today stay in your heart. You shall tell them to your children, and keep on telling them, when you are sitting at home, when you are out and about, and when you are lying down and when you are standing up; you must fasten them on your hand as a sign and on your forehead as a headband; you must write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-9
“One of the scribes who had listen to them debating appreciated that Jesus had given a good answer and put a further question to him, ‘Which is the first of all the commandments?’ Jesus replied, ‘This is the first: Listen Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is: You must love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these’.”
Mark 12:28-31

So transformation also means development in a personal relationship with God, which will express itself in the love of one’s neighbour and of self. This is also the criterion for the authenticity of a human’s love of God in accordance with the discernment of spirits.
“I think the most certain sign that we keep these two commandments is that we have a genuine love for others. We cannot know whether we love God although there may be strong reasons for thinking so, but there can be no doubt about whether we love our neighbour or not. Be sure that in proportion as you advance in fraternal charity, you are increasing in your love of God, for His Majesty bears so tender an affection for us that I cannot doubt He will repay our love for others by augmenting, in a thousand different ways, that which we bear for Him.”
Interior Castle V,3

The guide on this way, as with all designs of Christian spirituality, is God Himself, or rather the Holy Spirit (cf. Matthew 28:20; Galatians 4:6: 5:18-25; Romans 8:15f, etc.).[3]
Yet this presents the problem of discernment of spirits:
“My dear friends, do not trust every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are from God; for there are many false prophets about in the world.”
1 John 4:1

Therefore, St Paul urges: “... test them all; keep hold of what is good...” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and counts the ability to discern spirits as one of the charisms (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:10). Thus growth in itself is not a criterion for the spiritual. Spiritual growth can be characterised more precisely as growth guided by God’s good Spirit. Various sets of criteria have been developed in the history of Christian spirituality to characterise and distinguish this growth. Describing them would be beyond the scope and object of this article.[4] The interesting aspect in the present context is the characterisation of Christian growth as a growth towards freedom, that is, the characterisation of the working of the Spirit as a process of increasing liberation from various kinds of dependence and slavery.

The initiate’s stage is often characterised by suffering from an existing false life. Faced with the desire for a life in abundance (cf. John 10:10), the present situation of need, want and dependence is no longer repressed. Man departs and his desire shows him the way.

St John of the Cross describes God’s guidance in this process as follows:
“Since the conduct of these beginners in the way of God is lowly and not too distant from love of pleasure and of self, … God desires to withdraw them from this base manner of loving and lead them on to a higher degree of divine love. And he desires to liberate them from the lowly exercise of the senses and of discursive meditation, by which they go in search of him so inadequately and with so many difficulties, and lead them into the exercise of spirit, in which they become capable of a communion with God that is more abundant and more free of imperfections. … when God sees that they have grown a little, he weans them from the sweet breast so that they might be strengthened, lays aside their swaddling bands, and puts them down from his arms that they may grow accustomed to walking by themselves. This change is a surprise to them because everything seems to be functioning in reverse.”
Dark Night I,8,3[5]

Becoming a Christian person therefore means growing to maturity, and this is a task of discerning, of separating. Regressive infantilism, longing in a certain sense to return to the womb, should therefore be distinguished from creatively giving shape to spiritual childhood in the correct proportion of dependence, freedom and self-reliance. St John of the Cross uses the words “librar” and “más libres” to describe this process. Thus he describes the process, initiated by God and therefore guided by the Spirit, as liberating.

Teresa of Avila
To Teresa, it is beyond question that God is completely different, the Majesty, infinitely greater than any worldly king, powerful person or majesty:
“O King of Glory and Lord of all kings! How true that Your kingdom is not armed with trifles, since it has no end! How true that there is no need for intermediaries with You! Upon beholding Your person one sees immediately that You alone, on account of the majesty You reveal, merit to be called Lord. ... O my Lord! O my King! Who now would know how to repre­sent Your majesty! It’s impossible not to see that You in Yourself are a great Emperor, for to behold Your majesty is startling; and the more one beholds along with this majesty, Lord, Your humility and the love You show to someone like myself the more startling it becomes. Nevertheless, we can converse and speak with You as we like, once the first fright and fear in beholding Your majesty passes; although the fear of offending You becomes greater. But the fear is not one of punishment, for this punishment is considered nothing in comparison with losing You.”
Life 37,6

This is recognition of the sovereign power, of the different nature of God. From this, humility and fear of God are developed. That is, being in awe of God, not being afraid of God. Teresa words it as follows:
“Humility, no matter how deep, does not make the soul restless, anxious or confused, but brings it peace, inner joy and calmness.”
Way of Perfection 39,3[6]

At the same time, Teresa is also convinced of the dignity of human beings, because the Trinity dwells in them:
“This vision differs from others, as this intuitive understanding derives its power from faith; it is of such a nature that one cannot doubt that the Trinity dwells in our souls, as a presence and through its power and consistent with its nature. It is very important to understand this truth. And when I was so amazed to find such a high Majesty in something as lowly as my soul, I understood: it is not low, My daughter, as it has been created in My image.”
Spiritual Testimonies 41

Awe, the recognition of the greatness of God, makes a human broad and open to anything that God wishes to give him. It does not erase boundaries. It allows God to be God and allows the human being to reach out to this greater God, aware of his own finiteness and neediness. Fear of this great God, on the other hand, makes one narrow and closed; fear takes away one’s breath of life and one’s dignity as a creature of God created in His image. Teresa of Avila underlines the dignity and beauty of the soul in the following words:
“For in reflecting upon it carefully, Sisters, we realize that the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says He finds His ‘delight’. So then, what do you think that abode will be like where a King so powerful, so wise, so pure, so full of all good things takes His delight? I don’t find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvellous capacity. Indeed, our intellects, however keen, can hardly comprehend it, just as they cannot comprehend God; but He Himself says that He created us in His own image and likeness. Well if this is true, as it is, there is no reason to tire ourselves in trying to comprehend the beauty of this castle. Since this castle is a creature and the difference, therefore, between it and God is the same as that between the Creator and His creature, His Majesty in saying that the soul is made in His own image makes it almost impossible for us to understand the sublime dignity and beauty of the soul.”
Interior Castle I,1,1

God’s indwelling in humans is not static. It is not hidden in the tabernacle of the heart, so to speak. It is more dynamic, like a walk in a garden, a museful contemplation, and it gives God and the human being satisfaction and pleasure. God’s indwelling in humans is fulfilling and joyful.

Based on her own painful experiences, Teresa urges her sisters:
“So beware, daughters, of certain feelings of humility which the devil inculcates in you and which make you very uneasy about the gravity of your past sins: ‘Do I deserve to approach the Sacrament?’, ‘Am I properly prepared?’, ‘I am not worthy to live among good people’. These and similar thoughts should indeed be appreciated when they are linked to inner peace and delight and a good feeling that come with self-knowledge. However, when they are linked to confusion and unease and distress of the soul and an inability to calm down your thoughts, then trust that it is a temptation and do not consider yourself as humble, because such things do not come from humility.”
Way of Perfection 67,5

Teresa encourages her sisters to maintain an informal contact with God, especially during prayer. Special words, a specific pose or specific dispositions are not required to get in touch with God and to talk with Him. What she refers to is free prayer from a free heart, based on trust, that is, faith.
“Leave aside any of that faintheartedness that some persons have and think is humility. You see, humility doesn’t consist in refusing a favour the King offers you but in accepting such a favour and understanding how bountifully it comes to you and being delighted with it. What a nice kind of humility! … Have nothing to do with this kind of humility, daughters, but speak with Him as with a father, or a brother, or a lord, or as with a spouse; sometimes in one way, at other times in another; He will teach you what you must do in order to please Him. Don’t be foolish; take Him at His word. Since He is your Spouse, He will treat you accordingly. [Consider that it is well worthwhile for you to have understood this truth: that the Lord is within us, and that there we must be with Him.].”
Way of Perfection 28,3

Teresa comes to this conviction by contemplating the human nature of Jesus, by orienting herself towards the biblical message and through her inner dialogue with God, which she describes as follows:
“There is nothing here to fear but only something to desire. Even if there be no great progress, or much effort in reaching such perfection as to deserve the favours and mercies God bestows and the more generous, at least a person will come to understand the road leading to heaven. And if one perseveres, I trust then in the mercy of God, who never fails to repay anyone who has taken Him for a friend. For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
Life 8,5

Teresa’s definition does not lead to an interiority that is out of touch with the real world, but emphasizes that inner prayer and work, that is, inner and outer activities, complement one another and should not be played off against one another:
“Well, come now, my daughters, don’t be sad when obedience draws you to involvement in exterior matters. Know that if it is in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans helping you both interiorly and exteriorly.”
Foundations 5,8

One may chuckle at these lines, yet they explain in a simple way what Teresa means. To her, there is no separation between church service and world service, between sacred and profane, between Sunday and everyday life in her relationship with God. Instead, this relationship is a holistically total, comprehensive and all-unifying, and therefore healing and completing, loving relationship with a person, with whom she is in constant touch and dialogue. Teresa practices and teaches a “Christology from the bottom up” that does not get entangled in abstract concepts and philosophical-theological reflections, running the risk of overlooking what is essential, but focuses people’s attention on Jesus of Nazareth. Teresa’s contemplation of the biblical Jesus works. Jesus’ human face shows us God’s face; his actions make God’s actions visible. Her contemplation involves the whole Jesus, who shows his most human face as a suffering and dying man, because God’s loving devotion to humans finds its deepest and most convincing expression in this face. This contemplation is not a standoffish intellectual process, but one that is holistic and thus involves thought as well as experience, the heart as well as the brains, reason as well as will. Teresa lives from this inner, friendly dialogue, which gives her strength to withstand the rigors of her time as well as strength to carry out her reform work.

It is clear that the relationship with God is so fundamental to and decisive for Teresa’s life, that praying for this relationship, that is, the care for it, is the basic chord of her life, a basic theme that is repeated in thousands of variations and keeps her busy all the time. She therefore stands in the old Carmelite tradition, that is, she is “walking in the presence of God” or, in the words of the Prophet Elijah: “As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand” (1 Kings 17,1), “standing before God”. This means that prayer is not an occasional pastime. Instead, praying should be, or should become, a life-defining, fundamental attitude of the human being. A central point of the Carmelite Rule is the exhortation in Chapter 8 that “each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord’s law day and night (meditantes) and keeping watch at his prayers, unless attending to some other duty.” Contemplating the Lord’s life and having him always nearby – Teresa describes it in the following words:
“Our Lord is He by whom all good things come to us; He will teach you. Consider His life; that is the best example. What more can we want than so good a Friend at our side, who will not forsake us when we are in trouble and distress, as they do who belong to this world! Blessed is he who truly loves Him, and who always has Him near him!”
Life 22,7
“There is no need for us to receive special consolations from God in order to arrive at conformity with His will; He has done enough in giving us His Son to teach the way. This does not mean that we must so submit to the will of God as not to sorrow at such troubles as the death of a father or brother, or that we must bear crosses and sickness with joy. ... Our Lord asks but two things of us: love, for Him and for our neighbour: these are what we must strive to obtain. If we practise both these virtues perfectly we shall be doing His will and so shall be united to Him.”
Interior Castle V, 3

Teresa describes the transformatio in prayer using the following image:
“I shall have to make use of some comparison, although I should like to excuse myself from this since I am a woman and write simply what they ordered me to write. But these spiritual matters for anyone who like myself has not gone through studies are so difficult to explain. I shall have to find some mode of explaining myself, and it may be less often that I hit upon a good comparison. Seeing so much stupidity will provide some recreation for your Reverence.
It seems now to me that I read or heard of this comparison — for since I have a bad memory, I don’t know where or for what reason it was used, but it will be all right for my purposes. Beginners must realize that in order to give delight to the Lord they are starting to cultivate a garden on very barren soil, full of abominable weeds. His Majesty pulls up the weeds and plants good seed. Now let us keep in mind that all of this is already done by the time a soul is determined to practice prayer and has begun to make use of it. And with the help of God we must strive like good gardeners to get these plants to grow and take pains to water them so that they don’t wither but come to bud and flower and give forth a most pleasant fragrance to provide refreshment for this Lord of ours. Then He will often come to take delight in this garden and find His joy among these virtues. But let us see now how it must be watered so that we may understand what we have to do, the labour this will cost us, whether the labour is greater than the gain, and for how long it must last. It seems to me the garden can be watered in four ways. You may draw water from a well (which is for us a lot of work). Or you may get it by means of a water wheel and aqueducts in such a way that it is obtained by turning the crank of the water wheel. (I have drawn it this way sometimes —the method involves less work than the other, and you get more water.) Or it may flow from a river or a stream. (The garden is watered much better by this means because the ground is more fully soaked, and there is no need to water so frequently — and much less work for the gardener.) Or the water may be provided by a great deal of rain. (For the Lord waters the garden without any work on our part — and this way is incomparably better than all the others mentioned.) Now, then, these four ways of drawing water in order to maintain this garden — because without water it will die — are what are important to me and have seemed applicable in explaining the four degrees of prayer in which the Lord in His goodness has sometimes placed my soul. May it please His goodness that I manage to speak about them in a way beneficial for one of the persons who ordered me to write this, because within four months the Lord has brought him further than I got in seventeen years. This person has prepared himself better, and so without any labour of his own the flower garden is watered with all these four waters, although the last is still not given except in drops. But he is advancing in such a way that soon he will be immersed in it, with the help of the Lord.”
Life 11,5-8

The best watering is watering by rainfall. Now what does this mean for prayer? Prayer still needs practice, because a garden requires care, even when it rains, and also requires weeding, as weeds will shoot up like before. Then what has changed? According to Teresa, it is the degree of effort. Practice will be practice, but the attitude with which it is done has changed, just like the form, or rather the meaning of the form. The objective is no longer to achieve something, but rather to be something, more specifically, to be a partner of God or, as Teresa says, a friend of God. It is no longer action that holds a prominent place, but ascetic practice; it is no longer words that are offered, but a stay, even though the prayer will retain its external form. The garden remains unaltered; what changes is the method of watering, the inner attitude.
According to Teresa, transformatio takes place on the basis of the offer of friendship with God to which the human replies. It is God who brings about the transformatio in a human, but He will not work without the help of this human or without his permission given in a loving reply. The care of the garden of the soul, in which God takes pleasure and where he finds joy, is and continues to be exacting to the human, yet what initially may have been experienced as a duty has changed into living in and from the friendship with God. This may not reduce the effort, but does fundamentally change the motivation.

I would like to illustrate this by a simple example from the time when I was a chaplain in our parish in Vienna. Again and again, I noticed an unusual change in male altar servers. At times, it was rather difficult to maintain decorum when they reached the age of puberty. They would come to Mass with uncombed hair, wearing their oldest jeans and dilapidated sneakers, and it was only with difficulty that we could bring them to comb their hair at the very least. Then suddenly a change would set in. The same boys would come to Mass well-dressed and combed, smelling like a perfumery. What had happened? They had fallen in love and their adored ones were in the church or were also altar servers. What initially had seemed something that could only be achieved by pressure and threats became a natural thing through love; the effort that had been avoided became a light one that was readily made. It is a simple example, but I think that it describes well what also happens in faith: the effort of faith, the ascesis, the trouble of faith changes into a burden that is carried willingly and with pleasure in the friendship with God and out of love for God.

John of the Cross
Some lines by John of the Cross describing the transformatio point in a similar direction:
“A ray of sunlight shining upon a smudgy window is unable to illumine that window completely and transform it into its own light. It could do this if the window were cleaned and polished. The less the film and stain are wiped away, the less the window will be illumined; and the cleaner the window is, the brighter will be its illumination. The extent of illumination is not dependent upon the ray of sunlight but upon the window. If the window is totally clean and pure, the sunlight will so transform and illumine it that to all appearances the window will be identical with the ray of sunlight and shine just as the sun’s ray. Although obviously the nature of the window is distinct from that of the sun’s ray (even if the two seem identical), we can assert that the window is the ray or light of the sun by participation.
The soul upon which the divine light of God’s being is ever shining, or better, in which it is always dwelling by nature, is like this window, as we have affirmed.
A man makes room for God by wiping away all the smudges and smears of creatures, by uniting his will perfectly to God’s; for to love is to labour to divest and deprive oneself for God of all that is not God. When this is done the soul will be illumined by and transformed in God. And God will so communicate His supernatural being to it that it will appear to be God Himself and will possess all that God Himself has.”
Ascent to Mount Carmel II, 5,6f.

John explains that love of God certainly has emotional qualities, which he considers important especially for beginners, but that mature love consists in labouring to detach and strip oneself for God’s sake of all that is not God, to achieve nothing less than total conformity to God, to become transparent to God.
Many people tend to have a rather romantic-emotional understanding of love, which is reinforced by the almost countless pop songs about love and passion. However, the New Testament, or rather the Greek language, distinguishes three types of love: eros, including eroticism, that is, intimate love; philia, or friendship; and agape, or love of one’s neighbour.

As the love for God concerns the whole human, these facets of love are also found in the love of God. However, John of the Cross sees a clear development in the sense of an ascending path to a love that shows itself in a mature relationship and develops from childish attachment and being in love to mature love, working on oneself for God’s sake.
Therefore, a religious human should ‘lay aside his swaddling bands’, and this is the reason why John of the Cross regards a constant longing for new religious experiences with disfavour. He writes:
“Any person questioning God or desiring some vision or revelation would be guilty not only of foolish behaviour but also of offending Him, by not fixing his eyes entirely upon Christ and by living with the desire for some other novelty.
God could respond as follows: If I have already told you all things in My Word, My Son, and if I have no other word, what answer or revela­tion can I now make that would surpass this? Fasten your eyes on Him alone, because in Him I have spoken and revealed all, and in Him you shall discover even more than you ask for and desire. You are making an appeal for locutions and revelations that are incomplete, but if you turn your eyes to Him you will find them complete. For He is My entire locution and response, vision and revelation, which I have already spoken, answered, manifested, and revealed to you, by giving Him to you as a brother, companion, master, ransom, and reward.”
Ascent of Mount Carmel II,22,5

The longing for religious experiences is a kind of dependence that should be overcome for two reasons. Firstly, the critical question arises as to what a human with such a longing is looking for – a religious experience or God. Especially nowadays, religion is more and more described functionally, that is, it is considered as meaningful only when it has a useful function for humans, that is, it is considered with nothing but the objective of satisfying human needs in mind. In the Church, too, there is widespread confusion: are we seeking God’s consolation or seeking God?

The second consequence of a dependence on experiences is, very simply, loss of freedom. I cannot be free in my relationship with God, when I constantly make this relationship dependent on expected experiences. God cannot be free anymore either, when He becomes the subject of my manipulations.
“Sometimes many beginners also possess great spiritual avarice. They will hardly ever seem content with the spirit God gives them. They become unhappy and peevish owing to a lack of the consolation they desire to have in spiritual things.”
Dark Night I,3,1

John of the Cross considers such an interest in ‘something tasty’ as childish:
“They are like children who are prompted to act not by reason but by pleasure. All their time is spent looking for satisfaction and spiritual consolation; … God very rightly and discreetly and lovingly denies this satisfaction to these beginners, for if He did not, they would fall into innumerable evils because of their spiritual gluttony and craving for sweetness. Wherefore it is important for these beginners to enter the dark night and be purged of this childishness.”
Dark Night, I,6,6

On the whole, John of the Cross is more concerned with this critical moment during the transformation. He is interested in transition phenomena, such as at the transition from the phase of beginners to that of the advanced. The necessary changes involved are always also somewhat crisis-like, which he captures with the concept of the dark night.
“It should be known, then, that God nurtures and caresses the soul, after it has been resolutely converted to His service, like a loving mother who warms her child with the heat of her bosom, nurses it with good milk and tender food, and carries and caresses it in her arms. But as the child grows older, the mother withholds her caresses and hides her tender love; she rubs bitter aloes on her sweet breast and sets the child down from her arms, letting it walk on its own feet so that it may put aside the habits of childhood and grow accustomed to greater and more important things. The grace of God acts just as a loving mother by re-engendering in the soul new enthusiasm and fervour in the service of God. With no effort on the soul’s part, this grace causes it to taste sweet and delectable milk and to experience intense satisfaction in the performance of spiritual exercises, because God is handing the breast of His tender love to the soul, just as if it were a delicate child.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)
Dark Night I,1,2

The dark night was seen as a necessary experience on the spiritual path of a person. May be it could also mean, that a community, an order will have the experience of a dark night to be purified from “childishness” and so mature.
In our tradition, it is considered a fundamental task to mature in one’s faith, in spiritual life, to free oneself from such childishness – or better, to be freed from it.
“Isaias explains this clearly: ‘Whom shall God teach His knowledge? And to whom shall He explain His message? To them that are weaned, he says, from the milk, and to them who are drawn away from the breasts’ (Isaiah 28:9). This passage indicates that the preparation for this divine influx is not the former milk of spiritual sweetness, nor aid from the breast of the discursive meditations of the sensory faculties which the soul enjoyed, but the privation of the one and a withdrawal from the other.
In order to hear God, a person should stand firm and be detached in his sense life and affections, as the prophet himself declares: I will stand upon my watch (with detached appetite) and will fix my foot (I will not meditate with the sensory faculties) in order to contemplate (understand) what God says to me (Hebrews 2: 1).
We conclude that self-knowledge flows first from this dry night, and that from this knowledge as from its source proceeds the other knowledge of God. Hence St. Augustine said to God: Let me know myself Lord, and I will know You.”
Dark Night, I,12,5

The development of independence and individuality, practiced in solitude with and for God, is important particularly in the tradition of our Order. Along with the eremitical tradition it is this conviction which underlies Chapter 6 of the Carmelite I that reads: “Next, each one of you is to have a separate cell...” It is the monk’s own cell as a sphere of retreat, of solitude and the dialogue with God to which the Carmelite Rule attaches decisive importance. As Chapter 10 of the Rule stresses, every Carmelite is supposed to be found in his cell at any time, unless he is busy completing a task in accordance with the Rule. The most important site of spiritual life in Carmel is the cell, it becomes the place of self-knowledge and the knowledge of God and thus the realm of spiritual development or transformation.

A human is called to nothing less than to achieve total conformity to God, and at the end of this process he will receive everything that John of the Cross expresses so powerfully in his “Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love”. I would like to conclude with this text.
“You will not take from me, my God, what you once gave me in your only son, Jesus Christ, in whom you gave me all I desire. Hence I rejoice that if I wait for you, you will not delay. With what procrastinations do you wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart? Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine are the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul? Yours is all of this, and all is for you. Do not engage yourself in something less, nor pay heed to the crumbs which fall from your Father’s table. Go forth and exult in your Glory! Hide yourself in it and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.”
Sayings of Light and Love, 25[7]



[1]    Teresa of Avila, Works quoted from: Teresa of Avila, Collected Works, translated by K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez. Volume II. Washington D.C.: 1980.
[2]    Cf.: Bäumer R./ Plattig M. (Eds.), Noche Oscura y Depresiòn. Crisis espirituales y psicològicas: naturaleza y diferencias. Bilbao: 2011. Plattig M., Die `dunkle Nacht´ als Gotteserfahrung, in: Studies in Spirituality 4 (1994). 165-205.
[3]    The abbreviations and extracts from the Bible are taken from: The Revised English Bible, With the Apocrypha. Oxford/Cambridge: 1989.
[4]    A comprehensive discussion is found in: Guillet J., Bardy G., et al., ‘Discernement des esprits’, in: Dictionaire de Spiritualité, Volume III. 1222-1291.
[5]    John of the Cross, Works; quoted from: John of the Cross, The Collected Works, Revised Edition, translated by K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez. Washington D.C.: 1991.
[6]    This is from the translation of the Valladolid manuscript, a shorter edition of the Way of Perfection.
[7]    John of the Cross, Sayings of Light and Love, No. 25, quoted from: John of the Cross, The Collected Works, Revised Edition, translated by K. Kavanaugh and O. Rodriguez. Washington D.C.: 1991. 669.