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Refreshment At Carmel

alec vanderboom

I've had a rough Lent. Interior trials. Exterior Trials. I felt like I was walking around in muck. I noticed a real change in my approach to the Stations of the Cross. I'm emotionally sensitive. Usually when I pray the Stations of the Cross, I feel a little shaken up. I'm essentially walking through photographs of graphic torture. I feel the same visceral reactions when I pray as I do when I see those awful pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

This Lent, I found praying the Stations of the Cross to feel strangely reassuring. "Yeah, Jesus. I got me a piece of that kind of pain too. Nice to know that I'm on the right path at least. Love you, brother. Good luck! See you down the road on Easter Sunday!" That part of identification with Jesus with the humiliation and the other gross stuff, rather than simply the happy part, is new. This spiritual journey is messy and confusing, but I am still growing.

By Sunday morning, I felt so low I wanted to skip my monthly Carmel meeting. I complained so much. "Seriously? After this hellacious weekend, I've got to go to yet another outside thing? I really want rest. I need rest!"

I came inches from skipping out of my meeting. I live in a rural area, so I need to drive 30 minutes to the next large town to attend my Carmel meetings. I drove past all these inviting places on the exit before my turn that I don't have in my small town. There was a Panera. A Chipotle. A Starbucks. Never had it looked more appealing to skip out of my meeting, sit down, put my feet up and sip a coffee. "Jon won't mind that I asked him to babysit while I went out for time alone, instead of to my Carmel Meeting. He knows how much I need this. I deserve this gift after the long,hard week I've had!" I don't even know how I decided to keep driving because that lure of 30 minutes alone inside a Panera was pretty strong. I think I probably decided that we didn't have enough money 2 days before pay day to support my trip.

Anyway, I pull up to my Carmel meeting a mess. My Palm Sunday Service went long, so despite my best efforts, I'm fifteen minutes late for my class. Our President saw me entire the room and her face lit up in a huge smile. "Abigail you look wonderful!" Everyone in my community is praying for this baby to make it and so they take such a special joy in seeing my round pregnant belly looking bigger than four weeks ago.

She gave me this huge, warm hug. I felt her arms around me and I started to cry. I choke out "The baby is fine, but I just had an awful experience this weekend that I need to talk to you about."  We went out to talk in the hallway. Within ten minutes she had me all straightened out. She told me to skip my class and go sit in on the Mass that was happening at the church next door. I sort of resisted. "I just came from Mass, it doesn't help." She was really bossy in that tender big sister way. She physically walked me to church and parked me in front of an open door.

I slipped into the middle of a Latin Mass. I never know in the least bit what is going on in these services. During that time of emotional upheaval, I felt even less hopefully about following along. Instead of following the brochure, I just knelt down and prayed. I'd taken the Eucharist about one hour earlier and I could feel myself getting calmer. "She was right to be so insistent that I come her," I thought after several moments.

I didn't even stay for the end of Mass. When I felt much better, I slunk back out of church. I went to the end of my formation class. We had our elections for a new officers. That part ran a little long, so we skipped my favorite part--our community discussion on the letters of my bff, St. Teresa of Avila. I left before Evening Prayer and made it back to my house by 4 PM. I still had time to visit with my family at the park and finish the grocery shopping before making pizza for dinner and cutting the grass while it was still light outside.

I figured out a lot of things during my Carmel meeting. A lot of things that were really confusing to me got sorted out. I don't mean in a general way--but in an individual, specific way. "Oh yeah, that's what I'm supposed to do now!"

I love Carmel because it looks so boring. It's a room with folding chairs and folding tables. There are fifteen people or less. It's so unassuming.  Yet, Carmel is my tribe! This is my "family of choice" as we like to say in the secular language of CODA. This is truly who I am and where I belong. It's so wonderful to touch base once a month and think "Oh right! This is who I am! This is what I'm supposed to be doing! This is my mission!" Its this intense feeling of reassurance and encouragement, at the same time a real call to action to be more zealous in following the Lord.

Early in my Carmel journey, I had a person in authority tell me a very wrong statement. "Mothers with young children should never join Carmel because they can't attend meetings every month." I thought about that comment made years ago as I drove home. The Mother that drove away from my children at 12:30 PM, was not the same Mother who came back at 4:00 PM. I came back to my vocation refreshed.

It's crazy to have something better than "Me time at Panera" as the pregnant Mother of six children. I'm so grateful for Carmel. I hope I get many years with my Carmel community to grow into the full person I'm supposed to become.