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Me and My Carmel Vocation

alec vanderboom

This picture is of me (metaphorically) and my vocation to Carmel. My sister has spent years working in the desert in Africa with the Peace Corps. She taught me how to carry a large number of things on my head. We're both amazed at the dexterity that allows some women to easily balance 10 gallon water jugs on their head for miles.

In many cultures, women still gather water for their families. I'm starting to think that St. Teresa's metaphor comparing prayer to a fountain of water is a practical theory for me.

I'm guilty of taking my Carmel vocation extremely lightly. I'm a recovering codependent. It's hard for me to ask my family to make time in their schedule for me to go to doctors appointments. (For years, I'd only go see the OB because I had to for the baby. When it came to myself, I spent four years feeling like it was "stealing time" to go to my regular check-up or get my eye glass prescription updated.) If it's hard for me to ask for time to go to the doctor--it's even harder to ask for time off from family life to spend time in prayer.

Prayer felt invisible. Prayer felt selfish. Going to a monthly Carmelite Meeting or spending time in Adoration--that was fine if life was easy and I had free time. Asking people to rearrange their schedules so that I could attend a full day Carmelite Retreat in Advent during a move felt almost irresponsible.

Then the bottom fell out of my world last week. I had days when I woke up that I had no idea what was going to happen, only that I was expecting more oceans of bad news. The only thing I knew for certain was that I could still do my Carmel prayers every morning. I cling to that schedule like a life raft.

Suddenly, Carmel didn't seem like a luxury. Carmel seemed like a necessity.

I need to do my Carmel prayer. I need to go to meetings. I need to do retreats because I can't handle my life without Carmel.

What I learned in Carmel at my meeting last Sunday, is that while prayer is done in solitude but its not private! I always thought my relationship with God was very private. (Of course, my current American culture screams all the time that religion is a private matter that doesn't belong in the public space). In Carmel, I'm learning something different.

We address God as our Father.

God belongs to everyone!

That means that whatever insights I have in prayer, are pretty applicable to everyone--especially my spouse and the children I have in my care. That concept still shocks me!

On Sunday I came home on fire after watching a St. Teresa of Avila movie. She's my bff. Nearly everything she says out loud is golden to me. In the movie she said the phrase "silence and work." "All speaking and all writing is nothing but confusion. What is necessary is only silence and work."

I shared my excitement about the phrase "silence and work" to my husband. I meant to talk only about myself. During this chaotic, scary time of a move, it's good for me to remember to keep my head down and practice Silence and Work.

I just got an email back from my husband talking about how much that phrase means to him, while he's at work, with six things on his plate and a dozen emails waiting in his inbox about our move.

I was shocked that what I thought was a selfish act (Going to a 4 hour Carmel Meeting on Sunday instead of packing for a move) was actually a loving, spiritually nourishing act for my spouse.

Today, I thought about all the women in the world who still walk to a well daily to gather water for their families. I realize that every time I go to prayer, I'm gathering spiritual water for my family. They might only feel it indirectly, a Mom who has a smile instead of a frown whenever the 2 year old acts out her age. Yet sometimes I find that I can give my spouse and my kids answers that I didn't even know that I knew. Those are hidden insights from prayer that St. Teresa calls "spiritual water."

I can only do that if our spiritual well is full. For me, going to Carmel, is the most effective way I can make sure that my family has lots of Spiritual Water to drink, especially in the middle of a desert of Stress like Advent and around Moving Day. I'm starting to feel like going to Carmel meeting is less about getting "me time" and more about fetching spiritual water for both myself and my whole family.

St. Teresa of Avila, pray for us!