Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Carmelite Charism

Last weekend I experienced the 2017 OCDS Congress in San Antonio. In many ways, it was a very ordinary event, but I'm also aware that God has spoken to new word to me. I mean, it isn't a new word. But as it was spoken, I became new. It was a moment when there was a loud "CLICK" in my spirit, and I became more whole. It's really hard to put into words, because it certainly isn't that suddenly a) I understand all things or b) I feel great as a result, so the delight I feel isn't an intellectual or an emotional rush. It is a spiritual delight, but a sobering one.

I found that the hub of this word spoken to me came in one particular presentation, by Dr. Jeanne Kamat, on the Carmelite charism. It wasn't so much that it was new information, but more like an impartation, when something is bestowed on one. I do have the text from which she spoke, and I have the audio of the actual presentation, but the Spirit is not going to be exactly in either of these. 

She began by saying that "the Carmelite charism is to pray and to create in the world the inner peace that arises from affirmation." She emphasized that we do this by affirming the life of the other person, regardless of how we see their faults, crimes, etc. We see the goodness of the person with the eyes of heaven. And, that to be such a witness of God's affirmation of the life of each person, we must know and affirm the goodness of our own selves (self-knowledge), and to know what we most deeply and truly believe. 

She went on to deal with the second creation account in Genesis as a basis for man's original relation with God, with himself, and with others, and then explored Wisdom literature and the prophets, highlighting that to be made in the image of God is not merely to be created as a relational being, but that we are indeed created out of Wisdom. 

Jewish understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures colored everything she said. I have yet to even completely take in the second half of the talk, but by the time she talked about Jesus fulfilling it all by actually imparting the Holy Spirit and being Himself our rest and making us a new creation that then enables His life to be present in the world through us... I felt like I was swooning under the presence of a Beauty unfathomable. 

If at the end I felt I was dripping exclamation marks from my pores, to be honest at the beginning I may have shed a few question marks. Her words about the place of affirming the life of God within dug into the inner recesses of my soul that had been formed by the doctrine of Total Depravity. Really? Isn't there something about humanity that is evil in essense? Scripture is pretty clear that there is an original condition of man which is not evil, is not divine, but does indeed come forth in beauty from the hand of God. 

Sin obfuscates. Sin renders us incapable of knowing God, of knowing who we are, of knowing what is right, of seeing according to Wisdom. Sin brings confusion and activates our passions to dig deeper away from the presence of God, and into deeper alienation from ourselves and from others. 

But Jesus comes to give life. His first affirmation of us is the Incarnation. As Dr. Kamat put it, what a impoverishment of the Incarnation if we see it only about God's plan to deal with sin, and not as the ultimate expression of loving desire for communion with us. The Incarnation as an act of God's desire for communion could be the theme song of my conversion to the Catholic Church. It has been a jaw-dropping meditation for me for 25 years. 

I was also able to see the occasions in my life when the power of affirmation healed me and changed the course of my life. This is a double-whammy because not only did the affirmation heal me, but it simultaneously taught me who I am and how God made me: to go and do the same. 

Words hold the power of life and the power of death (Prov. 18:21). We will be held accountable for every idle word (Mt. 12:36). We are commanded to speak only what will build others up according to their needs (Eph. 4:29). These are amazing Scriptures, and they point to our need, not to become self-obsessive, but to allow "the word of Christ to dwell" in us richly and to be transformed by his glory and the renewal of our minds.

Two years ago I was powerfully struck by a talk at the Milwaukee Congress by Fr. Marc Foley, OCD, which was about the words we speak and the silences we keep. This talk goes one step deeper, because this is about what goes on in the silence, when we rest our heads on the heart of Jesus and receive His breath, which then forms the words and silences with which we interact with the world. 

"When you rest your heart on Christ, He reveals the Father. He puts in love, wisdom, etc., according to your nature. It will permeate your being. You become capable. You are transformed. You don't have to know it." This ministry of affirmation arises mostly without our being aware of any divine transaction, but it is sharing the love, the affirmation, the redemption, the wholeness we have been given.

This is true. This is how it works. In this is my vocation. This is how I bear witness to God in the world.

I have been crucified with Christ; The life I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19-20)

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