I Want To Pray Like A Carmelite
Saying you want to pray like a Carmelite is a bit like saying you want to play baseball like Joe DiMaggio. The Carmelites are, after all—when it comes to lifting the heart and mind to God—heavy lifters, so to speak. That said, we’re going to take our best shot today at starting down the Carmelite path of prayer.
What’s the first big difference between Carmelites and the rest of us when it comes to praying? They do it. Lots of it. All the time. So if you want to pray like a Carmelite, start praying, period.
As a matter of fact, because the Carmelite prayer tradition is so rich, there really isn’t an easy “Walk Like an Egyptian” way to simply jump in line and start praying like a Carmelite.
Reading up on Carmelite prayer, you’ll find that is largely focused on Sacred Scripture. It also has a Marian dimension, a Prophet Elijah dimension, and several other points of focus.
Okay. Maybe we need a little background…
Carmelites first showed up on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land somewhere in the 1150 A.D. to 1250 A.D. range. They were hermits who took up residence there, took the Blessed Virgin Mary as their patroness—seeing her as the perfect model for prayer and contemplation—and went about beginning the great Carmelite tradition.
Why Mount Carmel? Real estate is all about location, location, location. Right? Well, those old hermits knew a thing or two about location. Mount Carmel is said to have been the one-time home of the prophet Elijah and is cited in the Bible as the place where Elijah challenged the prophets of a pagan god to a sacrifice-by-fire contest to see whose god was the true God. Where the pagan prophets seemed to be wholly ignored by their god, Elijah’s God heard him and came through in a big way, pretty much “carmelizing” the offered sacrifice—along with the makeshift altar it had been placed on.
Elijah then proclaimed the end of a long drought…which ended…and how. So it makes sense that a great prayer tradition would spring up on Mount Carmel.
Back to the praying…
While the Carmelite prayer tradition doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to a quick DIY-blog explanation, the good folks over at carmelite.net offer visitors a very nice introduction to Carmelite prayer; we’re going to draw a few points from it to help you get started.
Among their suggestions are a very simple meditation on Elijah and a very simple meditation on Our Lady of Mount Carmel. By, simple, we mean that they are easily explained—as you go through them, you’ll see an incredibly rich spiritual path opening up for you. Another way of expressing the Carmelite attitude to prayer is that it doesn’t need to be complicated, it just needs to “go deep” as many Carmelites are fond of saying.
Carmelite prayer, by the book…
There is one very popular DIY prayer book out there that Carmelites are fond of using—it’s called the Holy Bible and provides the foundation for a form of prayer known as Lectio Divina (Divine/Holy Reading). Here are some basics:
- Begin, as any session of Scripture reading should, by asking the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to God’s word.
- Slowly read the sacred text you have chosen, paying close attention to each word.
- Take a moment to soak in what you have read.
- Look at your life through the lens of what you just read. How does the reading apply to you today?
- Read the text again, praying it this time in conversation with God.
Again, that’s just a taste of what Lectio Divina can be. Just as with any spiritual visit to Mount Carmel, there is much, much more to be discovered.
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Let us hear from you!
Have you tried Lectio Divina? What passage of Sacred Scripture has proven especially significant for your prayer life?