Upon this Mountain: On Carmelite Prayer

Upon this Mountain provides a beautiful and succinct introduction to Carmelite prayer.  “We are never alone on this most solitary of paths.  ‘We are nudged along, taught, and inspired by so many witnesses in a great cloud all around us’” p. 7.   The author is able to simplify and bring us into Carmelite prayer.  So much of my own prayer has been about bringing myself into just the right place, time, position, attitude, to drive out all my distractions and settle into a fleeting moment of prayer.  “Teresa’s own interior liberation came when she finally stopped forcing herself…and allowed herself simply to enjoy a friendship with Christ Jesus.” P.8 .  Can it possibly be this simple?  Can I stop the searching, practicing and study and simply be in the presence of my prerequisites for a serious life of prayer are love of others, detachment at all levels and humble self-knowledge.” P. 8.

Once I have managed to simply turn to Jesus as my friend, there I will meet God in the depths of me.  I have very dear friends who I don’t hold back from.  I love them and they love me, and I am completely myself with them.  I am safe from judgement.  They listen to my feelings and musings of life with patience and love.  They are given by God as a glimpse of the friendship that I can have with Him.   I love that the Carmelite tradition encourages me to “have confidence in following the way of prayer that suits us.” P.12.  I can be alone in prayer with God himself.  I don’t need to be impatient with myself.  I only need to trust that I will find the God in me through my prayer and then I will find him everywhere; “turn our attention in faith and love to the one whose attention never leaves us for a moment … whatever is on our heart when we come to prayer can be allowed to be there, for it is already on the great heart of God and he lives its reality with us.” P. 13. 

When I realize these truths, I will come into the “same personal contact with the Lord as men had during his life on earth.”p.14.  I like how Teresa “advocates simple attention to the immediate presence of the Lord within us here and now.” P. 15.  I don’t need to find a special moment because the moment is always now to say, I see you here Lord.  I am here with you, and I am yours.  I come to do your will.  My husband and I recently had a beautiful experience of visiting my husband’s siblings who we had not seen in two years.  They live across the country from us.  We were blessed and happy to be present with them.  No expectations, only the love and familiarity between us.  That is the relationship that I have wanted with God.  It is already there for me when I turn to Him.  I appreciated the description of night as “we are plunged into darkness, not because the light is not shining but because the brilliance blinds us.” P. 18.  I do not need to fear the night.  I need to be “aware of the startling simplicity and immediacy of God’s oneness with us”. P. 18.  

Chapter two further describes prayer as relationship.  John of the Cross describes this as between Lover and beloved.  “God wants to relate to the real person that I am and the real God that He is” p 20.  He wants to engage with the real me.  This will involve really getting to know myself and pealing away layers of protection.  This is an interesting way to think of the dark night.  When I fail to see God, it is perhaps because I am not spending time in my own hidden depths where God is.  God is waiting for me to turn to Him.  In the journey, we confront our faults and weaknesses as we learn to cast off the persona we present to others and be with our God.  “We can only consent to live more and more in that light:  to know that we are naked, and not hide. “ p. 25.  “In the stillness of utter simplicity, we are one with God, because he has already chosen to be one with us.” P. 26. 

Chapter three brings us into stillness.  An elderly member of the author’s order explained how to enter into silence by “listening to the silence of the chapel”.  McCormack extends this to the silence of where we are.  We can absorb the moment of the chapel or garden or wherever we find ourselves.  Become aware of the traffic noise, the fan, and then the noise of my own breathing.  Then, repeat a simple word or phrase.  For me it is “Be still and know” or “Jesus, I trust”.  This book was rich and profound in its simplicity and depth.  “If all we can do at the time of prayer is to be there, then we must be content to sit there and just be.” P.32  In that space we meet our God.    

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