Secular Discalced Carmelites have a required discipline of setting aside at least 30 minutes each day for Mental Prayer. And this is a unique type of prayer involving the use of the mind. Yet the mind is not focused on being discursive or meditative – at least those aspects are not necessary – because the focus is on presence; on being present to God in an attitude of loving quiet solitude. By its very definition, it is a simple form of prayer; however it is not easy to do and requires two things in abundance – patience and perseverance…that is what makes it a discipline. These 30 minutes set aside for Mental Prayer are separate and apart from other types of prayer – such as the Liturgy of the Hours, adoration, personal devotions such as the Rosary and the like. (As you continue to read the rest of this post, I hope to put a bit more context around Mental Prayer for better understanding.)
Also, as our calling is under the protection and patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the character and practice of our prayer life is patterned after the Blessed Virgin Mary. She who by example, teaches us to ponder all things in the heart – which is naturally contemplative in character. But what does this mean; to pattern our prayer life after that of the Virgin Mary?
In the gospels Mary doesn’t say much, and in the few instances in which we encounter her, she isn’t endowed with answers constructed like doctoral thesis or anything in the manner of a long winded or complex treatise on faith. Instead her position is one of witness to a profound faith. Her rare dialogue is that of asking simple, direct and pertinent questions, or making equally simple, direct and pertinent statements. Her open and humble – direct and uncomplicated example teaches how one can, and should interact with Jesus; the son of God; second person of the most Holy Trinity – or so it seems to me.
Other structures for our life of prayer come from the writings and teachings of both St Teresa of Jesus and St John of the Cross. It is our way – our calling – to seek friendship and union with God; and it is a way particularly suited to those called to live this life. Formation received for this calling expresses itself in a daily routine of making space and time for interior and exterior silence – which requires effort, fidelity and perseverance – for we give ourselves over to a meditative and contemplative life within the context to our primary responsibilities.
That this life of prayer requires effort is to say, it requires making a choice from day to day. Our choice is to say YES, so as to remain oriented towards God. We make a choice to turn away from exterior noise, distraction and whatever makes up our everyday routine; or whatever develops in our lives that is not routine. And so we turn away from that which is our secular and active life, for 30 minutes of Mental prayer. In saying Yes we turn towards the Divine – to God – and we seek solitude by entering into our room of prayer so as to be alone with Him. Once there we again choose to turn our minds and hearts away from any interior noise of personal concerns, hardships and numerous distractions that interrupt our efforts to be lovingly present and attentive to God – who is already waiting for us to be with Him.
Fidelity to this way of living orients the heart, the mind, the whole self towards a loving encounter with God. There are many levels and layers that go beyond the boundary of the natural; making us appreciative of mystery; especially to the awareness that God does speak to us. He does so in and through the holy scriptures; through people in our lives; in situations we find ourselves; in the stirrings of our hearts encouraging us to fulfill our duties; and to so many other ways in which we grow in a loving knowledge of Him.
All this may sound complex, even undoable and at times it is quite difficult to just sit still. But just as each geographic region has its own compliment of seasons, so too does each soul; for every soul is unique and unrepeatable. And every soul that has begun to pray, goes through many different stages of prayer. More than anything, what is most needed is determination to persevere; something Pope Francis spoke about just recently during his Wednesday general audience.
Ah yes! Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross were declared doctors of the church because they not only lived heroic lives of prayer but were granted singular graces to adequately describe these mysteries associated with prayer and they did it with authenticity, clarity and delicacy so as to teach a world of Christians how to follow this path…take this journey…
…in ending this series I wish to point out, that prayer truly is a journey – one that should take us into a loving encounter with God. Its end and goal being full communion with the God we know, who loves us.