Q. What aspect of Carmelite Spirituality do you find most helpful for your prayer?
A. What thoughts have crossed your mind when you have read the Gospel narrative of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus and Martha “stewing” in the kitchen because she was left alone to do the serving? Why didn’t Mary see the serving needs and get up and help? What she did see was the person of Jesus and that is where she began. Martha saw Jesus too but she began with what she thought He needed. She could have continued with the serving if she had used her activity as an opportunity for solitude going about her chores with a sense of adoration and peace.
Since all prayer begins with adoration, the environment surrounding my prayer must be one of solitude where my faith is rekindled as I seek Him whom my heart desires. It is only through withdrawal from the many voices that bombard us throughout the day, the endless demands made on our time and energy, the ceaseless needs of a weary world that we can gain the perspective that we need by separating out the one voice that guides our life to know the Father’s will.
Jesus was constantly sought out by the crowds for His teaching and for healing. But there were times when He disappeared and went off to lonely places to pray. In this solitude He communed with His Father and received clarity for His human life that He might perfectly fulfill the Father’s will. In the Father’s will He was given the nourishment to carry out the ministry entrusted to Him.
How else can we discern when the “good things” we are doing are coming solely from ourselves to fulfill our own needs to be of service or when they are coming from God? Without times of solitude we cannot be sure that the voice we are hearing is our own voice or that of the Holy Spirit. Times of solitude allow us to step back from situations, evaluate them more objectively, seek counsel, if needed, and seek enlightenment in prayer.
The big question is probably, “Where do I go to find this solitude?” This may take a little planning and creativity depending on where you live. Where will you establish your secret hiding place? Some may be fortunate enough to have a nearby “nature” spot or at least a “nature” getaway a few times a year. Others may make use of a few moments throughout the day where a room, a place in the yard, a nearby church, or even a commute alone in traffic, provides time spent with the Lord.
Solitude is not an empty space, a void; it is an encounter with the God who loves us, a love-space where in the mystery of this encounter so much awaits us. Many distractions fill our day, and they affect our ability to focus and distinguish between the finite and the infinite. Through solitude, we are in a better position to “let go and let God” act in our lives, to surrender control, to know God loves us and be open to the path along which God is moving us.
What do you do within this time of solitude? Simply remain quiet for a few moments to distance yourself from the busyness of your day, and allow God’s presence to permeate your being. You may then choose to rest in the beauty of God’s creation, reflect on some thought from the day’s liturgy, read a passage of Scripture, recall some act of God’s graciousness to you, etc. The opportunities are countless.
Making this an essential part of your life will enable you to grow in your relationship with God and give you new life, an eternal life begun in the here and now.