So the Seven Graces community visited the Carmelite Monastery yesterday, meeting up with a Carmelite sister (we’ll refer to her as “the sister”) who shared several things about the Carmelite order and what they do.
Here are 4 things I learnt:
Carmel Is Commitment
While waiting in the room to see the sister, the first thing I noticed was the metal bars that separated the inner monastery from the outside world. In a few moments, the sister we were supposed to meet would open the wooden partition and speak to us through the metal bars. I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the visiting room of a prison.
But how wrong I was! When the partition opened, the first thing that struck me was how joyful the sister was. Her eyes sparkled as she greeted us and gave the biggest smile I’d seen on anyone in a long time. It was the smile of someone living in the deep, profound joy of God.
The Carmelite sisters are a cloistered order, meaning that they are physically separated from the external world. This is to prevent distraction from prayer and religious life, a life totally dedicated to God. The bars, therefore, were not a sign of imprisonment. They were a sign of freedom – the freedom one gets when one is totally, absolutely, completely committed to God.
Which really got me thinking – how often do we give ourselves entirely to God? Often, we try to take shortcuts, make half-promises, and negotiate with God. We’ll say things like “Ok, I’ll go for Mass on Sunday, but don’t try to change my lifestyle.” or “I agree with the Church’s teachings on some issues, but not on this other issue.”
In a world obsessed with its own opinions and self-interest, the Carmelites are a shining example of what it means to dedicate a life completely to God, and paradoxically experience an even greater freedom to love, serve and worship. It reminds me of a marriage – many people see it as giving up of “freedom”, but it really means liberating yourself from your own selfish desires and entering into a deeper, more profound, and totally committed love with someone.
Carmel Is Prayer
Being a Carmelite is first and foremost about prayer.
The sister described the Carmelite sisters’ daily routine, which included no less than 7 prayer sessions throughout the day, such as the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office), two hours of Mental Prayer (Silent Personal Prayer), and of course, Mass. All this prayer helps the sisters to interiorise their relationship with God.
Carmelite sisters live a life of solitude and silence. The sister shared that this lifestyle helps them to quieten their minds and hearts, in order for their souls to learn how to listen to God. She spoke joyfully about her daily “work” of prayer, sharing that it wasn’t so much about simply reciting memorised prayers, but about having a genuinely close relationship with God. As St. Teresa of Avila once said,
“For Mental Prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
Carmel Is Love & Service
“I cannot do great things, only little things with great love.”
– St. Therese
Besides prayer, Carmelite nuns spend a big part of their day in service. The Singapore sisters pack hosts, make baptismal garments, scapulars, rosaries, decorate baptismal candles and make vestments for the parishes of Singapore.
Most notably, they find God in everything that they do. The sister shared with us that while their lives may be seen as mundane and ordinary by the outside world, they find joy in the “ordinariness” of their lives. As St. Theresa of Avila once said, “God is among the pots and pans”.
This was something that struck me – how often do I resent “wasting” my time on supposedly mundane work? At the back of my mind, my ego keeps telling me that I “deserve” to do higher-level work. Yet, as the Carmelite sisters teach us, God is present in ALL of our work. Any task – no matter how big or small – can be offered up as an act of worship to Him.
A good thing to remember the next time we’re frustrated by our daily work and chores!
Carmel is Community
The sister shared that life in the monastery is a life of community. While the sisters are committed to prayer for much of their day, they still live, work, and spend their recreation time with each other. Being a part of a community means accepting each member wholeheartedly despite their differences and disagreements.
This parallels the Seven Graces community as we walk together on our faith journey. We’re a relatively new community, coming from diverse backgrounds. We may have differences in opinions, lifestyles, and perspectives. But what’s important is that we learn to accept each other for who we are, and that we’re committed to God and each other as a strong, united and loving family, bound by Jesus’ love.
Image credit: Christyn