The desert is the place we go to find God and God alone. Certainly He is present in our daily midst, not only where two or more are gathered, but also actively involved in the day-to-day activity of life. The desert is where we go to find Him alone, it is the place to where Jesus retreated, and where the Father met with the Son as we might come to our Lover, free of distractions and other demands, a moment of entry into the bridal chamber where we experience no thing and no one other than Love. The tradition of the desert far exceeds what the Carmelites have adopted and it is not limited to long periods of seclusion. Weekly deserts of a day revitalize the soul. An hour or half-hour during the day serve as respites and oases in the midst of a loud and cluttered life—visiting the desert gives us times and moments when the outside stillness brings stillness to the soul.
The desert, as you may have already begun to see for the Carmelites, is a time and opportunity to grow closer to the Rule, to live out its precepts and recommendations in a more secure way, freed from the daily distractions of life and the 21st century; freed from the constant intrusion of cell phones, social media and the internet which persist even into our cells; freed also from any excuses and excess faults, that in the desert, when all has been stripped away except a life of prayer, of discipline, of simplicity and everything outside the walls of Carmel, we come face-to-face with the fundamental tenants of this way of life, of their meaning, their influences, qualities and benefits, but also our abilities, our limitations and our consideration of this life . . . just as our Lord too faced these very same things in his desert and his time to ponder nothing but the laws and words of his Father.
The following reflections are not about the desert. They come from this desert. These are reflections on the Rule of Carmel, the Way of Life prescribed by St. Albert of Jerusalem “to the hermits gathered around the Spring of Elijah on Mt. Carmel.” The Rule is the source and beginning of our Way of Life, so it seemed appropriate, during my days in the desert, to begin at this fountain and to see how it might call me toward our God. I assigned myself no more than one chapter of the Rule each day for meditation. To listen to its words alone (without the clutter and noise of scholarly research, linguistic parsing, historical analysis or any of the dozens of commentaries that have been written—although these things did remain in the corner of my mind as I read). I sought to consider the Rule of Carmel for what it says and what it stirred inside. I did not try to be comprehensive or to explain its true meaning, but to merely be attentive to that still small voice and record how the text of the Rule struck me at that particular moment and as a brother living 800 years after it was written.
I was sure then, and can speak with greater experience now, that different readings at different times strike on different cords. There is no singularly correct reading of the Rule that applies to every circumstance. At the same time, there are certain things that the Rule does say and intends to say. There are things that it does not say and interpretations that simply betray its intentions. The fact that not every interpretation is reasonable, does not mean that only one is. These are my reflections on the Rule. I hope that they help you to glean much more and possibly hear a slightly different stir inside of you. Most of all, I hope that in them you can find that even today, when technology and electronics allows us to reach the entire world from within or near our cell, its words and wisdom continue to apply and guide us. In a society that no longer uses donkeys and a Carmel that has been physically removed from the seclusion of the Spring and caves of the wadi, the Rule still serves as the source and foundation that leads us on this Way of Life.