Provide each person a separate “cell” according to the layout and provisions of your home.
This provision is one of the adaptations that requires little explanation: Provide each person a separate cell according to the layout and provisions of your home. For many of us, a separate room is not a possibility. There are many families for whom even older children must share a room and it can be good, to a certain age, for children to actually share a common room--this does develop social skills, a stronger family identity and understanding of sharing that can be undermined by having private bedrooms--but family development and child psychology is not our topic here. For the most part, people have separate rooms whenever possible understanding also that in marriage, a husband and wife have been united in one, sacramentally and authentically in their being, and so their room is truly a private cell. This provision is not intended to offer even the slightest suggestion that husbands and wives should have separate rooms, but that it is good and appropriate for parents to have a separate room from heir children--also understanding the special care and place that infants have in the family. This here gives us a good place to remember that common sense is always the best guide and the the Rule and Adaptations is not a strict law to obeyed according to every letter, but is a guide and direction for a way of life that leads to Christ. It is the ideas and the meaning behind the provisions that will lead us toward Him. If then, most people already have a separate room if they are able to and this provision is rather simple and self-explanatory, why does it need to be included? Why does it need any further explanation? It remains important that we neither forget the importance of having a private cell to this Way of Life, nor to neglect our responsibilities to the members of our families and those we serve.
Sleep in a room dedicated to intimacy and holiness.
Here may begin some of the provisions of The Rule that seem utterly foreign and alien to day-to-day life outside of the Order: “each one of you is to have a separate cell.” Is it a rule of life that each family member should have his or her own bedroom? Am I suggesting that even parents, not only have separate beds resembling 1950s television shows, but sleep in altogether different rooms? And what of single people who already rent or own a private apartment or home, and are already enjoying a two or three bedroom cell? Is the Rule encouraging us into isolation and a luxurious way of living in grandiose homes and apartments? Rather than taking the Rule according to its literal meaning, let’s take a brief moment to consider what the cell is in the tradition of the monastery and what it provides to the life of the brothers and sisters.
"Next, each one of you is to have a separate cell, situated as the lie of the land you propose to
occupy may dictate, and allotted by disposition of the Prior with the agreement of the other brothers,
or the mature among them."
We are to each have a “separate” cell. This does not simply mean that we each have an individual room, with individual doors. The cell is not a room, but a place of intimacy, an encounter where we can spend time, not merely sleeping; in retreat from others so that we can watch our tv show or listen to our favorite music; sitting at our writing desk or finding a quiet place to read a book; it is a place where we spend dwelling in union with out Beloved. If we are paying attention, the cell is not even specified to be a single room. Perhaps tradition has interpreted it as such, and that tradition is meaningful, but what is most meaningful is that the cell is a “separate” place where we do not simply go, but in which we live and spend time with God, actively and privately. This quality means two things.
Designate and maintain a solitary place.
God said to Elijah, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will be passing by . . .” and when he heard a tiny whispering sound, “Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance to the cave.”
If there is one thing that we can say is unique to the Carmelite way of life and essential to this particular way of life in allegiance to Christ, it is the practice and time spent in solitude and silence. It is not, as some may be confused and believe, the meditative silence we seek in order to calm the soul and give respite from an increasingly loud and noisy world; nor is it merely an inner calm and inner silence that we seek while commuting on the train each morning, surrounded by the din of factory machinery or the bustle of demanding customers and clients; rather, it is in the silence and intimacy of solitude that we find God, that we come face-to-face with our Creator without distraction and we stand before Him as a dear friend, His attention raptured on us, just as we are enraptured by Him; it was in that very moment as Elijah hid in the cave that he encountered the One he loved, that he heard the tiny whisper of his lover’s call, once drowned by the sound of a roaring wind, buried under the rumble of an earthquake and overwhelmed by raging fire. In the stillness, the loneliness--a truly holy loneliness--and solitude that was free from all other voices, from distractions and chatter of day-to-day concerns, Elijah’s ears were free to hear and listen to no other but the LORD alone. And so, at the sound of his lover’s call, he approached to the mouth of the cave with timidity and gentleness.
It was not fear that hid his face and inspired Elijah to raise his cloak--if we recall, he had already passed the high winds, the earthquake and fire without the slightest tremble. This was the prophet’s first meeting with the LORD. He had prayed and spoken, and been zealous in fulfilling all of the LORD’s commands, but not yet had they met face-to-face, not yet had he stood so barren and open before the one he loved. As a bride may hide behind her hands on her wedding night, or a groom timidly reach his hand forward that first time, Elijah hid his face, shielding his eyes from his beloved, from the overwhelming intimacy that threatens to drown our soul yet gives us great life.
Life in Carmel has always sought to imitate and share in the experience of Elijah. From the very beginning, it is why the first monks gathered around the Spring of Elijah--there was already a small group of eastern hermits gathered around his cave--why they took up residence in solitary caves far from the noise and distractions of the holy city, it is why they dedicated their lives to prayer and silence, and why centuries later, as they moved into cities and new regions, they continued to call their homes monasteries.
It is true that there are an infinite number of ways that God presents Himself to us; that He dwells in every quarter of the globe and even in the most vile and loudest of places imaginable; that He does not exist alone in the silence and solitude, but is in the work of healing others, in our liturgical prayers, in the studying of His Word, the preaching and evangelization of the Gospel, in missionary work to the poorer regions, in the work of social justice, in the care of the impoverished and the dyeing, in the teaching of school children, in the raising of a family and the sacrifice of service to others; God is in the richness of nature and the congestion of cities; He exists everywhere and will reveal Himself in whatever way we may either see Him most clearly or in the ways that He needs for us to see according to the Good of His Kingdom. That God exists in such places, and why humanity has discovered Him here, is why Albert recognized that “many and varied are the ways,” and that there are many orders with many charisms and ways in living a life in allegiance to Christ--the Carmelite way is one among them.
Yet, it is also true that while God exists everywhere, we are not capable of seeing Him everywhere and equally. Just as it may be harder for us to have a conversation with a good friend in a crowded room, or in the middle of a rock concert, or while we are shopping for things, or having to focus our attention at our job, or carryout any one of our daily chores in life, it is harder for us to have that intimate conversation with God in the midst of the very same things. And truly, it is this friendship that we are seeking: that Elijah approached as with a lover and dear friend. God wants to share and be with us as such a dear friend. It is only in the silence and solitude that we can experience God in these particular and certain ways. Just as it is easy for us to know that time alone together is essential to any relationship: with our spouse, our children, our family and our friends, so too is this time alone, which is in solitude, essential to our relationship with Christ and our Lord. It is in solitude that we are attuned more to the sound of the Spirit and Wisdom, that we may also be more attentive and her Her more often throughout the rest of day; it is in solitude that we grow in friendship and experience more intimate love; and it is in solitude that we receive the healing Grace of His presence and Spirit. We are rejuvenated in the spirit, receiving healing for whatever may ail our spirit, we receive from His energizing bounty and just as Elijah grew in strength and was prepared for a new journey and mission, so to does anyone who stands for any time in such presence with God, reap from the fruit of His Spirit and Grace.
Designate a time and place for daily solitude. Anyone, regardless of your station or condition in life, can do this, even if it is for a short time and may be difficult to find such a reserved place. I read of the story of a priest, held in the Russian gulags for over 20 years, who intentionally seized upon every moment of solitude he could find--even if it was for 10 seconds when he was the first to sit at the table for lunch, or if he had a moment of privacy in the latrine. It is advantageous, if at all possible, that you have times and places that remain regular and the same. This routine is part of our human psyche, that we benefit from such consistency, but even more importantly, that we have taken the step to reserve such time and places for our Lord; that we have set them aside for Him and for thoughts of Him alone. This reservation is another dimension of solitude that we may not often think of. In addition to physical solitude, there is a solitude, or freedom of distraction from our thoughts. Being is our office, it is easier to think of things about work and appointments that may be coming later in the day; in our bedrooms we may be distracted by an overflowing laundry hamper, or our make-up table, or thoughts of cutting our time short and going to bed. If possible, find a place that helps to inspire thoughts of God alone, or a place where you are able to clear your mind from any thoughts or distractions. Spend your time, perhaps five minutes in the beginning, that is at least twice each day, if possible, and increase this time to a half-hour, or even an hour each time as it is possible and not unduly burdensome to your life and commitments to others--we should not use the excuse of prayer to bring harm or neglect the needs of others. If you are a parent, you may be able to consider inviting and sharing time in silence with your child, possibly for a short time at the dinner table, or immediately prior to bed, knowing what is suitable to their age and that only a minute may be appropriate. Be also attentive to other times and stresses, that whenever your spirit is in need, seek God in the silence. You will surely find that if you do this, or even if you ignore this need for even a short time, that the rest of this life hinges on and is nourished by such silence.
Designate and maintain a solitary place.
In considering "suitable places", we should consider also that places means far more than the physical places where we live and worship. From the fourth century, we have a document called the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolitus. In this document, which describes the initiation ceremonies of the Church in Rome, there is a list of professions that Christians are prohibited from holding: “If someone is a sculptor or a painter, let them be taught not to make idols. Either let them cease or let them be rejected. If someone is an actor or does shows in the theater, either he shall cease or he shall be rejected...” The list continues to include certain public officials, one who wants to become a soldier, astrologers, diviners and even includes an admonition that one who teaches children should cease. What this list tells us is not that it is immoral for a person to be a teacher, a solider, or to hold certain public offices, but that the Church recognized that there are certain professions and kinds of work that by their very nature, require one to do things that are indelibly opposed to the life of a Christian. One could not continue teaching children because in Rome, one would have been required to teach the virtues of the Roman gods and prepare children to burn incense and worship the Roman gods. To be an artist or sculptor would have required one to make images of the Roman idols. To become a soldier would have meant to have sworn loyalty to the emperor as a god and to consign one’s self to following orders that would surely have included the killing of innocents and other duties antithetical to Christ. Certain public offices also would have required one to enforce or even commit acts contradictory to their vows to Christ and his church. Similarly, today there are professions which may require one to act in unchristian ways, and push us in ways that contradict our chosen Way of Life.
Accept places that are “suitable and convenient” to the observation of your Christian faith and Way of Life
Each of us, regardless of what our goals may be, what we want to get out of life, or what we may want to accomplish, needs to pay attention to our environment, to the people with whom we spend our time, the activities we spend our time doing, and whatever other influences which may be surrounding us. At its core, this chapter of the Rule is telling us nothing more than this: that we be attentive to these things that surround us and judge them according to how they influence and affect the life in Christ that we desire to live.
The first thing that we think about when considering places that are “suitable and convenient” to the observation of our Christian faith is the place where we live. Many of us, it must be recognized, do not have as much freedom to actually choose where we live as we, or others seem to often think. Whether it is a commitment to a job, the closeness of our family, our economic situation or even the cultural environment that we enjoy, one can’t simply say that we should all find a good house that is located in a good neighborhood to only live in places surrounded by other Christians and which offer quietness, silence and presence of nature that support this Carmelite Way of Life.
"If the Prior and brothers see fit, you may have foundations in solitary places, or where you are given a site that is suitable and convenient for the observance proper to your Order."
This chapter is a later addition to the Rule under the mitigation by Pope Innocent III. As I have heard numerous times, it was added in order to allow Carmelites to accept a gift of land and/or house that often came with an invitation for the friars to begin a house. This way of acquiring property can also be a very mendicant way of living--not for the Order to decide on property to purchase, but to live and minister according to the gifts that are received. While this appears to be a very faith-filled way of responding to God's calls and the call of the needs of God's people, there is a very dangerous side to accepting land for foundations wherever they may be given, especially for an Order of hermit friars, moving from the seclusion of Mt. Carmel into European cities. The Rule accounts for this danger, but it can seem as though our practice has often ignored its warnings.
Live according to the Way of obedience, chastity and the renunciation of ownership.
The renunciation of ownership teaches us humility by placing the needs of others ahead of our own. If we no longer claim ownership of things, then it is harder to grow prideful and believe that we deserve them more than others. It teaches us patience. It is hard to grow angry over things that we do not see as “our own,” or rather, it is far too easy to be hurt and upset over things that we have laid claimed to. If someone criticizes our job, our opinions, or even our clothing, it can truly hurt deeply and more quickly motivate us to anger. Yet we also know that these things are not who we are—I am not the sum of either my wardrobe or my latest joke which no one laughed at. By renouncing ownership, we acknowledge this and are less hurt. If I no longer take possession of my job, or of my time writing, then I become more patient with interruptions and more attentive to other things that may need my attention. We learn patience too because there will be times when we want, or think that we need something, and it is not available to us—and so also we progress in the detachment from things and become less dependent on them. We grow in solidarity as we see things less often as mine, we are forced to work in cooperation with others more often and we gain the first hand experience and understanding of what it is like to have to go without at times. The renunciation of ownership increases our compassion, contentment and our faith; that we have more compassion for those who are in need, we are more content with fewer things and that we live more and more by the faith that God will always provide and less according to our individual need to accumulate and provide for ourselves.
Live according to the Way of obedience, chastity and the renunciation of ownership.
Although it is a common perception, the renunciation of ownership should not be confused with a vow of poverty; the renunciation of ownership is not the commitment to live a life of simplicity, to go hungry, to wear a lower quality of clothing, to live without money in savings or to use broken-down, second-hand things. The renunciation of ownership does not require one to live on the edge of financial security; it is not the voluntary decision to go without meeting one’s daily needs; it is not to be homeless, to have access to lower education or less access to basic health care. The renunciation of ownership is not a condition of life that for some is involuntary, brought on by the environment of a surrounding neighborhood, sudden and unplanned unemployment, serious medical conditions, or debilitating family situations. Rather, the renunciation of ownership, like the other vows, is a disposition of the heart: to renounce pressing an exclusive claim of use, of authority, or of belonging over any thing. By renouncing the ownership of things, we do not deprive ourselves of wants and needs, but transform and shape ourselves so that we want and need fewer things; that we don’t simply become more satisfied with less, but have our eyes trained toward the love of others and the truly valuable things in heaven.
Chastity is not celibacy. To be sure, brothers and sisters in the Order do profess a vow of celibacy, this is according to Church law and the nature of their consecrated life, married to Christ. However, it is equally important to note that the Rule calls one to a life of chastity and a chaste way of love that all of us, whether married, single, adult or child, can live.
In the shortest terms possible, to love chastely is to love as God Loves and this is the Way of Perfection, the Way that leads us to love more perfectly and to be in love perfectly. If obedience is the beginning and the first step in this life, then chastity is its end, that we are not yet capable of loving so perfectly, but by fasting, prayer and alms giving we are transformed and grow in our ability to love others. Chastity, to love as God Loves, without any self-interest or gain, is our purpose and our goal.
is a series of reflections on the Carmelite Rule, the quintessential letter of St. Albert of Jerusalem which has lead Christians to a life in allegiance with Christ and the Perfection of Love for more than 800 years. The blog brings the tenants of this ancient Way of Life into a contemporary context.
At the heart is a Way of Life, in the tradition of Elijah, that leads us to stand in the presence of the One who Loved us first and in a most perfect way; and to be transformed into one who loves more perfectly.