Finding God Amidst the Pots and Pans
Dorothy Day, said Sr. Ceil, had an abortion, was an unwed mother whose child’s Baptism grounded her faith, and went on to become a fervent convert and foundress of The Catholic Worker Movement that deals with the poor and homeless. How is she a model for Carmelites? Dorothy had an interior base, a centre that was selfless, emptied out, spent, as she clung to God alone. God has varied ways of emptying us out. For some Carmelites it is leaving the world, facing one’s inner turmoil in God’s presence, moving into peace and joy and service. For Dorothy her life pattern was service, prayer, service, prayer.
Gillian Coxhead is a Carmelite who has not left the world. But she is rooted in her own reality. Her words to us point the way to living lovingly and attentively in our own circumstances. The school of prayer is life when one’s fundamental thrust is contemplative. We want to spend time alone with God and enter a process whereby God purifies our hearts through life’s circumstances to become transformed by love to see with God’s eyes, and love with God’s heart. “At eventide we will be examined in love.” John of the Cross
Gillian says that Carmel invites us to a different way of being present that has to include our whole life – of family, friendship, liturgy, work, play. Life is all of a piece. Everything is sacred or nothing is sacred. But only if one is willing to go into solitude, look at him, get in touch with the deepest part of who we are. Silent love flourishes in silence. Then in the emergency room nursing might be quiet presence, even for seconds with a simple glance toward God. You can listen to Gillian’s talks here.
We are all called
“Many of the disciples of Jesus remarked, ‘This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can anyone take it seriously?” Then Jesus looked to the twelve. “Do you want to leave me too?” Simon answered, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” “We’re staying.” Peter spoke with force and certainty words that would set in place his life’s orientation. Even though the teaching has become more profound, more difficult to understand. But he realized “It is the spirit that gives life. The flesh has nothing to offer…” Mere human understanding is not enough. He must step into the dark and go by an unknown way.
We are all founders
For this gathering and retreat we drew on Teresa once again. Teresa prayed, wrote, and lived among the pots and pans. It was all one reality since she lived out of the deepest place within her. The Spirit. Teresa’s life became more and more Jesus living in her.
How can Carmel apply to the likes of us? “The higher the saints are raised into the light of God, the more accessible their teaching becomes to all states of Christian life.
And, how is it we are drawing from Teresa’s Book of the Foundations? When Teresa wrote the account of how she made her foundations she was concerned that it be accurate because she knew this was a work of God—all of it including all the mishaps and messy details, because of what God is doing in her, in Teresa. God has brought something to life within her. Through her life of prayer she is being called to share.
Everyone ought to be a founder, says Fr. Matt Blake. Because a founder simply gives life to others. The person of prayer is the most alive person in the world, brought to life by the work of God within. Teresa wanted to found her convents in the city centre so they, though hidden, could be like a star giving light to all around.
But what about the pressures of responsibility? Infirm parents, needy children, grandchildren who deserve attention? Being faithful to the little things in our way of life will cost, said Gillian. Christ wants us to take the same path he did. There will be trials and contradictions. What do we do when we get to the end of resources and we must go on? Sometimes we are driven to serve others. Here is the crux. We might prefer contemplative peace. But we must be determined to work and suffer when the occasion arises. Here we lose a version of ourselves—our plans, our will. Instead we do what God wants.
There are many paths. We all must find our own way. Perfect prayer for us is our intention, our motivation. What breaks our heart and stirs our longing. What are the non-negotiables? Potential stumbling blocks? We need to show up, like the mother of four sons dressed for Sunday Mass in one of the front pews.
So, says St. Teresa, “Don’t be sad if you are drawn into exterior works because God lives among the pots and pans.” Founding might well be for us these good works.