One of the most striking things about the Carmelite Rule is the way in which it is saturated with the Bible. There are a number of explicit biblical quotes playing important parts in it, but there are also smaller, less obvious allusions there, that only become visible when we study the Rule closely. As well as this, it also urges the Carmelite towards a deep, lifelong engagement with God’s word. In paragraph 10 of the Rule, we are told that the Carmelite’s main activity should be “meditating day and night on the Law of the Lord”, unless called away for some other purpose. Both in the middle ages and today, scripture plays a central role in Carmelite life.
One important aspect of this is the way that our understanding of the Bible is something that we come to together. This is most obvious when we pray Lectio divina together and we listen to one another – the phrases that have most struck us, the way in which the text we are reading connects with our lives, the prayers that are inspired by it…
But it is also true when we are reading on our own. My understanding of a particular passage is influenced by those who have gone before me, how they understood it, and what I have heard said about that passage before. I can also be influenced by people in other places, and in different circumstances from my own. How they see the events described and the connections they make to their own lives and to other parts of the Bible can open my eyes to aspects of that passage that would otherwise have passed me by completely. After all, my own life and experience are fairly limited – why should I assume that the things that immediately strike me about a reading are the only ones that are there?
When I talk about understanding a particular passage – for example one of Jesus’ parables – I don’t mean being able to write a good essay about it, or anything like that. As with anything connected to God, understanding is something much deeper than this. What is really important isn’t just knowing facts about it, but the way in which the message can become so deep-rooted in us, that we’re no longer able to view it separately from the rest of our personality. A true understanding is when the good news within the Bible has become so ingrained within us that it becomes visible in our lives. It almost takes on a tangible form in our thought, in what we say and especially in what we do.
And the Carmelite rule is actually a very good example of how this can happen: the words of scripture had become so much a part of the writer that he was unable to express himself and get across what he wanted to say without them.
The Carmelite lifestyle is built on a slowly developing understanding of God’s word, ever deepening. As we go through life our faith is made real in everything that we do, nourished through the continual openness to new light on what God’s word is saying to us, how it can illuminate our lives, and how it is active in the lives of others.
Richard Green O.Carm