A few days ago, I stated that this time of year "our skies are consistently clear and sunny". That very evening I was surprised with a spectacular sunset. Okay, so it does happen on occasion in California.
Stella, the dog, often joins us during prayer time. She happily sits quietly under our feet and surveys the area. For recreation, she loves to chase deer and turkey hawks. How does she chase a turkey hawk you might ask. Often times the turkey hawks are flying at eye level since our hilltop is about 900 feet above the valley below and so she thinks that she is chasing them away. However, the prey don't even notice - they are busy circling over a future meal.
If you look closely (or click on the photo to enlarge it) you might notice the large building in the center of the photo. This is the home of the other local monastic community - the Buddhists. Since the Buddhist monastery is located on the same road we are, people are often confused on their way up to us when they see the word "monastery".
Although more a road, this path leads up to the monastery.
"Then they said to each other, "Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?" So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, "The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!" Then the two recounted what had taken place on the ROAD and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread."
The toll of the bell wakes us in the morning and calls us to gather for prayer throughout the day. In the event of the death of a confrere, it also informs the community that one of ours has gone to God; ringing the number of years that the Friar has lived on earth.
Today, July 16, the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, is the great feast of the Carmelite Order (officially known as the Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel).
The order began in the 12th century at the Well of Elijah on Mount Carmel (near Haifa) when hermits, following the example of Elijah, gathered together under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in order to live a life of prayer and solitude. The order eventually moved in to Western Europe and developed into the mendicant Order as it is known today.
On July 16, 1251, Our Lady of Mount Carmel is said to have appeared to St. Simon Stock (one of the early Superiors General of the Order) and gave the Scapular to him. The scapular became part of our habit and eventually became a popular devotion by the Faithful, who wear it as a reminder to follow the example and virtue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, in order to reach union with God.
The statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel that is pictured above is a replica of the statue which sits, today, at the Carmelite Monastery in Haifa. Our statue was commissioned for us in the 1950's and has a prominent place in Our Lady's Chapel within the monastic Church.
Our Church, like most chapels or oratories of monasteries, has two sides to it: the public side and the monastic choir. The top picture is taken from the public side where the lay people are invited to join us for our liturgies. On the other side of the altar is the "choir" where we gather five times each day to chant the Divine Office (the official prayer of the Church), which is also known as the Liturgy of the Hours. The choir is arranged so that we face each other and chant (or recite) the psalms from the Office back and forth (or side to side) - one side responding to the other.
If you look closely, you will notice that the corpus of Jesus on the crucifix has four arms. That's because there is a corpus on each side of the cross so that whether on the public side or the "choir" side of the Church one may see Jesus on the Cross.
My blogger friend, Brian of Visual Victuals, commented on yesterday's post about the possibility of being distracted from prayer by the beautiful scenery. Yes, this is more than a possibility, it's a fact. Pray-ers are constantly plagued with distractions; it's part of the human condition (also know as original sin). However, as faithful pray-ers, we can learn to overcome distractions or even use them to enhance our prayer. We can even use a beautiful location to lead us to prayer, for it's easy to see God's glory in His own creation.
The Carmelite way of prayer does not necessarily teach to clear one's mind in order to pray. St. Teresa of Avila taught us to bring all our sins, concerns, and worries - our very humanness - to God in our prayer. This is necessary because if we were to wait for a distraction free place or state of mind, we would never pray.
As Carmelites we are contemplatives and the most important part of our life is prayer. We spend two hours, each day, in meditation (or mental prayer), for meditation leads to contemplation. (Meditation is our work, where we go to meet God; contemplation is God's response.) Most of this time is spent in the chapel. However, we are free to go to our cell (what we call our personal bedroom) or some spot on the grounds. Over the next few days I will share a few of those spots.