Discalced Carmelite Friars

Province of St. Therese

OCDS Central

The Expanse of My Past

Photo by Banjoman1 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My paternal grandfather died just before my 4th birthday, what I remember the most about him was the love he had for me.  I was his seventh grandchild and all he wanted to do was make the most of this little-one while visiting from the countryside.  The moment he saw me, he'd gather me into his arms and hug me relentlessly. And all I wanted to do was get away from him.  I squirmed, and struggled against this bear of a man whose booming voice I could not understand.

My grandfather grew up on the seashore of Falmouth, Jamaica, and like all the members of his clan was a fish that happened to live on land. He spent so much time in the sea, his ears were constantly water logged and often got infected.  His mother tried to allay these ear infections, and one day accidentally ruptured his eardrums while siphoning the water from his ears.  It was a sad event that changed his life profoundly.  And although he was deaf and never learned sign language; he did read lips!   With this ability he was able to harvest information in a unique way; and this he did with purposeful economy.

Many years later, I as a young adult asked my older sister, why was grandpa so demonstrative in his affections? She replied simply, “Because he loved you.” 

Now why is it we remember some things and not others?  I remember this exchange with my sister more clearly than conversations only a few days ago.  Likewise the memory of my grandfather’s affection and my agitated resistance came to mind recently. 

As it happened countless months had passed since I had been able to sit in God’s presence without physical discomfort.  Within me an army of heavy artillery waged war and I could neither sit nor recline in His presence.  It seemed perfectly futile to try anymore; and perfect lunacy to expect any change.

So in my damaged state, I had taken to walking in the woods trying to capture in a different way what I had lost in spiritual peace.  But on a cold, quiet and foggy morning as I sorted through the effects of a recent family celebration, the impression of my grandfather’s loving nature came upon me suddenly.  And in what seemed an instant, I was aware of something familiar yet hidden.   In the quiet mist of early morning I began to see what had happened to me; what I had been doing for months.  It seemed that at the “dignified age” of 50 I was behaving like the disagreeable little 3 year old I was long ago; writhing about in the embrace of a person who loved me with abandon - just like my grandfather did.  In the fog that surrounded me that morning, I realized all at once my suffering was self-made – and in more ways than I care to divulge here.

One other thing I recognized - not right away but shortly after - was I didn’t understand what God was saying me over the course of my life, or even in specific moments.  It was just like my deaf grandpa whose voice was unnaturally loud and unvarying.  A three year old doesn’t quite understand the diversity of the human condition, that my deaf grandfather had no volume control.  To me his voice was not only unfamiliar but incomprehensible.  Was this similar to the way I “heard” God’s voice?  Yes.  I think it was!  Had my grandfather lived longer, I would have learned to discern his voice and I would have grown to understand him.  In my heart the similarities I found, between my relationship as a child with my grandfather and as an adult now with God, are very consoling and in some ways a little frightening.  Should I put more effort into discerning God’s voice?  I think I must.

In his silent world grandpa easily endured my shrieks and cantankerous complaints. In his world of diminished senses he possessed the perception of a prophet.  He seemed to know within himself time was short, and with that interior knowledge he showered me with an excess of love in a way that was universally easy to understand.  He never cared about my protests, in fact it was as if they did not exist.  I think he knew I would remember the love he freely showered upon me, and in this remembrance, know without any doubt that he loved me deeply.  I likewise in my own diminished senses, can see a glimmer of the love God has for me and understand it better in human terms.  And that I can begin to accept I am precious and unrepeatable…even if a wee bit ill-tempered.

We creatures live in the temporal world and in searching a solution to spiritual distress might recall that God lives outside of time.  We might find God’s love for us expressed all along the path of our life.  He answered mine within the context of my family; in the memory of a grandfather’s gratuitous love, in the purity of childhood innocence and ignorance.  As children of God let us seek Him where He may be found; here and now; in moments to come; in the expanse of the past.

 Written by Hannah de Lisser

Conversations Beyond Time

 Manuscript -St. Teresa of Jesus, Valladolid Carmel

    I have often wondered, as our St. Therese did, what part I am called to play in the life of the Body of Christ. Like Therese, I am called to be love at the heart of the Church. As a Secular Carmelite, like Teresa I am called to live out my mission as a good friend of Jesus, but ‘in the world’.

    As Therese did when she wrote her Story of a Soul, as Teresa did when she wrote her Life, I have looked back on my life from earliest memory and discerned a certain thread which signifies God’s leading me and guiding me at each place, and gifting me according to his plan and my unique reflection of Him, into this place called Carmel. Since I have made a Promise for Life to live the charism of the Discalced Carmelite Order, in the world, I am trusting that God plans to take me home by this way ... likely with a last stage of growth in Purgatory.

    I have suffered a shock in recent months. Today’s students are not being taught to write in cursive! When I was in my 30s, I discovered a box of letters written to my mother by my father, and there I encountered my father ‘in person’ for the first time. I was conceived during my parents’ last visit together before he was killed in World War II, so I had never known him except as a menacing-looking Marine watching me from a fancy gilt picture frame in our living room, and as the invisible man my mother still honored with her life.

    When I opened and began to read his letters, I was happily surprised to see that Daddy had beautiful handwriting. I did too.  Though not like Daddy’s, of course, my handwriting was praiseworthy, about the only academic gift I was ever praised for as a child. I cried when I saw the evidence that I was his child, had inherited this special gift from him.  It was my first familial bond with my father.  Pen in hand, I have written lots of letters throughout my life; it is one of the manifestations of God’s gift to me of spiritual friendship. Handwriting has brought me much pleasure; the work of it has consoled many “hard things” I had to do.

When she opened it, she said, “I can’t read cursive.”

    In December, I wrote my 13 year old granddaughter, honor student in a Catholic School, a letter as part of her Christmas gift. When she opened it, she said, “I can’t read cursive.” I learned that the students are not being taught to write in cursive, in many schools, because of their growing dependence on the computer.

    I was horrified! The pleasurable image of opening the mailbox to see the address on an envelope for me, and knowing immediately who’d sent it because of the distinctive handwriting, passed quickly into sadness to realize how few handwritten letters I receive these days. Today, in confession with a beloved young priest in our parish, I handed him a passage to read from my journal which would shed light on my convictions.  I was shocked again to hear him say he finds it difficult to read cursive.

    Dear God.
    Are You now calling me to detach from handwriting?
    Is the old gift no longer of use?
    No. By Your grace I learned long ago to converse with You on paper,
    In my prayer journals,
    And You read cursive very well.

    I struggle mightily to correspond and do business on my MAC; beyond the basic writing, I am lost, always having to ask for help. But the handwritten cards and letters seem to continue to be a blessing for those who write and read cursive, and this correspondence is a vital part of my personal apostolate of spiritual friendship.

    Thank God for those clever people who find the computer a great adventure, and are willing to help me use it when I must. And for the treasured letters from my Daddy and Mother and friends which continue to bless me when I come upon them among my treasures. Carmel has taught me that even our limitations are cause for joy, as they call forth the gifts of others to enable us to function as the living, loving Body of Christ.

    Our OCDS community has been reading St. Teresa of Jesus’s Letters. At the Atlanta Congress last September, Fr. Stephen Sanchez, OCD, gave a wonderful Conference on the Letters, stressing that our Holy Mother did not like writing letters. For her they were more penance than pleasure. Especially with her sicknesses and the enormous demand on her time and energy, Teresa wrote out of a sense of duty, often at great personal cost. Still, her natural penchant for conversation and her interest in the wellbeing of her Carmelites, family, friends and so many others, including high-ranking officials, even the King of Spain on two occasions, remains consistent in her letters. She writes to Fr. Gracian, for example:

    I long to know if you are well after having returned from so long a journey. For love of our Lord, try to write to me as soon as you can and find some way for sending the letters. ... even a few hours without knowing about you seemed to be a long time.  Since you know this, it would be a great cruelty for you to neglect writing...
    In communicating her orders, her news, her needs, and her love, no matter the person to whom she wrote, Teresa was “speaking in the light of conversation what she heard in the darkness of prayerful contemplation.”     It is what someone once perceived in my letters; it is what I see now, in reflection, as I go back to read from my journals. I doubt Teresa expected to have her personal letters read 500 years down the road, might even be horrified to watch us read them. But I am grateful to have them, to see her distinctive handwriting, and to hear her distinctive voice reflected in her handwriting, here as in her official works.

Written by A Carmelite Friend
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Something Old, Something New - Part 2

    (3) This next is upon noticing the sun's rays striking a shiny box in the kitchen:

    Moments like these,
    Illuminated by peace,
    Make life worth living
    And inspire giving
    Their fruits to those we meet.

    It is the Holy Spirit who does convey
    His way that supersedes,
    Who does transform what we
    Might otherwise treat as ordinary.

    For to see the ordinary shimmer
    With a glimmer of His glory
    Is to again meet our God with us.

    Oh, Immanuel, let me lift my eyes to You!
    Only then can I see the way that is true.

    (4) Another time, I noticed a verse from Proverbs that extols Wisdom—somewhere in chapter 8, I believe, I don't remember exactly where.  It reads:  "For those who find me, find life..."
    Upon the heels of that, what came to mind was:

    Life issues from Wisdom.
    Wisdom entails obedience.
    Real obedience is QUIET, and freely given.
    The essence of its deepest secret
    Is hidden in the crucifixion.

    So this past month, January, "quiet," "silence," "whisper," that overall theme has been prominent.  It is "quiet," in the sense of "real obedience."  And I believe that the root word for "obedience" is tied to "listening."
    Quietness of soul...not just lack of stirring noise, but something impossible to adequately express in words...It is homogenous, simple, filial, resting...PRESENT.
    “In the beginning was the Word…He was PRESENT to God in the beginning…Of his fullness we have all had a share, love following upon love” (John 1:1, 2, 16).

Written by A Listening Heart
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Other Blogs by Secular Discalced Carmelites:

  • Bethany Hang Out – a blog by Shawn Chapman, OCDS. Shawn is a member of the Austin community of Secular Discalced Carmelites. She also writes regularly for ATX Catholic online.
  • Elizabeth Explores Writing - a blog by Elizabeth Ogilvie, OCDS. Elizabeth is a Secular Discalced Carmelite of the U.S. Central Province.
  • Gray Rising – a blog by Tim Bete, OCDS. Tim is a member of the community of the Secular Discalced Carmelites in Dayton, OH.
  • Hearth Cake and a Jug of Water – Mary Bellman, a member of the Dallas OCDS community, sends out a daily Carmelite quotation by e-mail. Send her an email at bellman.mary@gmail.com if you would like to be added on her mailing list and receive these Carmelite quotations.
  • Illumina, Domine – a blog by Pat Enk, a Secular Discalced Carmelite of the U.S. Central Province.