Going Deeper – The Search to understand began with seven haunting words
By Sister Timothy Marie, O.C.D.
Recently an evaluation form with seven haunting words written across the page was turned in to our retreat office following a retreat at Sacred Heart Retreat House in Alhambra, California. It read, “Go deeper, Sisters. We can take it.” These seven words reveal an intense inner yearning. Speaking of this yearning, Saint Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless, O Lord, and they will not rest until they rest in Thee.”
Every heart knows this restlessness, from the small child who tires so quickly of the new toys to the men and women who rush to the malls time and time again to buy yet more. We desire, we obtain, we tire, and then we start over again. We should be satisfied and yet we never are completely.
So we hunger for more, not knowing where to go or what to do. Because we human beings are made up of body and soul, sooner or later we are bound to realize that nothing material will completely fill the soul. Only God can. And thus, with this realization, begins the journey to God which is the destiny of every human being.
Prayer comes into each person’s life unannounced. A beautiful sunrise or sunset, the tender beauty of a newborn child, the sweetness of first love, all give rise to prayer.
In the final analysis, however, it is not a book, workshop, or retreat that brings us into a closer relationship with God. It is God Himself. Through His Holy Spirit, He persistently nudges us to give Him more time, to follow His inspiration more exactly, to allow Him to transform us.
The words “go deeper,” capture the very essence of Carmelite spirituality. People are turning to Carmelite saints such as St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross or St. Therese of the Child Jesus to shed light on their spiritual questions and to help them understand this profound spiritual hunger within them. As Mother Luisita, Foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles writes, “For greater things you were born.”
St. Teresa of Avila describes this contemplative process as moving from one dwelling place to another within the Interior Castle, which is the human soul. St John of the Cross represents the journey as a movement through the dark nights in an ascent up Mt. Carmel. Deeper. Higher. Closer. Only God fully satisfies the human heart. And if we need to purify, empty, purge, clean it out so God can fill it with Himself, then so be it. This is Carmelite spirituality.
This means that we must make a decision, with God’s grace, to no longer fill our minds with rubbish, spend our money on unimportant trivial trinkets that in the end only rot away. We must no longer set our hearts on worldly, inconsequential entities that do not nourish, but only weaken the human spirit.
As we grow closer to God, our souls become more sensitive to the nudges and inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Our discernment is sharpened. We gradually become our best selves. The work of transformation quietly takes place and we are changed. We are transformed.
For most people, another consequence of their deepening relationship with God is the need to share with someone who understands the life of prayer. All who seriously begin this journey discover that something new is happening within them—something they do not as yet understand. So, the search for some kind of spiritual direction begins. Ideally, a spiritual director who is both learned and prayerful provides the needed advice and support. In many cases, however, especially when such a spiritual director cannot be found, books can be very helpful. Many people find help in the books of Carmelite spirituality.
It is one thing to have a spiritual experience. It is another thing to understand the experience. It is something entirely different to be able to explain it to others. This was St. Teresa of Avila’s gift—to understand, to describe, to teach about the prayer experience. St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and a myriad of other Carmelite saints, including several from our own time, such as St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of the Andes, left us their writings on the subject of prayer. There are times in the prayer journey that such writings are extremely helpful.
At the same time it must be understood that prayer is not something. It is Someone. It cannot, it must not, be relegated to a mere process. Prayer is not a process. It is an ever-deepening relationship.
In the final analysis, what response can we make to the writer of those seven haunting words on our retreat evaluation form, “Go deeper, Sisters. We can take it?” The Carmelite mystics would say that “going deeper” is a way of life in which you spend quality time with the beloved of your soul. They would tell us to “Seek His Face,” and as we seek, we will come to the tremendous realization that we are, indeed, “going deeper” into that ultimate relationship for which you and I were born and which alone can completely fulfill our deepest yearnings, our union with God.