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The Desert in Carmelite Spirituality

The Desert in Carmelite Spirituality

The Desert DylanCuddyDesert8August2016Mod

“What did you go out to the wilderness to see?” (Matthew 11:7). These were Jesus’ words to the crowd. John took to the desert to draw people out into solitude to prepare their hearts for the coming of the Messiah. For many years the desert had become a place of encounter.

In 1 Kings 19:1-8, a long time before John’s appearance we learn of another prophet, a man of mystery, who appeared on the scene. After a bloody encounter with false prophets, Elijah fled from the anger of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel into the desert. On arriving there he left behind him his servant and went on alone into the midst of the desert. He entered, not only geographically but also the desert of his own spirit.

Can you identify with Elijah? Most likely you have not had a bloody encounter with false prophets, but have you suffered a sense of failure or experienced the feeling of being totally stressed out? Does it seem to you that no one understands your situation or is listening, not even God?

If your response is “Yes!” then you are not alone and have more in common with the rest of your fellow people then you realize. Even the Saints can testify to this in their life stories. Scripture affirms this also as we envision Elijah rising to the heights of a previous victory on Mount Carmel, now fleeing for his life, a broken man; he throws himself down under a desert tree, prays for death while falling into a deep sleep from which he hopes not to emerge. He lies there physically and emotionally exhausted.

Was God not listening? That was probably Elijah’s take on it. But while he slept God was arranging for the next segment of Elijah’s mission and journey.

DiericBoutsProphetElijahInTheDesertWGA03015“All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night” (1 Kings 19:5-9).

Elijah is the Old Testament figure, the man that Carmelites look to as their inspiration. He is the solitary figure who wanders into the desert to encounter himself, the demons he meets on his journey of life who try to distract him from his mission and, most especially, the God whose will he seeks to embrace.

Perhaps, like the rest of us, Elijah was unable to see the long-range view of God’s plan. To him, it seemed pointless to continue to live in Israel where the worship of the one living God had apparently failed. Far better that he be permitted to die. How often do we also see only the immediate results and take that to be the final outcome or end? God is never limited by our short-sightedness.

You and I stand in a place in history where we can read what has happened in the past. From our vantage point, we can look back on Elijah and say, “Elijah, why were you so worried? Look how it all turned out! Look at what you have done with God’s help. You have been the inspiration of prophets, the spirit of an Order [the Carmelite Order], a man admired by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. God was with you all the time, leading and guiding you.”


Previously posted on the blog of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, used with permission.


Art: Desert near Sacaton, Arizona, photographer Dylan Cuddy, 8 August 2016, The Mercy Run, used with permission. Prophet Elijah in the Desert, Dieric Bouts, between 1464 and 1468, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less.

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About Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

PROMOTING A DEEPER SPIRITUAL LIFE THROUGH HEALTHCARE, EDUCATION AND RETREATS. The way of life of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the Gospel, the Church, and the spirituality of Carmel as lived out through the charism of our foundress, Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its foundation in a long history and living tradition. Our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service of the Church as we promote a deeper spiritual life among God's people through education, healthcare, and spiritual retreats. We are called by God to be a presence inflamed within our world, witnessing to God's love through prayer, joyful witness and loving service. Our mission flows from each sister's profound life of prayer as Mother Luisita, our foundress, wrote, "the soul of each Carmelite raises herself to Christ, Who is her heaven, while her shadow falls in charity upon earth doing good to all people."

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  • The Shepherd’s Daughter

    Great article. One of inspiration. I have learned to recognize when I am “in the desert” and now can look at it as a way to re-energize my thoughts and prayer life. I know I am at that place where perhaps the Lord has something for me to learn, slow down or just be with Him. I no longer look at “being in the desert” as a feeling of abandonment, but of being with Him where He is taking care of me. Knowing He is with me gives me comfort and security knowing He will be holding my hand as we walk out of the desert into what He has waiting for me or for others that He wants me to convey. God bless.

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  • Patricia

    The desert looks like a place devoid of lush beauty in the day, but teams with life in the night, unseen. In the same way, the desert experience may seem barren if viewed though a purely external lens of the world, but flourishes with spiritual fruits in the unseen, internal experiences of the soul. The place of dryness and lack becomes a place of rest and refreshment from the eternal fountain of living water!

    • LizEst

      I like your reference to the desert teeming with life at night. Good analogy, Patricia. God bless you!

    • Susan

      Very well stated! I find the desert a place of peaceful solace.

  • DianeVa

    Beautiful and inspiring reflection which I greatly needed today. “How often do we see only the immediate results and take that as the final outcome” this has been me recently! I needed this jolt to remind myself that God has always been at work in my life and done the miraculous precisely when I was ready to give up and die like Elijah. This reminds me to be a faithful Catholic one must always be seeking and trusting in the long view and develop the virtue of patience.

  • marybernadette

    I needed this today. The Holy Scriptureshas so much for us, no matter what we are going through, how could it not, it is ‘The Living Waters of Life.’

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