Today is the Feast Day of the Exaltation of the Cross. This day is important in Carmelite tradition, because the Rule of St. Albert, which all our constitutions are based on, declared that all Carmelites should fast from this day until Easter. That's right. You didn't read that wrong. Seven months out of the year- fasting. Fasting does not always mean going completely without food. Rather, it means eating less or skipping certain meals. Luckily, Carmelites are no longer required to fast for seven months!
In fact, I'm sure the early Carmelites would not have been able to eat this delicious cake we ate today, made by Terry Ianora. It's chocolate with white icing and a cross made out of chocolate chips. Yummy!
Today was one of the best days I've spent at Carmel Maria Regina Monastery. Our community of Secular Carmelites spends one Saturday a month at the monastery with mass, liturgy of the hours, prayer, meetings and formation classes. Today was nice because of the theme we had of "embracing the cross." For our Lectio Divina time, we meditated on a poem by St. Teresa of Avila called, "Embracing the Cross." The poem was read three times, with time for us to meditate a while and then discuss. Each time, we saw more in it as a group and even on the final reading, I noticed things we hadn't mentioned. It's a very rich and meaningful poem that doesn't really seem that way upon the first reading.
So, we contemplated most of the day what it means to "embrace the cross." I came to understand some things for the first time. When the cross is exalted in our minds and in our hearts, our attention is focused completely on God. In her poem, St. Teresa says, "Be cloistered in Him." In her lifetime, she often said, "The greatest cloister is ourselves." She is talking about going within that secret place deep within us where we can be alone with God. From that still place, chaos in the world and intense stormy emotions can move through the soul and yet the soul is at peace with God. St. Teresa wants us to nurture the sanctity of that place in our hearts. The only way to do that is to exalt the cross and to embrace the cross.
Later in the afternoon, my formation class continued our study on The Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross. I had an immediate affinity for the first 12 stanzas because they were about intense emotions. I intuitively understood those stanzas almost "word for word" as St. John explained them in his commentaries. Stanzas 13-24 thoroughly confused me, so I was glad to have a class to help me understand it better. In these stanzas, the soul moves from a "purification" stage to an "illumination" stage. In the first section, the soul is emotional because the soul has just experienced God but has too much confusion and emotional turmoil to really be still and be with Him. In the second section, the soul progressively learns to move beyond the senses and emotions.
Coincidentally (yeah, right!) this is the same thing I've been most focused on working on in spiritual direction lately. Being still, in quiet, "dispassionate," and at peace is a process St. John describes well. In that place of peace, we find Christ. In that place of deep stillness, we find the Cross, learn to exalt and embrace it in our lives.
I'd say this was a good day :)