What is a rule of life? It speaks to those things which I mean to do intentionally this year. I’m taking a cue from Penseés by Blaise Pascal. I’m living the faith radically for one year to see what the effects will be. As a Catholic in general, and specifically as a Carmelite (confraternity of the Brown Scapular), my rule looks like this: First, I have an active role to play in society. I’m not a cloistered religious. That doesn’t mean that contemplation takes a back seat to activity. From contemplation is where activity derives its power. So, descending into the wine cellar each day with the Beloved is the top thing on my agenda. That is the fountain of Divine love. That is the furnace where the Saints go to be purged of their imperfections. That is the chair next to a best friend, where presence is enough and words are often unnecessary.
The result of this contemplation is empowered love. Natural love infused with Divine energy. And with that it will be possible to live out the two greatest commandments, on which all the Law and the Prophets hang: To love God with my heart, mind, soul, and strength. And to love others not just as much as I love myself, but as much as Christ loves me. The second is impossible without time spent in the wine cellar, because you can’t give what you don’t have. You can give natural love, and that might be fine for a while and in some circumstances, but we always revert back into selfishness. At least I do. When God loves, it is never diluted or diminished. Ours can be. It often is. We’re fickle beings. Irrational and easily upset. We play favorites. God loved the world into existence with the same love with which he loves you. Undiluted. The love with which the Father loves the Son is the same undiminished love with which He loves you.
I’m called to love God with everything within me. When God reciprocates, it’s like the sun to my candle. Each of our hearts is more precious and beautiful than a Hope diamond. I got to see the Hope diamond when it was on display at the Smithsonian in Washington DC. It was in a glass case with a bright LED light shining down on it from the top of the case. It is hypnotizing. That something from the natural world, shaped by human hands, could be so breathtaking is doubtful until you’ve seen such a thing in person.
Our hearts are made of natural stuff, too. Some use the analogy that we’ve allowed that diamond of our heart to be coated in the vilest of filth and slime, and that it, therefore, can’t be lit up by God’s love until it is cleaned up and put in its proper setting. I look at it kind of differently.
We are right where God wants us to be, right now. All eternity has led to this very now. We’re skipping forward in time, but also in eternity thought that is harder to perceive. It is God who extracts the diamond of our heart from the rocks that surround it. God takes the initiative through His constant calling and pursuit. He applies a hammer here, a chisel there. All of us have also willed God, to some extent, to keep applying the chisel, knocking away more dirt and more rock. As we continue to bear our hearts to Him, opening it up to the strokes of the chisel, saying to Him, “chip away, Lord, make mine look like yours,” He will continue the work. The dirt and rocks are those things that we place like a barricade before God. It’s being “not who we are.” And for many of us, this “not who I am” is the person I see every day in the mirror. The dirt and rocks surrounding the half-exposed diamond of my heart are those things that don’t matter in the end, but I’ve inflated them to such a level of importance in my life that I feel naked and ashamed when the Lord comes to walk with me in the cool of the evening. So I hide myself, and God says, “If you were to let a single ray of my radiance penetrate into the diamond of your heart, you would consider all of these obstacles you’ve placed before me as broken toys in a child’s nursery.”
God’s love radiating into us also radiates from us if we allow it. It mixes with our natural love, making it personally ours in a sense. But it also means that we can allow God to love others through us. We have to participate.
That is the core of what I want to do intentionally, keeping in mind these three guides:
Those are the things that I want to radiate into the world. I can’t do it by myself. I wasn’t created to do it by myself. It would be like trying to signal an astronaut on the moon with a flashlight. My brightness simply doesn’t shine that far. But with the glory of God radiating into my heart like sunlight into a diamond, I’ll light this valley of tears up like a disco ball.
A woman seeking entrance to a cloistered prayer community was taken in as a postulant. She was assigned her cell, given her meager habit, shown around the chapel, and the day ended with a visit to Mother Superior. Mother explained that all the women were required to keep a strict vow of silence and that the vow was to be enforced that very moment. Mother said that once a year, each of the sisters was allowed to speak two words, but only to her, one on one. At the end of her first year, our woman was brought before Mother Superior to speak her two words. “Hard bed,” she said. At the end of her second year, she said “cold soup.” At the end of the third year, “no books.” Finally at the end of her rope by the end of the fourth year, she stormed into Mother Superior’s office and screamed, “I QUIT!”
Mother superior composed herself and said, “I’m not surprised. You’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”
Carmel also requires silence, but not to this degree. Out in the world, speech and communication are essential. But we overdo it. Intentionality in speech looks like this: First, we remember that we will be judged (for good or ill) for every word that comes out of our mouths. We are not to swear oaths, but let our yes be yes and our no be no. We are to refrain from gossip and even small talk. Chit chat. And before we say anything, we should ask ourselves four questions.
- Is it true?
- Is it said in a kindly way?
- Is it helpful?
- Am I the one who should say it?
Looking back over my life, I’ve violated silence so many times, so grievously, that it now pains me. Most of the things I’ve said might have been true, but was often said in an unkind way. Much of it wasn’t helpful. A lot of it was gossip. And in the vast majority of cases, I wasn’t the one who should have said it. When you speak less, each of your words has more impact, if you follow these rules.
Silence also counters the endless noise we experience in the modern world. We inwardly crave silence, but are so far removed from our true selves, that we are loathe to be alone with ourselves, fearing that we might not like the quality of the company.