By Sister Timothy Marie, OCD
An interesting question in more ways than one! And one that requires some thought. Just to clear up any confusion right at the beginning, Carmel doesn’t mean the delicious, sweet, sticky candy. That is caramel, with a different spelling and three syllables! The word Carmel is of Hebrew origin and means a “garden, orchard, or park.”
So, would we be in Carmel every time we visit a garden, orchard, or park?
Another interesting question.
Actually, when our Catholic Church refers to Carmel, the reference is Mount Carmel, the 12-mile coastal mountain range running along the western coast of Israel. The Carmelite Order traces its roots back to this beautiful, verdant region of Israel. The range is about 5 miles wide and 1800 feet high at its highest point. Much of the holy land is dry, scorching hot, uninhabitable and unsustainable, but the mountainside is covered with luxuriant vegetation, including oak, pine, olive, and laurel trees. The Carmelites use the word “Carmel” in conjunction with this area of Israel. But that still doesn’t answer the question “Where in the World is Carmel?”
The Carmelite answer to the question is a spiritual answer. The idea of a human being’s soul being an enclosed garden is the Carmelite application of this question. God Himself dwells within us. Scripture says “The Kingdom of God is within you?’ (Luke 17:21). “You are the temple of the living God” (I Corinthians 6:16), and Christ declares: “If any one loves Me, he will keep my word. And My father will love him; and We will come to him and will make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).
Carmel, then means an enclosed garden (the soul) in which God Himself dwells. This is a HUGE concept to think and pray about. St. Teresa of Jesus once had a vision so beautiful that she prostrated. She learned that what she saw was a human soul in this state of grace. One of the favorite prayers of our Mother Luisita was “My God within me, I adore You.’”
Mount Carmel has many caves. The prophet Elijah and the “Sons of the Prophet” retired to their caves to pray, yes, to contemplate the Living God. A Carmelite Monastery, Stella Maris, stands there today where monks continue this sublime vocation.
Not all of us can take off to a cave or to a Carmelite monastery to pray deeply. Nor do we have to. We can enter within ourselves, into our deepest center, our soul, our enclosed garden and pray.
“Where in the World is Carmel?”
O soul in the state of grace, the answer is easy: wherever you are for He dwells within you.