On the surface, my Carmelite meetings seem perfectly normal and perfectly familiar. There are uncomfortable folding chairs on plain plastic tables in a dingy church basement. There is a treasurer report, and a talk by the snack coordinator. Our Carmelite books have the homely covers from a cheap printing press.
Everything is familiar from a life time of attending United Methodist Church events.
I'm calm and easy, relaxed and comfortable.
Then someone will start talking and the roof of the building flies off and my soul is in flight.
Seriously. I spent the better part of my first, and prior to this Sunday, only Carmelite meeting gripping the back of the plain plastic table to keep myself grounded in time and space.
Fellow Carmelites will use the most mundane language to easily express these thoughts that are so deep and so true.
For example, my group leader Lou said "The world is always going to underestimate the power of contemplative prayer. Someone will thank you for your time spent in the prison ministry, but no one is going to thank you for that hour you spent in active prayer. Yet we can't make that mistake. We can't underestimate the time spent alone with God, allowing Him to form us. In fact, it's only after we have that regular quiet prayer time that we'll ever be any use in the prison ministry or any active service for the church."
Lou said this with the calmness and certainty that I'd say "The Washington Post says its going to snow tomorrow."
As he talked I had this clear picture of the section of the church bulletin where the thank yous for help with the Food Pantry are listed. I realized in this deep interior place that no one is ever going to print up a bulletin heading that reads "A special thank you to Mrs. Abigail Benjamin for spending a half an hour with the Lord in her closet during the kids naps." If I waited around for public approval, or for an "easy" time to start my prayer life, it was never going to happen.
That doesn't matter.
I know what quiet prayers does for my soul. God loves to give me gifts during quiet meditation.
So that is the Carmelites, glowing, happy interactions with some of the neatest people you'll ever meet.