As the introduction to this blog series about the meditative Carmelite practice stated this method is about the formation of the heart (the will) of the person. It is in this fifth step that we see a concrete action taken in the acknowledgement of the impact of meditation on the heart. After our minds have wrestled with the source of our meditation, we are called to recognize the affections that surface in the heart during the period of meditation. This step is an embodiment of a moment seen in the Gospel of Luke “Were not our hearts burning [within us] while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Lk. 24:32). In general, Christian mediation is an act of faith. When we sacrifice time in meditation we are saying to God, ourselves, and others that we believe that the Lord speaks to the human heart. Recognizing and stating the affections that the Holy Spirit (the guide of prayer) inspires in our hearts is a means for us to grow in our ability to hear his whispering presence in us. A presence that desires to make himself known through the human condition and not apart from it.
Two Groups of Affections
The Carmelite tradition has spoken about two general groups of affections that occur during meditation: general and practical. General affections are those that people may experience most of the time from meditation (ie. regularly occurring affections). Examples of these are affections of thanksgiving, petitions, a sense of resolution, etc. The practical affections are more acute, sharper, and particular. Examples of these being a sense of keen love, hate, hope, joy, etc. These may call for a specific response, movement, and/or conversion in the life of the person after encountering them during meditation. The Holy Spirit offers us these affections (not sentiments), as a means of enflaming our heart in the forge of love known as the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is through these affections that the Holy Spirit moves the will of the person. A movement that seeks to unite the human heart with the Sacred Heart of Christ.
Be Honest to Yourself
Now, in our affections there lies a danger. What is that danger? Our desire to want and thus to be satisfied. We are a fallen people. Our hearts are orientated to things in ways that are not good for them. We want things that we believe will satisfy us but can never fill the void that exists in our hearts. In this step of the meditative process the human heart may want to feel a certain way or return to previous affective experiences with the Holy Spirit. Remember, it is better to feel nothing then to cultivate a false affective experience. Carmelite meditation is about growing in the truth that is Jesus Christ. A truth that testifies to the reality that our hearts are meant to be united to his. Perusing what the Lord does not wish to give us places our heart against the very animus of the Our Father “Thy Will be Done”. A stark honesty with oneself is necessary in safeguarding the heart against false gods like Baal that Saint Elijah had to battle against.
Being possessed by Truth
Joy is a fruit that comes about from possession of truth. In the Carmelite meditative tradition, the truthful foundation begins with the belief in the nearness of God. God is a friend who desires to simply remain with us in the silence of the day. To possess this truth of God’s desire, a desire that God wants to remain with us, is something that must be held in the heart. Being in the presence of God is like residing by a fire except this fire is not exterior but interior to us. To possess the awareness of God’s nearness is to be possessed by God’s Spirit of Love, the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the ultimate gift and experience God can give us. Making it possible for us to testify to his desire to be with us. The meditative life of a Carmelite is a life that seeks to unfold the wisdom of God shared to us by St. Paul when he wrote “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying “Abba! Father!”.” (Gal. 4:6).
(Part six: The fifth Step of Meditation in Carmel from the Devotio Moderna)
For my heart is always with Him, day and night it thinks unceasingly of its heavenly and divine Friend, to whom it wants to prove its affection. ~ St. Elizabeth of the Trinity