The story of Carmel is essentially a love story and, like every love story, involves a journey of the heart, a journey that will ultimately be fulfilled only in the possession of the beloved. We are made to seek and to search for our heart’s desire, a restless pursuit that is best described, in the words of one John of the Cross’ most famous poems: on a dark night, I went with no one knowing, upon a lover’s quest.
The classic saying of Augustine, our hearts are restless and they will never be at rest until they rest in God, is a truth fundamental to all human activity and endeavour. But in the Carmelite tradition, it takes on a unique and distinctive focus: not only are our hearts restless but the heart of God is equally so.
The lovers quest is twofold, a mutual yearning in which God and the human soul are both at the same time pursuer and pursued. ‘No matter how much you think you are searching for God’, John the Cross reminds us, ‘God is searching for you much more.’ ‘Carmelites tell many stories’, John Welsh reminds us, ‘but the story of the lover restlessly awaiting the approach of the Beloved emerges as a common theme … it is the story of those who set out thinking they were seeking an elusive God yet returned from their search with the conviction that God had been pursuing them all along in love.’
The lover’s quest is at the core of the Carmelite charism. It is a journey every Carmelite is called to make. Is not about heroic asceticism but about God’s all-conquering love: a love open to every human heart, filling it with longing and desire. The gospel call is never simply an invitation to follow a way of life or an ideal; it was an invitation to follow someone who has taken possession of our lives.