They were in fact simple laymen, living as solitaries in a loosely connected group; in caves and huts on the side of Mount Carmel. Their Rule was deliberately kept simple and uncomplicated.
“Let each one remain in his cell or near it, meditating day and night on the Law of the Lord, and vigilant in prayer, unless he is legitimately occupied in something else.”
The purpose of the life was solitude and contemplation, but within a framework that allowed complete liberty for individual development under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
The first Carmelites were also very conscious of a certain prophetic character about their vocation. This meant that they were inclined to give precedence to what we would call the ‘mystical’ side of their vocation. Prophets in the traditional sense are not merely a people who foretell the future under spiritual inspiration. They are above all witnesses to the experience of God.
“The Carmelite seeks to lead others in the ways of prayer, contemplation and solitude, teaches the way of the hidden life, of interior prayer.” Thomas Merton
Nicholas the Frenchman in The Fiery Arrow cites the joys of the hermit’s life of praise in union with all creation: “The beauty of the elements and of the firmament of stars and planets harmoniously ordered, attracts us and leads us on to higher wonders. The mountains surround us with great sweetness and the hills flow with milk and honey. While we praise the Lord, the roots grow, the grass becomes green, the branches and trees rejoice in their own fashion and applaud our praises. Wonderful flowers, delicately scented, gladden our solitude with their laughter.”
From the Rule of Albert-Patriarch of Jerusalem c. 1214
A cell is a hut or a hermitage, or at least a special room set aside for the unique person. Carmel is a mystical space personal and solitary. The cell represents welcome as well as challenge. Here we are more at home than elsewhere—beyond the eyes of others yet in the presence of the Holy Other, within the gaze of the Beloved whose gaze is both comforting and purifying. But also, the cell can be within us as a metaphysical, sacred, silent and solitary desert.
“Let each remain in his [or her] cell or near it, meditating day and night on the Word of the Lord and keeping vigil in prayer, unless occupied with other lawful activities.”
“Let everything be held in common among you.”
“You shall use every care and diligence to put on the armour of God. Holy ponderings will save you. Herein lies victory: your faith… the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, should dwell abundantly in your mouth and in your hearts.”
“In silence and hope will be your strength, where there is much talk sin will not be lacking.”
The Rule of Carmel is concerned with interiority.
“It seeks to waken divine powers slumbering in the contemplative soul. It is an invitation to live rather than a formula of life.” Paul Marie of the Cross
“A direct and intimate experience of God is the basis of Carmelite spirituality.” Paul Marie of the Cross
Carmel loves “a spirit of silence and solitude eminently favorable to prayer, of which the desert is the most perfect expression. The desert calls out to the spirit and the spirit calls out to the desert. Carmel’s prayer is the desert in which the spirit dwells.” Paul Marie of the Cross
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom.” Is. 35:1
“If Elias stands as the model of all Carmelites, there is another and more ideal figure than that of the prophet: the figure of the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel who, even more than Elias, embodies in herself the perfection of the Carmelite ideal. Like Jesus, she was in all things human and ordinary, close to her fellow men, simple and unassuming in her way of life, without drama and without exaltation the desert spirit and prophetic ideal of Carmel are understood most perfectly by those who have entered into the “dark night” of Marian faith.” Thomas Merton
“Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord: Let it be to me according to thy word” Luke1:38
“Our Lady represents and expresses the soul’s essential attitude before God. She is athirst for God, longing for God she is the hidden sanctuary in which the Spouse is united with the bride, the desert that flowers at the breath of God.” Paul Marie of the Cross
Carmelite spirituality is: “an attraction for open spaces and solitude, interior liberty, simplicity, and unity under the impulse of the Spirit of Love. Vowed to the service of Love, the soul is not satisfied with loving, but seeks to experience love, to suffer love, and at last to be transformed into love.” Paul Marie of the Cross