REGINA DECOR CARMELI: A MEDITATION
by Sister Leslie Lund, OCD
In preparation this year for the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, I began to reflect more deeply on the Carmelite title for Mary: Regina Decor Carmeli. The reflections that follow here flow from that preparation for Office and are meant primarily for those who follow the way of Christ through the Carmelite tradition (though any title of Mary or Christ could be used in a similar manner). These ponderings might best be used as a guided meditation and for prayer.
As a way to stimulate and stir up my imagination for each day of the week that led up to the feast I celebrated a different mystery in the life of Mary. This was done through appropriate scripture passages, through processions using an icon depicting a particular mystery of Mary's life, through music relating to that mystery's theme, through dance, poetry, sculpture and prose readings. That week of preparation for the feast led me to wonder if the title of Mary as Queen and beauty of Carmel is one that has been deeply enough explored in the tradition of Carmel and left me with a question as to whether this has resulted in the tradition limping in some way, and perhaps in being less than it could be.
It seems that it would be good to begin by situating my thoughts on this title for Mary within some reflections made by the Church on the subject of beauty. It was Vatican Council II at its closing, December 8, 1965, that made the connection between beauty and the Incarnation of Christ when it addressed the artists of the world and asked them to help "render the invisible palpable."(1) The address went on to say that "this world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. It is beauty, like truth, which brings joy to our hearts and is that precious fruit which resists the wear and tear of time, which unites generations and makes them share things in admiration."(2) Years later Pope John Paul II carried this theme forward in a homily, implying that the artist and saint are similar in their abilities to make God visible to humankind and that "a world without art can only with difficulty open itself to Christian faith and love."(3) Elsewhere he expressed the thought that beauty is a "road which can lead to Christian perfection" and has "transforming power" itself-with or without overtly manifested religious themes.(4)
II. JOURNEY OF BEAUTY
In the Christian tradition the good, the true, and the beautiful(5) have been ways to God. And while we have highly developed the path of goodness and the way of truth (in our moral and dogmatic theological traditions), the way of beauty has been neglected-the rise of feminine consciousness in our Church and world at this time could be just the catalyst needed to guide us more intentionally on a journey of beauty. It may be that the beautiful is the most powerful of all in bringing a seemingly remote God nearer to us, of making the Mystery continually present for us and of revealing the inner beauty of God as Love. Since truth and goodness have been highly subject to rational speculations and classifications in our Christian tradition, attention to beauty as a more "non-traditional" kind of activity and/or experience may be a needed antidote for the one-sided "headiness" of our Christian tradition.
Several years ago there was a popular love song entitled: "You Decorated My Life"(6) and though it is not a song that points to expressly religious themes, it has something to say about how God enters our lives through beauty. The lyrics speak of a beloved who paints her love all over the heart of her lover and of the color, balance, harmony, surprise and change she has brought to her beloved's life. Similar ideas are expressed by such poets as G.M. Hopkins and St. John of the Cross. Hopkins wrote that "Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his."(7) In the Carmelite tradition, St. John of the Cross expressed a similar experience in his poem the Spiritual Canticle in stanza 5:
Pouring out a thousand graces He passed these groves in haste, And having looked at them With his image alone, Clothed them in beauty.(8)
As Christ is the decor of the world surrounding us, so Mary is in a special way the decor of Carmel under the title: Regina Decor Carmeli. It is God who is the Interior Decorator-who decorated the universe and our very beings with Christ-and it is God who decorates Carmel in a unique way with Mary. Perhaps Mary also plays in Carmel and clothes and paints it with balance, harmony, mystery, changes and love.
Mary under the aspect of each of the mysteries of her life is a symbol of beauty and a revealer of the Infinite Beauty come to decorate and grace our world. In the Annunciation(9) God has decorated the womb of Mary with the first sketches of Jesus. She is the living canvas and co-creator of The Beauty-The Great Masterpiece of creation-of Christ. She lets the Holy Spirit create in her, and lets Beauty reveal the God Mystery through her. In the mystery of the Visitation(10) there is the first glimpse by another of the invisible made visible, and Elizabeth responds to it: "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the (Beautiful One) in your womb." Mary proclaims in her turn: "My very being proclaims the (Beauty) of our God." In the birth of Jesus(11) Mary makes the beautiful One manifest to the whole world-and under the stars(to the entire cosmos. In the presentation of Jesus(12) Mary begins her sharing of this Beauty with others, and his assimilation into his world. The finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple(13) was a still deeper revelation of the beautiful One and his mystery - a beginning revelation of the "excess of meaning" of the Invisible dwelling in the visible beautiful One, the divine-human person, Jesus. At the Marriage Feast of Cana(14) Mary witnessed to Jesus' redecorating abilities in the changing of water into wine when she said, "Do whatever he tells you." At the Foot of the Cross(15) Mary learned the discipline of beauty-that as dance requires the physical exertion and stress of exercise; as sculpture requires the chipping and cutting away and the empty space that brings the art into sharper relief; and as music requires the blank silences-so too, suffering and diminishment are decorations for the enhancement and beauty of life-as the flaw that gives a work of art appeal in distinction to the precision of perfection of the factory-made. But it is in the Resurrection(16) of the Beautiful One and in her own Assumption that Mary would have learned the timelessness and eternality of Beauty and of all that it bespeaks. In the mystery of the descent of the Holy Spirit(17) Mary would have become aware that the Interior Decorator had come to paint love all over the hearts of humankind by making the Beautiful One dwell in our very beings as in a home. In the mystery of Mary as Regina Carmel is decorated with Mary in her triumph, in the fullness of her person-hood as Beauty. Though this has been a short look at the mysteries of Mary's life, these brief meditations on Mary and beauty are meant to help stimulate the imagination for prayer and to the awareness of the place of beauty in one's own life.
III. IMAGES OF DECOR
At this point I want to suggest further material for reflection-word descriptions for the understanding of the richness of the word decor-any one of which could become in its own right a meditation on how the Mystery becomes visible. If the following word list seems initially overwhelming, first read it in its entirety so that the content of the word decor is experienced in a kind of completeness. Later, single out those few meanings to ponder more deeply that spoke to you. I believe that there can be an experience of being grasped by the word, decor, in a new way by letting its synonyms flow over you one after another. Decor-beauty loveliness, grace, elegance, bloom, glow, beauty unadorned, comeliness, fairness, sightliness, becomingness, pleasingness, goodliness, delicacy, exquisite, ravishing glorious, gorgeous, heavenly, sublime, splendor, brilliance, brightness, radiance, luster, shapely, a vision, stunning, a dream, sightly, sparkling, charming, resplendent.... Just hearing these words has an effect upon us, of carrying us out of ourselves and making us more aware of the Mystery.
In addition to these word descriptions for beauty, the thesaurus(18) also gives various prose images of beauty(each one revealing a powerful image for Carmel when the word "Carmel" is substituted for the word "beauty".
Beauty is "soul shining through its crystalline covering." J. Porter. Carmel is the spirit shining through its crystalline covering.
Beauty is "eternity gazing at itself in a mirror." K. Gibran. Carmel is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
Beauty is "the sensible image of the infinite." G. Bancroft. Carmel is the sensible image of the Infinite. Beauty is "a form of genius." A.D. Ficke. Carmel is a perfume without a name. Beauty is "God's handwriting." R.W. Emerson Carmel is God's handwriting.
Perhaps whatever is said of beauty can rightly be said of Carmel and there is something very feminine (Marian) in images of beauty for Carmel. This observation leads naturally to the question of whether Carmel is in balance between the poles, masculine and feminine, or between the practical and beautiful, between work and leisure, structure and spontaneity, mortification and vivification, doctrine and praxis, head and heart, community and solitude, etc. A harmony of each element is necessary for the genuinely contemplative life, for the God-directed (as well as self-help cooperation) activity of the transformation (re-decoration) of our interiors and person-hoods into the image of the Beautiful One-the Christ. Carmel is a way of transformation of re-decoration into Beauty, and we can imagine that the words of the list have something to do with the way that Christ wants to decorate our world or that Mary wants to bring beauty to our Carmelite tradition. When Carmel comes to mind are these some of the word images that come into your consciousness? If not, what were the word descriptions for Carmel that came to your attention? Another way of asking this question is, what is the decor of your interior? Is it full of anger, judgmentalness, mistrust, pettiness, or full of gratitude, peace and all things good, true and beautiful? How can those who follow the way of Carmel adorn the Church and world with a beautiful necklace of prayer if their interior decors are full of what is violent, chaotic or ugly?
The word decor, in addition to the synonyms given in the previous word list, includes other word meanings that comprise a whole host of activities and attitudes for interior decorators. The word "decorous" includes such synonyms as ceremonious, solemn, stately, dignified, lofty, majestic, having social graces, suitable, proper, seemly, meet, decent, demure, earnest, and desirable. It includes the idea of tasteful-as aesthetic, simple, unobtrusive, refined, unaffected, pure, graceful and harmonious. Decor includes the notions of decency, modesty, delicacy, chasteness-it is to honor the good, true and beautiful. It encompasses the activities: to decorate, beautify or ornament. Each of these qualities can be related to our contemplative manner of living, to our way of relating to each other, to the Church and to our culture. They have implications for how we engage in liturgy and prayer and contemplative witness-how we adorn our world with prayer and sacrifice. These meanings of decor give us some clues about how to enrich and embellish ourselves and others with the beauty of our Rule, with the writings and poetry of John of the Cross and Teresa of Jesus, and with all the abundant beauty of the traditions. Do we set our tradition off to good advantage as an ornament of love and service? Do we emblazon our zeal for God on our world in our prophetic witness to the Invisible made visible? Is our collective wisdom well-arrayed for the good of all that the Beautiful One be ever more deeply etched in all?
The Interior Decorator has an overall design of beauty, composition, harmony for each of our lives, and we are to be co-decorators with God in our transformation into Beauty. Transformation is Beautification/Beatification. It is the work of Carmel. The particular design, composition and harmony for the beautification of Carmel is through Mary as the Queen and Beauty of Carmel. This is a special gift-the gift of the Regal Feminine Beauty of Mary in the completeness of her person-hood. It is an image of the fullness that Mary wants and brings about for each of her sisters and brothers that follow the way of Christ on the path of Carmel. Regina Decor Carmeli is the special icon of God, a maker of the Invisible visible, for Carmelites.
St. Teresa wrote that "the Lord's presence is the most beautiful and delightful a person could imagine even were she/he to live and labor a thousand years thinking of it."(19) In a similar vein St. John of the Cross wrote of his experience of God: "Let us go forth and behold ourselves in Your beauty."(20)
Beauty is foundationally linked to Carmel in Mary, who is the presence, guardian, promoter and image of this attribute and name for God. It is God's name, and it is ours. Each of us is the beauty of God and Carmel-individually, as well as communally-sharing now in Mary's eschatological fullness of beauty. The radiance, splendor, delicacy, grace, delight, goodness, sublimity of the Beautiful Mystery is for us now. Mary, Regina Decor Carmeli, reveals this to us. Her life is an icon of the way of transformation into Beauty-from Mary of Nazareth to Mary, Regina Caeli/Regina Decor Carmeli. Each of us is called to make this same transformation into fullness of Beauty and Beatification-to be this sign of Beauty.
Mary's mystery is our mystery, is Carmel's mystery-a great sign for the world of the Invisible Beautiful One. "A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars."(21)
1. Please refer to the OCDS Rule of
Life, Articles 2, 7, and 11.
2. The Holy Bible.
3. Walter M. Abbott, The Documents of Vatican II, Baltimore: American Press, 1966
4. Pope John Paul II, Observatore Romano, May 20-21,1985.
5. G.M. Hopkins, Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1975.
6.. St. John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Washington: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979.
7. Peter Mark Roget, Roget's International Thesaurus, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1963.
8. St. Teresa of Jesus, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Washington: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1980, Interior Castle VI.
9. Handmaid of the Lord, by Von Speyer, Ignatius Press.
10. "You Decorated My Life," recorded by artist Kenny Rogers, Liberty Records Inc., 1979. All my life was a paper / That's plain, pure and white, / Till you moved with your pen / Changing moods now and then, / Till the balance was right. / Then you added some music, / Every note was in place / And anybody could see, / All the changes in me / by the look on my face. / Like a rhyme with no reason / In an unfinished song, / There was no harmony / Life meant nothing to me, / Until you came along. / Then you brought out the colors, / What a gentle surprise / Now I'm able to see, / All the things life can be / Shining soft in your eyes. / And you decorated my life / Created a world where dreams are a part / And you decorated my life / By painting your love all over my heart. / You decorated my life.
1. Walter M. Abbott, The Documents of Vatican II, Baltimore: American
Press, 1966, p. 732.
3. Pope John Paul II, Observatore Romano, May 20-21,1985, no. 1.
4. Pope John Paul II, Observatore Romano, February 20-21,1984, nos. 2 and 7
5. Philippians 4:8.
6. "You Decorated My Life," recorded by artist Kenny Rogers, Liberty Records Inc
7. G.M. Hopkins, Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Baltimore: Penguin Books,
975, p. 51.
8. St. John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Washington: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979, pp 410 and 434-435.
9. Luke 1: 26-38.
10. Luke 1: 39-55.
11. Luke 2: 1-20.
12. Luke 2: 22-40
13. Luke 2: 11-50.
14. John 2: 1-12.
15. John 19: 25-27.
16. John 20-21
17. Acts 2: 1-37.
18. Peter Mark Roget, Roget's International Thesaurus, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1963, pp. 583 584.
19. St. Teresa of Jesus,The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Washington: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1980, Interior Castle VI; 9:5;p.412.
20. John of the Cross, op.cit., pp. 546-548.
21. Revelation 12:1.
BACK TO TOPICS