In Elijah, Carmel sees itself as in a mirror. His eremitic and prophetic life expresses its own most intimate ideal.
In studying the life of Elijah, Carmel is aware of a growing thirst for contemplation. It perceives its deep kinship with this man who “stood in the presence of the living God.” If it shares his weaknesses and his anguish, it also knows his faith in God and his zeal for the “Yahweh of armies” [1 Kgs 19:10, 14], the Lord of Hosts, and it has tasted the same delights of a life hidden in God that the prophet also experienced. When it discovers in the light of the inspired word that Elijah, “in the strength he drew from the divine food, walked forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God” [1 Kgs 19:8], it is not in the least surprised. How could the prophet not have been drawn to this spot where that tremendous event of the religious history of humanity had taken place several centuries earlier: God’s revelation to Moses?
There, in the bleak wastes of Sinai, we read in the book of Exodus that Moses, silent and alone, perceived Yahweh’s mysterious presence in the light of fiery flames that burned the bush without consuming it (Ex 3:2). There the incommunicable Name, the divine transcendence and benevolence, were revealed to him.
There, Moses understood that he must make known to those entrusted to him what he had been allowed to contemplate. “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex 3:14). How could the father of contemplative life not have been drawn to this mountain, where God spoke to Moses “as one speaks to a friend” (Ex 33:11), where a human being dared address this prayer to God: “show me thy glory” (Ex 33:18)? How could he have failed to see that all the elements essential to contemplation were already contained in the scene on Horeb?
So we may say that having found its model in Elijah, Carmel advances with him toward the very origin of true contemplative life. Or, it might be more exact to say that having found the contemplative experience in its origin (carried by Elijah to the highest degree of purity, detachment, and fulfillment), the Carmelites, wishing to renew this experience, feel obliged to recreate in their souls the climate in which this life grew: the desert with its spiritual solitude and silence. And they, in their turn, feel constrained to undertake this persevering march toward the mountain of God where fire burns but does not consume.
Paul-Marie of the Cross, O.C.D.
I. The Sources, Elijah the Prophet
of the Cross, P-M, Payne, S 1997, Carmelite Spirituality in the Teresian Tradition, ICS Publications, Washington DC.