Camping and Carmelites

What has Carmelite spirituality got to do with camping?

It might sounds like an obscure question on a radio quiz, but the relationship between camping and Carmelite spirituality is one of the things I’m exploring after my recent research in Ireland.

Why camping?

The trip involved three nights in my trusty one-man tent (pictured left!) at Knock, Ireland’s national Catholic shrine. During my stay, I spent time talking with pilgrims from all over Ireland and further afield, as well as young adults taking part in the annual Knock Youth Festival. I wanted to hear them talk about their experience of the church in recent years, and particularly about how the abuse crisis might have affected them.

Reflecting on all the conversations I had with people during the research trip, I noticed that people seemed to tell their stories in two ways. One group of people focused on practical ways of getting the church out of the mess they felt it was currently in – some people proposed reforming the church as an institution, other people proposed renewed dedication to the rosary. The other group of people were not so much focussed on getting out of the current situation as acknowledging it and learning from it.

Why Carmelites?

Perhaps because of the proximity of Knock’s own Carmelite convent, I began to think about the ways in which Carmelite spirituality might be a useful resource for peacebuilding in the Catholic church in Ireland. Among other things, Carmelite spirituality is known for the idea of the ‘dark night of the soul’ – a period of difficulty, darkness and sorrow in prayer where, although the person feels they have been abandoned by God, God is using the experience to draw them closer to himself. Some of the people I spoke to were explaining their experience of the church using language a bit like this. Putting it in Carmelite terms, they were explaining the church’s current situation as a sort of ‘dark night of the soul’ – a harrowing experience in which the hand of God could be seen at work.

So I’m currently re-reading the spiritual classics in which the sixteenth century Carmelite mystic St John of the Cross explores the idea of the ‘Dark Night’ (no, not Batman) – The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night of the Soul, and exploring a bit more that connection between Carmelites and camping.


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