Our inspiration

seekers of God ... throughout the centuries

The beginning

We build a safe world around ourselves, but it’s not until we let go of the eyes of others that we can be born in God in the silence and solitude of the ‘desert’. In this way, we come to see the Reality beyond reality. Every moment, we receive our life out of God’s hand. The experience of His love is the starting point that never loses its hold on us. Wounded by this love, we keep returning to this beginning. This beginning is not in the past, but happens now. This experience keeps touching us on a deeper level and is always new.

Opening up to God

Desert fathers and mothers

In the Christian tradition, the desert fathers and mothers are the pioneers of religious life. They retreat from society, usually in small groups. In poverty and nakedness, they step up to stand before God’s countenance. They follow Jesus, who loses himself in God’s love with all that he is. Like Jesus, they live out of the divine logic. The reading of Scripture is central in all this. The monk gazes in the mirror of Scripture’s countenance, in order to open up to the purifying fire of God’s love. After all, our life does not originate in ourselves, but in God. In order to become fully aware of this life in God, we discard everything that keeps us from this. The desert is a continuous invitation.

Kingdom of Heaven

The goal of this stripping of ourselves in God is that we may come to experience the ‘Kingdom of heaven’. This Kingdom cannot be seen but is visible for the spiritual eye. We witness the gaze of Love in the countenance of every human being. God forms the core of our being. He is the hidden voice of our soul, calling out to us. We begin to hear this ‘unheard-of’ reality when all other voices fall silent. For the desert monks, this was the reason for them to set out into the inhospitable territory of the desert as pioneers. They understand that it is only there that we discover who we truly are in God, because foreign eyes can no longer determine our identity. Wounded by love, we open up to its voice in the solitude of the desert.

Path of denuding

The physical retreat from sociality forms the starting point of this inward journey. On this path, we discover ourselves as resistance. We are too ‘reasonable’ to truly lose ourselves in the address of love. We do want to be loved, but if things get too confronting, we immediately recoil. We quickly seek safety in the anonymity of a life hidden from God. Listening to the Voice of Love, we discover ourselves as loveworthy.

Struggle with God

The physical silence of the desert is deceptive. The monk who enters into this desert knows this all too well. He knows that he sought this place out in order to enter into the confrontation and no longer have any escape routes. This is why for him, the desert is mainly a place of struggle. Even though he has torn himself out of the compelling structure of human sociality, he still proves to be attached to himself and his own urge for survival. The only real battle we have to fight in our life is the battle with God.

Beyond the boundary

God is the fleeting light of our being. By following this light, we become aware of the resistance that we are in God. The desert monks speak of demons in this regard. We are possessed by demons that want to keep us trapped within ourselves and the images of our desire. We will have to keep letting this fleeting light draw us out of ourselves, in order to open up to the reality of who we truly are in God.


The desert is a place of cleansing or purification. Cut off from sociality, we have nothing to fall back on in the desert but solely our naked existence in God. This solitude is very confronting and makes us aware of all the noise that lives in our heart. This noise keeps us from opening up to the absoluteness of God’s love. Just as the Jewish people had to roam in the desert for forty years in order to enter the promised land purified by God, for these hermits the desert was also the place of a profound process of transformation.

Purity of heart

We are not in the center of the circle. The monk has to endure the silence of the desert, in order to fall silent for himself. In this silence, he is broken open for the acknowledgment of his own nothingness in God. This is called ‘purity of heart’. The life of the desert monk is directed towards shedding all the voices that bind him to his self-willful existence. He wants to open his eyes and ears for the realization that his entire existence is hidden in God. With Paul, he can then say: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal. 2:20).


In the makable world of the twenty-first century, the example of the desert fathers and mothers calls on us to leave behind all compromises and ambiguities. In this way, we become open to the inaudible Voice of God that even today resounds in every person and everything, beyond all the ego-noise. We share the desire for a new world with a growing group of people who, together with us, are in seach of the essence of our humanity.


In order to live with God in simplicity, in 2015 the Cistercian monks once again settled on Schiermonnikoog.

Being a monk is the concrete way to spend a lifetime following Christ. In Christ, there is nothing that separates us from God. In 1098, a group of monks left the abbey of Molesme to seek God in solitude and poverty. They settled in a clearing in the forest of Citeaux. In order to prevent the peace among them foundering in the future, they set down in the Charter of Love (Carta Caritatis) how the great Love would spiritually weld the monks together in an unbreakable way.

In Christ

Rhythm of life

Life in Christ is just like breathing: it is concrete but also almost unnoticed. The monks’ rhythm of life is focused on a life that is open and connected with God in the depths of one’s own being in Christ. Day after day, night after night, down to the smallest things of daily life, everything constitutes the hidden interior of this life in Christ. It is the monks’ experience that the silence and the simplicity of the island perfectly fit in with this. The sea and the mud flats encompass this life like a cloister wall.

Rhythm of prayer

The life in Christ takes shape in concrete times of prayer. Listening and conforming to the words of the psalms, God’s breath is received in the heart unnoticably and almost physically. Seven times of prayer, like seven pillars, form the invisible architecture of the inner monastery. In this way, the physical and spiritual space is formed in which the life of the monk increasingly becomes the life of Christ. Work and reflection spontaneously and harmoniously conform to the daily rhythm of prayer.

Spirit of Love

A monk is not something you become, it’s something you are. There is a monk that lies hidden deep within every human being. For some, this form of life is just as inescapable as God himself. As if their backs were to the wall, they can’t avoid this vocation. For this reason, they regard this place as truly prepared for them by God as a path into the future. They talk with one another about what moves each of them inwardly and how they can bring about in unity of spirit what they set out to do. The Carta Caritatis, which breathes the spirit of love, points the way in this regard: “Owe one another nothing but reciprocal love.”


In 2016, a few Carmelites joined in this search for religious life in the twenty-first century, in collaboration with the Cistercian monks.

The two traditions fit in with one another seamlessly as different perspectives on the one life in Christ or God. Of old, they share the one school of Love as their source of inspiration. Both traditions recognize the desert as the place of God’s presence without anything to hold on to. In the Rule of Carmel and its tradition, the contemplative attitude to life is central. In whatever way one gives shape to the Carmel, its form is always at the service of the relationship with God.

At the Spring

Drinking in God’s word

From the very beginning, the contemplation of God has been central in the Carmel. By falling silent for God in solitude, we let Him become the living water that slakes our thirst. This finds expression in the architecture of the original Carmel, which forms an enclosed courtyard around the spring of Elijah. The hidden life in silence is the space to drink in God’s word. For this reason, the outward form of the Carmel is never matter-of-course or predetermined. It solely serves to facilitate entering into the confrontation with God’s personal Address, day and night, and becoming obedient to this.

Observance Ad Montem

As Carmelites, we ought first of all to live contemplation. One can only be a Carmelite by factually entering into the confrontation with God. This is a path, the end of which we will never reach. By letting ourselves be transformed by God’s love in contemplation, we can become a living reminder of the silent presence of God. For this reason, we can only bear witness to this living reality in ourselves by personally living it. Power of persuasion is not necessary for God, but rather a profound form of silence. In this way, contemplation opens us for our deepest truth in God. As Carmelites, we are convinced that every human person has knowledge of this truth, because every person is a child of God.

Silence before God

In the mystical tradition of the order, falling silent before God forms the heart of our Carmelite charism. Whatever we do, everything should proceed from this silence and return to this silence. Only in this way can God do His work in us. From a human perspective this is an impossible task, because it confronts us with the noise of our self-display or our ego. Every time we, in our fear, are inclined to seize control, love asks us to fall silent for the ‘sacred’ that permeates our existence. In this way, love draws us along as an unconditional commandment and only it can be our guide in our ascent of Mount Carmel.

Purifying fire

Love is our only help and stay. It is the fire that burns in our heart and we know that we have to let ourselves be utterly consumed by this fire, if we want to reach the top of the mountain. Love thus has a purifying effect. If, in the beginning, love was still reasonable and could still be explained with our intellect, the more we travel the path of love, the more we will realize that we have to let go of our natural conditionality or reasonableness in this. We can never turn love into our own project. Again and again, we will have to descend into ourselves, so that in the silence of our heart we might become obedient to the unconditional voice of God’s love that permeates our existence. In this way we, in silence, enter into the mystery of God. There, we cannot avoid the critical question whether our works and words actually proceed from this silence, or whether they are rather a subtle attempt to be important in the eyes of others.

School of Love

“Love’s flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon 8: 6-7)

Love is passion. In it, God’s own being comes to light. For this reason, it is sacred and we should follow its divine call in everything. In the flashing fire of the beginning that isn’t difficult, but when it calms down and we have to take up our own life again, it often becomes buried under many other voices that also make themselves heard. And yet, we will never succeed in silencing love. It need only become quiet in us, and we will once again come in contact with it. This is indeed what makes silence so essential in love. Only those who truly fall silent for themselves can open up to the divine voice of love in their own being. In this way, love is a school. By following its Voice to the end, we get to know love from within.

The path of desire

Losing ourselves in

The traditions of Citeaux and Carmel meet each other in the School of Love. The simplicity of a life dedicated to prayer requires silence and solitude as a natural space for growing into fullness. In total surrender to divine Love, we are increasingly transformed into instruments of love. In the School of Love we learn to distinguish pure love from every subtle form of self-involvement. In this way, we open ourselves in self-forgetfulness in order to be freed by God’s grace from all self-willfulness and to surrender to the unconditionality of divine Love.


The three founders of Citeaux, Robert, Alberic, and Stephen, wished to “found a school for the service of the Lord” in the footsteps of St. Benedict. In search of the necessary silence and solitude for a life that loses itself in prayer, they settled in the “wilderness” of Citeaux. Aware of human weakness and ambiguity, they saw this new beginning as a School of Love, and gave it a Carta Caritatis so that the monks might drink in the spirit of love more and more.

New enthusiasm

The new affective interest of their times is related to the expressiveness and amorous imagery of the Song of Solomon. Ancient commentaries by Origen, translated into Latin, serve as inspiration. Both the eighty-six Sermons on the Song of Songs by Bernard and the Commentary on the Song of Songs by William of Saint-Thierry become highlights of the mystical literature of the West. 1 Quotation of Guerric Aerden.

Cistercian women

In the footsteps of the Beguines and the Mulieres religiosae, the Cistercian women kept their end up as well. They came from this broad movement of women who were intensely moved by God and were in continuous contact with them. Beatrice of Nazareth in particular is considered a key figure. Her writing, Seven Ways of Minne, is one of the jewels of the mystical tradition in the Low Countries.


Around the year 1200, a group of hermits gathered on Mount Carmel around the spring of Elijah. Mount Carmel has been considered a sacred place from time immemorial. Early Christianity saw in this Elijah the father of monasticism. Since that time there were hermits living on Mount Carmel, who sought God’s presence in solitude. These hermits – fascinated by the solitude of Mount Carmel – wished to live like Elijah, the solitary one par excellence and prototype of all hermits.

Gathering honey

The group of hermits that populated Mount Carmel formed a School of Love with its very own character. In reading Scripture, they were constantly listening to the divine voice of Love, “gathering the honey of spiritual sweetness in the hives of their cells as bees of the Lord”. In the history of mysticism they are represented by, among others, John of the Cross, Jean de Saint-Samson, or Thérèse of Lisieux.

Being clothed with God

The oldest self-definition of the Carmelites, the so-called Rubrica prima, therefore sees Mount Carmel as a place for people who “truly love the solitude of this mountain with an eye to contemplating the things of heaven”. The Rule presents their way of life as the space to be clothed with God’s Life and Love more and more each day.

House of Love

At the beginning of the new age, these two traditions gained the companionship of a new spiritual enthusiasm that wished to put divine mercy into practice. The School of Love fanned out to new communities and new audiences. The house of Love thus also opened its doors to groups that were getting stuck in the growing urban society or were in danger of being forgotten. In this way, the School of Love was given a new color and a greater influence in society. We need only mention the broad movement in the footsteps of Vincent de Paul.

Dialogue partners

The more we get to know ourselves, the more we realize that we remain a great mystery to ourselves. We are unable to fathom ourselves and remain in search of who we truly are (in God) as long as we live. For this reason, we need dialogue partners, people who have preceded us on this path. One’s choice is deeply personal and often based on intuition. In listening to them, we gradually discover what can nourish our inspiration. They turn out to help us in our quest to decipher the mystery of our life. On this path of discovery, authors from the mystical tradition have increasingly become indispensable teachers for us. They liberate us from our diffidence in surrendering to the depth of the relationship with God.


Fellow travelers

In the lives of each of us, there are important people with whom we speak on a profound level. This conversation gives us the possibility of feeling safe and becoming aware of ourselves. We can express ourselves in our vulnerability, just as we are, without being judged. This helps our consciousness of ourselves to grow in a positive way and helps us find words that suit us. Such people may be key figures from our youth, but also texts written by people who in the course of the years have become important traveling companions.


These authors evoke recognition and give words to our own experiences. We need not identify with them, but in reading they lead us, unnoticed, to the deeper level of our being that always remains hidden below the horizon. Beyond the content of the text and beyond our own thoughts, they open us for our intangible relationship with God. Without fear, we can then surrender to this and entrust ourselves to the eyes of God who gazes us forth in our truth.

Important pioneers

Without being exhaustive or pretending that these authors can be important for everyone, we present some key figures from the mystical tradition as a whole and from that of the Cistercians and Carmelites in particular. In our experience of the School of Love, they form a lasting source of inspiration. They are here presented in brief, but in our publications they are regularly given ample attention. Each new reading experience is an adventure that brings us closer to this author but especially gives words to the process of awakening to ourselves in relation to God.


Thinking about God is a dead-end street, because the mystery ‘God’ can’t be fathomed with our human rationality. In the mystical tradition, we find teachers who with their texts help us to entrust ourselves to the Unknowable. After all, “Himself, He who is who He is, cannot be thought at all nor touched, except and insofar as it is possible here through the sense of enlightened love.” As architects of a new language and new words, they are ideal dialogue partners in the process of becoming aware of our relationship with the Eternal One.

For specific sources on monastic life and texts from the tradition of monks and nuns, we refer to the digital monastic library.