This week for my One Faith, Many Paths series, I’m interviewing Aimee O’Connell, a Lay Carmellite.
1. How has your childhood shaped your interests and pursuits as an adult?
I have always been an observer, soaking in my environment with wonder. Being an only child gave me plenty of opportunity for quiet, reflective time in which I asked questions in my mind and imagined how other people live. I have always been very curious, so it is no surprise that I pursued a career in psychology, with focus on human development, neuropsychology, and learning.
2. If you could have any author or artist depict your life story, who would you choose?
I am equally torn between Flannery O’Connor, whose unflinching way of revealing our true selves would be a gift of great spiritual insight, and Jim Henson, who would get to the very heart of who we are in a very joyful way to see.
3. What are 3 words that characterize your strengths growing up?
Curious, Creative, and mirthful.
4. How did you become a Christian?
My faith formation was interesting, in that I was raised Catholic, but brought up Protestant. My father was solidly Christian and looking for a denomination that felt right to him academically, and my mother was a cradle Catholic who felt bewildered by the modernization of the church that happened in the 1960’s, so she was also exploring denominations by the time I was born, yet she still held to the doctrine of the Catholics, and imparted that to me even as we ultimately settled into the Episcopal Church. By the time I was college-aged, I read with great interest about what separated Anglicans from Roman Catholics and found that most of my beliefs were Catholic, particularly my belief that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist, so I met with a Catholic priest, and expressed interest in becoming Catholic. I was received into the Catholic Church in 1992.
5. How did you become a lay Carmelite?
Along the same lines as I’ve described, my mother taught me about the lives of the Catholic saints, and I felt a strong affinity for the life of St. Therésé of Lisieux from a very early age. Her spirituality and manner of loving God resonated within me for many years. But my introduction to Carmelite life is a much more personal story! I found myself in 2002 searching for a deeper spiritual life, and I attended a 9-day mission as part of that. Toward the end, I felt desperate need to keep the momentum going and took it to prayer. As I prayed before the tabernacle on the last day of the mission, someone I had just met interrupted me to someone. I was, frankly, irritated. Couldn’t she see I was praying? But she insisted, so I let her lead me all the way to the other side of the church, and there was the woman she wanted me to meet. As this woman shook my hand, she said, “If you want to keep the momentum of this mission going, you would do well to come to the Carmelites.” I was shocked, because I had not told anyone of my prayer, and to encounter that exact wording was a direct answer! I found it very intimidating to think that I was being offered the opportunity to join the same religious order as that of St. Therese of Lisieux and the other Carmelite saints, but I did so with the child-like confidence Therese described in her own life, and was received into the Carmelite Third Order in May of 2006.
6. What’s your favorite bible passage and why?
Matthew 7:7 is the passage that finds me here today. When my mother was in her 6th month of pregnancy, she suffered a significant hemorrhage which left me still afterward. The doctors cautioned her that they could not detect a heartbeat and that I had likely died, and there was no fetal movement after my mother returned home. She opened her Bible and it fell on Matthew 7:7. My mother says she prayed that passage and asked for my days to come…and at that moment, she says I leapt wth a fervor that looked like a Loch Ness monster trying to escape her abdomen! Every breath I take is a proclamation of Matthew 7:7.
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