Thursday, August 6, 2009

Saint Teresa of Avila and Prayer
Saint Teresa of Avila wrote several works on prayer, sometimes in an obscure manner partly because several of her works had to be interrupted at different times since all the traveling journeys that she had to undertake because of the different foundations. She wrote on prayer in general and sometimes based on her own experiences, although she does not mention that explicitly out of humility. In her autobiography, she writes about the first stages on prayer and gives advice to beginners who commence in the journey towards sanctity. The purpose of this reflection is to give a general idea of the starting point according to the Saint and her view regarding the soul and prayer life.
Let us see now the context in which the Saint refers to the Gospel. Saint Teresa refers to the Gospel of Saint John, when she speaks about prayer and the spiritual life in terms of seeking union with God. The process is burdensome according to the Saint: “ I have to say that the labour is greatest at first; for it is they who toil, our Lord, indeed, giving them strength”. [1] She gives a general introduction of the different levels of prayers in which the crosses to carry are all going to be different in the different stages. At first it is Satan who puts before it all possible obstacles to prevent the soul’s perseverance in the journey towards sanctity. What is more interesting to see in the Saint is her simplicity of thought, which is nevertheless very deep and clear and her use of many good analogies that can be used to start the journey towards the spiritual life. The Saint, has developed a great love taken mostly from the Gospel of Saint John, the analogies and images used by the Apostle are a source of inspiration to the Saint.
Let us see now the way in which the Saint Teresa sees the soul. She explains that the beginner must see the soul and look upon himself as making a garden. How is the soul of the beginner? The good Lord cannot take complete delight in this garden because the soul is unfruitful and abounding in weeds, so it cannot bear good fruit. It is important to remark the resemblance of this explanation with that of Saint John. The garden is the soul according to the Saint, for Saint John, we are the branches, God the Father is the husbandman, the one who wants to take delight by looking at the garden, we are the good gardeners who have to ask the assistance of God to be able to bear good fruit, the fragrance of the virtues and fruitful works.
Saint Teresa, borrowing the concept from Saint John, succinctly states that as good gardeners we have to see that in the garden of our soul the plants grow, and also that we have to water them carefully, this is done by the help of God, every blossom that the garden produces is done only because the branch who abides in the vine and so produces good fruit. She says: “Thus far we can advance ourselves that is by the grace of God, for without that, as every one knows, we never can have one good thought”.[2] “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15).
This garden of our soul has different ways by which can be watered, the first way is the one that mostly concern to us in this reflection. However, water must not fail in any type of the ways of watering the garden, as a branch in order not to be purged away by the husbandman, will have to abide in the tree and so bear fruit. Thus, once more one finds a similar analogy with that of the apostle Saint John.
Those who are beginners need to draw the water out of the well, a very laborious process indeed but necessary since it behooves at the beginning to keep a recollection of the senses. It is for this reason that there is a purgation which requires to water the flowers in the best of our efforts also taking into account that when we begin to draw the water up out of the well, either God may grant that there is going to be water or not, that does not depend on us; as long as we put our good dispositions that will suffice to strive towards watering the flowers. Why might the well be dry? Saint Teresa says that it can be done for our greater good. He Himself can preserve the flowers without water. The good gardener labours in the garden of the Emperor, he remains in Him, and abides in Him just simply rejoicing in the fact that has been given the possibility of such great favour of drawing the water up out of the well without expecting an abundance of water, even our tears will suffice please Him. Therefore this should be the attitude of a good gardener who starts in prayer.
The value of the garden, the soul, is always beautiful with blooming roses, in the Interior Castle the author compares a soul in the state of grace to a well of limpid water, from which flow only streams of clearest crystal. This water raises from The River of Life, that is to say, God, it has to be near it in order to bring forth good fruit. “The branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me”. (John 15, 4).
The advice that the Saint gives is that the one who prays has to always be looking towards the aim of prayer which is to serve Him in His garden with increasing the love for Him, we should wish to suffer since He has also suffered. “We are not our own but His. He shows us his mercy enough when it is His pleasure we should be willing to dig in His garden, and to be near the Lord of it: He certainly is near to us”.[3] The soul of the beginner should realize that prayer is not about us at all, we are not starting prayer seeking an emotional relief rather to accomplish His will, the soul should not look for pleasing himself but Him neither to rejoice nor to be greatly afflicted that is a big step in the Teresian way of praying. Let us see in what the love of God consists: “It is certain that the love of God does not consist
[1]Saint Teresa of Jesus, An Autobiography. ”The Life of Saint Teresa written by herself”. chap. XI,p.66, Edited by John Burke, C.S.P, (New York, the Columbus Press), 1911.
[2] Ibid, chap. XI, p.67.
[3] Ibid chap.XI,pag,69.tears, nor in this sweetness and tenderness which we for the most part desire, and with which we console ourselves; but rather in serving Him in justice, fortitude, and humility”.[1]
In conclusion, prayer in this life according to the Carmelite spirituality will pursue the aim of detachment of oneself to be united to God, abiding in Him enduring suffering or consolations in the garden of our souls. “As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love”. (John 15). What is this world compared to the next?
Vivo sin vivir en mi,
Y de tal manera espero que muero porque no muero.
I live, but not in myself,
And I have such hope
That I die because I do not die.[2]

[1] Ibid,chap.XI pag.71.
[2] The collected works of Saint John of the Cross, poetry p.720. (ICS publications) Institute of Carmelite Studies, (Washington D.C.).

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