Contemplating With Teresa of Ávila – Part 2

2013-02-05 19.04.18I have finished reading Interior Castle. It was written by Teresa of Ávila in 1577 in Spain. I recently wrote of Teresa here. While a complicated read and one which probably creates more questions for me than answers, I find that I am oddly encouraged and edified through Teresa’s writings. While I may not be able to approach God quite the way she suggests and while I may not agree in full that God will approach me in the ways that Teresa suggests, I am able still to find enough common ground with her to give her the benefit of my doubt. With this, I read to her conclusion.

First, I completely understand – and am challenged by – the proposition that the only way to draw to God is to pull from him in humility. In this act of falling back, I surrender my will to God’s and will land, then, wherever God would have me land. And there, I will meet God. This idea is vivid to me – meeting God can only happen when I remove my terms. Yes, I understand. But so difficult.

And second, I also – as she – struggle with ineptness and distraction when initially trying to create a prayer life with God. Unless I can focus and intentionally make my way through the bites and snarls of dark creatures and swirling winds, I never reach a state of some calmness and clear perception. Enough so to talk with God cogently and hear God with understanding. Yes, getting through the outer mansions can be, for me, a challenge.

I would like to share with you several quotes from this version of translation that I feel are worthwhile.

We always find that those who walked closest to Christ Our Lord were those who had to bear the greatest trials. Consider the trials suffered by His glorious Mother and by the glorious Apostles. How do you suppose Saint Paul could endure such terrible trials? We can see in his life the effects of genuine visions and of contemplation coming from Our Lord and not from human imagination or from the deceit of the devil. Do you imagine that he shut himself up with his visions so as to enjoy those Divine favours and pursue no other occupation? You know very well that, so far as we can learn, he took not a day’s rest, nor can he have rested by night, since it was then that he had to earn his living. I am very fond of the story of how, when Saint Peter was fleeing from prison, Our Lord appeared to him and told him to go back to Rome and be crucified. We never recite the Office on his festival, in which this story is found, without my deriving a special consolation from it. How did Saint Peter feel after receiving this favour from the Lord? And what did he do? He went straight to his death; and the Lord showed him no small mercy in providing someone to kill him.

As one is willing and desires to draw closer to God, God will challenge him. Perhaps we need to talk more about this with our disciples. We easily offer joy and peace – who doesn’t want joy and peace? – but maybe we need to be very clear that being a disciple in this life will possibly require of us being able to deal with extremely challenging and difficult times. But this is God’s way – we learn perseverance and pledge our faith in hard times, don’t we? And in so doing, we are giving up our will to the will of God. And God sustains us.

Teresa continues:

I was wrong when I said it will profit me little, for anyone who is with God must profit greatly, and, although after making these resolutions we may be too weak to carry them out, His Majesty will sometimes grant us grace to do so, even at great cost to ourselves, as often happens. For, when He sees a very timorous soul, He sends it, much against its own will, some very sore trial the bearing of which does it a great deal of good; and later, when the soul becomes aware of this, it loses its fear and offers itself to Him the more readily.

To be rid of fear means having lived through something impossible – except by God’s hand. Then we become fearless.

I told you elsewhere that the devil sometimes puts ambitious desires into our hearts, so that, instead of setting our hand to the work which lies nearest to us, and thus serving Our Lord in ways within our power, we may rest content with having desired the impossible. Apart from praying for people, by which you can do a great deal for them, do not try to help everybody, but limit yourselves to your own companions; your work will then be all the more effective because you have the greater obligation to do it. Do you imagine it is a small advantage that you should have so much humility and mortification, and should be the servants of all and show such great charity towards all, and such fervent love for the Lord that it resembles a fire kindling all their souls, while you constantly awaken their zeal by your other virtues? This would indeed be a great service to the Lord and one very pleasing to Him. By your doing things which you really can do, His Majesty will know that you would like to do many more, and thus He will reward you exactly as if you had won many souls for Him.

Here Teresa describes our idols of “what ifs” and “if onlys”. And it’s true, isn’t it? We can grow content thinking that “what if” we can do thus and so or “only if” something will take place can we really blossom as children of God. We elect to live in an unreal world. Teresa suggests we live in our own real world – help the souls who are around us. The ones we know and who know us. And we can do it.

humilIt is true that, however strong you may think yourselves, you cannot enter all the Mansions by your own efforts: the Lord of the Castle Himself must admit you to them. So, if you meet with any resistance, I advise you not to make any effort to get in, for if you do you will displease Him so much that He will never admit you. He is a great Lover of humility. If you consider yourselves unworthy of entering even the third Mansions, He will more quickly give you the will to reach the fifth, and thenceforward you may serve Him by going to these Mansions again and again…

This from one of my opening statements – to draw near to God we must pull back from him in humility. In so doing, we will fall backwards and clumsily into his waiting arms. What a beautiful picture. You and I weak in the strong embrace of our Lord.

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