In his foreword to The Way of Perfection, Teresa of Ávila’s book on the practice of prayer, Richard Rohr asks:
What is “the way of perfection”? (It isn’t about our perfection, by the way, but the recognition of God’s seamless perfection, woven into the fabric of our life and present all along.)
Saint Teresa writes:
Let the truth be in your hearts, as it will be if you practice meditation, and you will see clearly what love we are bound to have for our neighbors. 
Teresa teaches the way of perfection as practicing fraternal love, nonattachment to material things, and authentic humility. Some aspects of this wisdom might seem counterintuitive to readers today. Forgive me, but these virtues of nonattachment and humility don’t often make the vision boards of contemporary spiritual seekers!
Why is this?
What the mystics know, and what we’re having to relearn, is that it’s through a kind of luminous darkness of nonattachment and humility that we come to be seized by real love, God’s love.
I wonder if the only way that conversion, enlightenment, and transformation ever happen is by a kind of divine ambush. We have to be caught off guard. As long as we are in control, we are going to keep trying to steer the ship by our previous experience of being in charge. The only way we will let ourselves be ambushed is by trusting the “Ambusher,” and learning to trust that the darkness of intimacy will lead to depth, safety, freedom, and love.
God needs to catch us by surprise because our very limited, preexisting notions keep us and our understanding of God small. We are still trying to remain in control. We still want to “look good”!
God tries to bring us into a bigger world.
A world where, by definition, we are not in control.
A world where we no longer need to look good.
A terrible lust for certitude and rigid social order has characterized the last five hundred years of Western Christianity, and it has simply not served the soul well at all. Once we lost a spirituality of darkness as its own kind of light, there just wasn’t much room for growth in faith, hope, and love.
So God, as The Way of Perfection attests, has to come indirectly: catching us off guard and out of control, when we are empty instead of full of ourselves.
That is why the saints—including Teresa—talk about suffering so much. About nonattachment to the fleeting passions that put us on a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs.
The mystics are not masochistic, sadistic, negative, morbid, or oppositional. They have seen the pattern and, as Teresa says in one place, it is not that we are happy for the suffering. Who could be? Who would be?
No. We are happy for the new level of intimacy with God that the suffering has brought us to.
 Teresa of Ávila, The Way of Perfection, chap. 20, trans. E. Allison Peers.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, foreword to The Way of Perfection, by Teresa of Ávila (New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 2017), 11–12, 13.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Les Argonauts, Camino de Santiago, Unsplash. Jenna Keiper, Winter Bird. Jenna Keiper, Mystic. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
Perched in solitude, in communion with the Beloved.
Story from Our Community:
Last year, I took part in Jim Finley’s course on Teresa of Avila and I have been studying “The Interior Castle” in the way he suggested—one paragraph per day. I was reeling from the trauma of my 30-year-old daughter’s illness. During her recovery, my husband and I said over and over again, “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all is fleeting, God alone is unchanging, Patience obtains everything, They want nothing who possess God, God alone is enough.” This brought us peace during the long days and allowed us to sleep at night. I felt Teresa was with us. I’m so grateful to her for showing us the love of God. —Heather D.