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Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross

Praying in Our Time

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross

Praying in Our Time
Sunday, April 19, 2020

As of today, like many of you, I have been in self-isolation for several weeks. Honestly, it is a bit like when I sometimes go on a hermitage during Lent; except now, of course, my prayers are with the innumerable people who are ill with COVID-19 and so many who are grieving loved ones who have died. My heart is heavy for the health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers who continue to put themselves at risk every day. I’m also concerned about the many people now facing financial challenges, or whose marginalization has only been made worse by the virus. This type of prayer leads us to experience solidarity with the suffering.

For all the helpers, including people like yourselves who are doing what you can to meet the needs of loved ones and those who are suffering, I offer this excerpt of a prayer from my friend Mirabai Starr, who is a translator of Teresa of Ávila’s works:

You [Teresa] lived that beautiful balance
Between active service
And quiet contemplation.
Teach us to be of use in this troubled world
At the same time that we cultivate
Joyous intimacy
With the Beloved who lives inside us. [1]

I am truly grateful for the people who are living this truth out through their actions in this time of crisis. And there is more we can do, even as most of us stay at home. A few years ago, I wrote, somewhat facetiously, that the Church should close all programs for a year and simply teach people to pray. It seems to me we may unintentionally have just such an opportunity right now, although I sincerely hope it won’t last a year!

In this week’s Daily Meditations, we will meet with two great teachers of prayer, Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) and John of the Cross (1542–1591). Teresa was canonized (declared a saint) in 1622 and named the first woman Doctor of the Church in 1970. A Doctor of the Church is someone whose teaching can be trusted. Teresa is recognized as the Doctor of Prayer. John, known as the Mystical Doctor, was canonized in 1726 and named a Doctor in 1926.

I like to say that Teresa and John were part of the “final supernova” of nondual, mystical consciousness in 16th-century Spain, before it all but disappeared in Europe for five hundred years in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the invention of the printing press. Both Teresa and John wrote detailed accounts of their lives and experiences with God, which makes them very accessible guides.

One of Teresa’s most famous teachings is a poem known as “Teresa’s Bookmark” that was found in her own prayer book after her death:

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing upset you.
Everything changes.
God alone is unchanging.
With patience all things are possible.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough. [2]

I hope Teresa’s words will bring you some comfort in this challenging time.

References:
[1] Mirabai Starr, Saint Teresa of Ávila: Passionate Mystic (Sounds True: 2013), vii.

[2] Teresa of Ávila, “Nada te turbe,” from Starr, Passionate Mystic, 24.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate . . . Seeing God in All Things (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2010), CDDVDMP3 download.

Image credit: A Vision of the Holy Trinity (detail), anonymous Brazilian painter, 17th century, Museu de Arte Sacra da Universidade Federal da Bahia, Salvador, Brazil.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: I like to say that Teresa and John were part of the “final supernova” of nondual, mystical consciousness in 16th century Spain, before it all but disappeared in Europe for five hundred years in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the invention of the printing press. Both Teresa and John wrote detailed accounts of their lives and experiences with God, which makes them very accessible teachers. —Richard Rohr
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