Spousal Prayer — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Spousal Prayer

Mystical Marriage

Spousal Prayer
Thursday, May 13, 2021

The soul who deeply desires to remain in Christ’s holy company, and is sincerely grateful for the intimacy with him that is possible, and finds herself truly in love with this Lord who does so much for us—is the soul whom I consider to be most evolved. —St. Teresa of Ávila, The Book of Her Life

Spiritual teacher and psychologist John Welwood has written extensively about intimate human relationships as a “path of conscious love.” To engage deeply with another, we must allow the spontaneous nature of passion to bloom within us. He writes, “Since our very being is open to begin with, it naturally resonates and wants to connect with what is greater than ourselves—the vastness of life itself. Passion is the feeling of life wanting to connect with life. . . . Unconditional passion has no agenda. It is like the freely radiating energy of the sun.” [1] Though we may need to be careful about where we direct our life-force in our everyday lives, we needn’t hold back any passion we experience for divine life itself! Passion is essential to our relationship with God.  

Tessa Bielecki, a modern mystic, friend, and author, writes about how this type of passionate love, which she calls “spousal prayer,” is available to all—no matter what our relationship “status.”

Contemplation and mysticism are synonymous terms. They both mean loving experiential awareness of God: not ideas in the head or on the lips, but personal living experience. In the Teresian tradition, this experience takes a special form [sometimes called] . . . “spousal prayer.” . . .  In spousal prayer we come to know God the way a human spouse knows the spouse, the way a friend knows a friend, the way a lover knows the beloved. Spousal prayer is for men and women, for married couples and celibates, for people raising children or living in monasteries. . . .

Spousal prayer does not make God the divine rival of a human spouse. Human love prefigures divine love. Spiritual matrimony with God may be the goal of our human longings. Is this our real desire when we marry another human person? In the deepest relationships, lovers do not turn each other into idols, but recognize one another as icons, leading them through their love into the very bosom of the Godhead. . . .

Spousal prayer lies at the very heart of the Christian mystical tradition. . . .

We will never know God spousally if we think this prayer is impossible, improper, or unimportant. Even if we accept the reality of spousal prayer in general, we may preclude it by saying, “But it’s not for me.” For many years I believed that this particular kind of prayer was not meant for everyone. But St. Teresa has convinced me of the opposite. She insists that everyone is called to this prayer to some degree or another, at one time or another.

May nothing hinder us from begging God for this intimate friendship. We need ardent desire and what Teresa calls “holy daring.” She chides us for being content with so little. God wants to give us absolutely everything. Why do we settle for less?

[1] John Welwood, Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love (HarperPerennial: 1996), 60.

Tessa Bielecki, Holy Daring: The Earthy Mysticism of St. Teresa, the Wild Woman of Avila, 2nd ed. (Adam Kadmon Books: 2016), 43, 44, 57, 59.

Story from Our Community:
The cumulative effect of reading Fr. Richard’s meditations is that I have developed a deeper appreciation for the tradition in which I was raised, Roman Catholic. I have been given permission to let go of what doesn’t fit and embrace its mystical, contemplative tradition. This has created a deep longing to shed the separate self and has opened me up to the bounty of the Divine Healer within. The freedom that comes from this journey is indescribably rich and endless. —Theresa G.

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, swan (detail), 2017, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: The lines, curves and graceful beauty of the swan on water guide us into awe. Wouldn’t that be how one would respond to the presence of a beloved? God, the beloved. We, the beloved.
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