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Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross: Weekly Summary

Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross

Summary: Sunday, April 19 — Friday, April 24, 2020

Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross were part of the “final supernova” of nondual, mystical consciousness in 16th century Spain. (Sunday)

Our hearts open either because they have been softened, or perhaps because suffering makes us feel like we have nothing more to lose. It often takes us to the edge of our inner resources where we “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). (Monday)

It was the deeply mutual and loving nature of the “spousal” prayer Teresa entered into with God that led to such bold and faithful action. (Tuesday)

For the first time in [John’s] life, he questioned the existence of a God he could no longer feel or remember. He cried out, “Where have you hidden, my Beloved?”

Echoing from this cry came an outpouring of love poetry to God. —Mirabai Starr (Wednesday)

John’s core intuition is that the Infinite Love that is the architect of our hearts has made our hearts in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with Infinite Love will do. —James Finley (Thursday)

Night signifies that which comes upon us and takes us out of our own control; it announces that as the place of resurrection. A God who heals in darkness— this is John’s word of hope in a destabilized world. —Iain Matthew (Friday)

 

Practice: Without Expectation

Even though I’ve said this at other times, it’s so important that I repeat it here: it is that souls shouldn’t be thinking about consolations at this beginning stage. It would be a very poor way to start building so precious and great an edifice. –Teresa of Ávila

We have long needed someone to bring Teresa of Ávila out of the rarified air and into the world that we all inhabit, where Teresa lived and where the Gospel lives to this day. Enjoy this practice from the book Meditations with Teresa of Ávila: A Journey into the Sacred by Megan Don. She writes:

It is easy to become lured into spiritual sensationalism, that is, expecting to have experiences that make us feel especially connected to the Beloved. While we pray and meditate, we may see, hear, or feel the divine presence in many ways. However, it is also possible, and often very likely, that we will not experience the divine in any form. The soul may feel, as a result of this lack of experience, that it is not making the desired connection and therefore that something is wrong. . . .

Under no circumstances, said Teresa, are we to give up our time of prayer and meditation, no matter how tedious it becomes; this would be like saying that since we are no longer receiving anything, we will not spend our time this way. Can you imagine acting like this with our friends and lovers? What if, in a moment of not receiving anything from them, we ceased spending time with them?

The small amount of time we do spend in prayer and meditation, Teresa believed, should be given wholly to the Beloved—we should consider it not ours but the Beloved’s. And we should become determined never to take it back—not for any trial or challenge we experience, not for any contradiction in our life, not for any dryness we experience in prayer. Ultimately, what Teresa is saying is that no matter what is occurring in our life, we are not to abandon the relationship that is the very core of our existence.

Living with the Beloved does not always mean being bathed in delight and tenderness (even though this is what we would all prefer). What it does mean is serving the divine relationship with fortitude and humility. When things in our life become less than pleasurable, naturally we want them to become easier. Teresa ascertained, however, that such a desire lacks the freedom our spirit requires. The spirit needs to roam where it is guided, and we can join in this courageous adventure by allowing it to accomplish what it is here to do.

Coming into your quiet place of being, bring yourself fully into the presence of the Beloved, not expecting anything, only coming to give—of yourself and your time. Give freely, and allow yourself to simply be with the One who loves you. Let your spirit roam where it needs to—let your courage emerge to help you. Bless your life for all that it is.

References:
Megan Don, Meditations with Teresa of Ávila: A Journey into the Sacred (New World Library: 2011, ©2005), 73–75.

Epigraph: Interior Castle, II:1.7. See The Collected Works of Teresa of Ávila, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, vol. 2 (ICS Publications: 1980), 300.

For Further Study:
Tessa Bielecki, Teresa of Ávila: Mystical Writings (Crossroad Publishing Company: 1994)

Tessa Bielecki, Holy Daring: The Earthy Mysticism of St. Teresa, the Wild Woman of Ávila (Adam Kadmon Books: 2016)

The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, 3rd ed. (ICS Publications: 1991)

The Collected Works of Teresa of Ávila, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, (ICS Publications: 1980)

Iain Matthew, The Impact of God: Soundings from St John of The Cross (Hodder and Stoughton Ltd: 1995)

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

Richard Rohr and James Finley, Intimacy: The Divine Ambush (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download

Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Love, eds. Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Orbis Books: 2018)

Mirabai Starr, Saint Teresa of Ávila: Passionate Mystic (Sounds True: 2013)

Mirabai Starr, St. John of the Cross: Devotions, Prayers and Living Wisdom (Sounds True: 2008)

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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