Easing myself into the peace I slip over the brink of sleep, into your arms.
I lie there my head against your breast one hand at your heart’s steady beat the other crooked behind me and all is quietude and still repose.
Your arms enfold me. They make a rampart holding all my fears at bay.
Your breathing is the universe you recreate each second through your love. You are that mighty Word resounding to make creation dance and sing in procreation.
Wedded for the first time in my life, blessed, consecrated, vowed and ringed, I now belong with you, love’s circlet mutual and pledged with sacramental grace.
Cherished and safe, cradled and defended by the stronghold of your promise I hold out in my trusting hand to you all my love throughout eternity.
Lovers always say “for ever”… and then betray each other. But we have made our deathless troth that enemies cannot destroy nor many waters quench nor catastrophic earthquake turn to rubble.
Our “for ever” opens up eternity in us where I lie cradled in your quiet arms your steadfast heartbeat here beneath my hand so that I believe, and trust, and render up my all into your care whose dower is to me the universe.
~ By Barbara Dent, O.C.D.S. ‘The Marriage of All and Nothing’
“The beginner must see himself as making a garden for the delight of his Beloved.”
So many treasures lie within St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography. In this reflection we’ll explore one of the most sublime analogies about prayer ever written.
Like Jesus, St. Teresa took the most ordinary things and spun them into startling parables. Here she likens the soul to a garden, she begins by saying “It seems to me I read or heard this metaphor somewhere.” Picture her waving her hands as she speaks: “My memory is so poor, I have no idea where it came from, but it’ll work for my purposes now. The beginner must see himself as making a garden for the delight of his Beloved. But the soil is very barren and full of noxious weeds. His Majesty himself pulls up the weeds and replaces them with good seed. Keep in mind that all this is done before you even set out to learn how to pray.” I don’t know about you, but many times I’ve thought my garden was only poison ivy and oak gone wild. It was scary enough for me to think about going in. I wouldn’t dare invite the Beloved inside. I thought he’d only be repelled, but how I longed for his help to manage my dry, craggy, weed-filled soil. I’d have settled for having his presence while I battered the ground that was my wicked heart. I felt forsaken too much of the time. I was so misguided.
Oh, to have known in those times that my kind Beloved had no fear of what he’d find when he visited me. He wasn’t standing above me, grim-faced and judgmental, as I endlessly toiled, getting sunburned and erupting in skin rashes. Not that I made real progress. Most of the time I was clueless as to what would make my garden grow. But he was there all the time, before I arrived, before I even realized I had a garden. He was right there, hunkered down, doing the hard work of making my soul his resting place. As much as I like the thought of donning a pair of brand-new floral garden gloves and kicking my feet into those cute rubber clogs, garden tools in hand, I don’t need any of those things to begin the work we’re about to do, because preparing soil and pulling weeds is God’s business. This is a radical idea. Imagine what it sounded like in the sixteenth century, during the Inquisition! But I believe St. Teresa assured us that we mustn’t get caught up in worrying about our vices because we aren’t meant to do what God does best. We have our own jobs. All good gardeners must labor. God’s done the difficult prep work, braving the noxious, unwelcoming weeds, but we have our own task. Our job is to take the time to water the plants he’s started so they don’t die. We want our plants to take root, shoot from the soil, bud, and flower. Soon they’ll grow lush enough to perfume the whole garden with their fragrances. Our Beloved will find this so refreshing that he’ll come to our garden often, finding his joy amid our sweet-smelling virtues. But how do we get there from here?
St. Teresa of Jesus gives us the broad picture:
Now let’s see how we need to water a garden, so we’ll understand what we have to do, how much the labor will cost us, if the time and work we put into it is worth it, and how long it will last. Our garden can be watered in four ways: We can draw water from the well, which is a lot of work. Or you can get the water by turning the crank of a waterwheel and drawing it through an aqueduct. I’ve tried this myself and know it’s not as much trouble to do as the first way. And you get more water. Or you can channel the water from the flow of a river or stream. The garden is watered much better this way because the ground is saturated and you don’t have to water it as frequently. This is a lot less work for the gardener. Or the water may come from an abundant rain pouring on the soil; the Lord waters the garden himself, without any work on our part. This is by far the best method of all.
So, if the garden is the soul, and we are the gardeners in cooperation with God. What exactly is this water? I’ll let St. Teresa answer. “The four ways of watering the garden in order to maintain it are the four degrees of prayer that the Lord in his goodness has sometimes placed in our soul. Without water everything will die.” It’s all quite simple: our garden needs water. St. Teresa says, “Nothing I’ve found is more appropriate to explain spiritual experiences. . . I’m so fond of this element I’ve observed it more than any other.” She spoke of three relevant properties that water has: If you’re hot, it will cool you off. “It’ll even cool off large fires.” I’m sure I don’t have to tell you “hot” and “fire” have multiple implications here, which I’ll leave to your imagination. The second property of water is its ability to clean dirty things. St. Teresa asks, “Do you know what cleansing properties there are in this living water, this heavenly water, this clear water when it is unclouded, free from mud, and comes down from heaven? Once the soul has drunk of this water, it purifies and cleanses it from all sins.” And St. Teresa explains a third property of water: it quenches thirst. “Thirst means the desire for something so necessary that if we do not have it we will die.” And to St. Teresa, prayer satisfies the most insatiable thirsts. It can also show us our spiritual blind spots. Hold a glass of water up. It looks clear, but if you hold it up to the light, you can see the dust particles. In prayer, God can reveal our weakness.
As for the degrees and grades of prayer, the truth is that in her writings she mentions a lot more than four, but St. Teresa’s life and writings represent years of practicing prayer. Let’s take this journey one metaphor at a time. For now, make a garden, and be sure that is getting enough water.
~ By Claudia M. Burney, God Alone Is Enough
‘Go forward then, full of faith and loving confidence, and deliver yourself into the hands of His providence. Be to Him a field that He may cultivate as He pleases, without any resistance on your part. Remain humbly and peacefully clinging to His good pleasure.’ ~ St. Margaret Mary
Desperately we seek happiness. The majority of us understand that happiness is found in love. But today the way we use the word “love” often misses its very essence. As humanity is losing its sense of its own identity, it is losing its understanding of love as well, and the pursuit of what many think of as love doesn’t bring the fulfilment that they expect. Perhaps it is because love has been equated with lust, with encounters that barely touch the hearts of those who casually have met and as casually parted.
Yes, we seek happiness and dimly know that love is happiness, but we have lost the true meaning of love. We are going around seeking it or seeking someone who can tell us where it is to be found.
One person who can direct us to love is Mary, the Mother of God. She became pregnant with the Son of God, the Incarnation of Love and gave him birth! She bore him, brought him up, watched him grow to manhood. She lived with him, followed him at a distance, and stood under his cross as he made his supreme sacrifice out of love for the whole human race.
Mary knows the way of Love intimately, deeply, and profoundly. Of all the people who have ever lived, Mary is the one through whom Love was born. To go to Mary, as you would got to a beloved neighbor’s house, to sit down in her kitchen, and to ask her to tell you about Love and the way to it, is the simplest thing in the world! For to a Christian with faith in the communion of saints, relationships span time and extend into eternity. Those who have died are with us, and we are with them, united in the immense bond of Love that is the Lord. And so talking to Mary should be very simple. Many have found the way easily. More should try.
She will tell you about her Son who took upon himself your pain and my pain, your sin and mine. She will tell you about the deep, strange, fantastic obedience he had to his Father, and we will know what obedience truly is, and how to pave the way to Love. She will explain that to be fulfilled and find our identity, we have to drop the pronoun “I” and live by a total attention, by constant listening to him, to her…to the other.
She will explain that no one should really do “their thing’ selfishly, but should open their heart and embrace “all good things” that the other does.
Lastly, she will speak in a low voice about her own fiat, her simple “yes” to God. And if we listen carefully to the gentle voice of the mother of Jesus, we will know what that “yes” means in our life. We will know what Love is and, having found it, we will never let it go. So let us turn to this woman who can truly liberate us.
~ By Catherine de Hueck Doherty, ‘Bogoroditza’
Happy Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary!
Prayer. We take the word for granted but ought we to do so? What do we mean by prayer? What does the word mean in the Christian context? Almost always when we talk about prayer we are thinking of something we do and, from that standpoint, questions, problems, confusion, discouragement, illusions multiply. For me, it is of fundamental importance to correct this view. Our Christian knowledge assures us that prayer is essentially what God does, how God addresses us, looks at us. It is not primarily something we are doing to God, something we are giving to God but what God is doing for us. And what God is doing for us is giving us the divine Self in love.
Any talk about prayer, if we are to stand in the clear, pure atmosphere of truth, must begin by reflecting in firm belief on what Jesus shows us of God. Let us push straight to the heart of the matter. What is the core, the central message of the revelation of Jesus? Surely it is of the unconditional love of God for us, for each one of us: God, the unutterable, incomprehensible Mystery, the Reality of all reality, the Life of all life. And this means the divine Love desires to communicate Its Holy Self to us. Nothing less! This is God’s irrevocable will and purpose; it is the reason why everything that is, and why each of us exists. We are here to receive this ineffable, all-transforming, all beatifying Love. Well-instructed Christians know this notionally but, alas, few know it really. And here I must add an important reminder that knowing it ‘really’ does imply ‘feelingly’. To know really – or really to know – means living that knowledge, living out of it. It means that our way of looking at things, our attitudes, our actions arise from this knowledge. Of this real knowledge we use the word faith. This must give us pause and make us very cautious of claims to faith. ‘Of course I have faith!’ We can feel quite indignant if someone implies otherwise! My experience tells me that real faith is rare and it is best we acknowledge this so that we may really work at believing.
Basing ourselves, therefore, on what Jesus shows us of God (and we Christians have only one teacher, Jesus the Christ, who is our Way), we must realize that what we have to do is allow ourselves to be loved, to be there for Love to love us. It cannot be a matter of our finding some way of contacting God, of making God real to us, of getting hold of a secret key with which to open the mystic door. Nor is this faith in Jesus our Way compatible with such distressed meaning as: ‘I can’t pray’ or ‘my prayer is hopeless’ or ‘I have never had anyone to teach me how to pray and therefore I don’t pray.’ When we find ourselves dissatisfied or anxious about our prayer it is worth asking ourselves the question: ‘What do I really want?’ and trying to listen honestly to the answer. We can be fairly certain that it will be some kind of ego-satisfaction. I may want to feel I am making progress, that my prayer is ‘working’ or that I am a spiritual adept. I may want to feel I am getting something for my money! True prayer means wanting GOD not ego. The great thing is to lay down this ego-drive. This is the ‘life’ we must lose, this the ‘self’ we must abandon if we are to have true life and become that self God wants us to be, which only God can know and ultimately only God can bring into being. We have to recognize that a great deal that goes for interest in and longing for prayer is a subtle form of self-seeking. To give ourselves seriously to prayer is to recognize this and face up to the choice it presents: will we cast aside our egotism, allow God’s love to purify it more and more whatever the cost, or will we camouflage it, give it other, more spiritual names, and look around for so-called spiritual guides who will offer us ego-satisfying techniques with the promise of an ‘experience’. Perhaps we give up the prayer-project altogether with the reflection that, after all, what matters is living and loving and serving our neighbour. Another very popular form of evasion is just to go on worrying and asking endless questions about prayer with the illusory aim that one fine day we will be shown ‘how to do it.’ The thing to do is, of course, to get down to praying! That will answer our questions.
“I am not asking you so much to gaze upon Christ during your prayer of contemplation as to become aware of the fact that he does not for a moment cease to gaze upon you.” ~ Saint Teresa of Avila
The spiritual hunger of the contemplative can be satisfied only by a full surrender of the soul to God. The longing of the contemplative soul finds its completion precisely in this deeper offering and surrender to God. The manner in which God draws this surrender in prayer is a mysterious aspect of each contemplative life. It has its unique variations in each life, but one essential fact is that a complete surrender of the soul is demanded by the nature of love. The need to offer all to God becomes a dominant urge within the soul of the contemplative and, indeed, within prayer itself. God in turn seems to find circumstances in which the contemplative soul is faced with this need as the only manner in which it can live out its hunger for God. The surrender that takes place in prayer is often simply a response to what God has shown as an exclusive option for a soul if it is to plunge ahead in its relations of absolute love for God.
~ By Father Donald Haggerty, ‘The Contemplative Hunger’