God Alone Suffices

Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing make you afraid.
All things are passing. God alone never changes.
Patience gains all things. If you have God you will want for nothing.
God alone suffices.

 

Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, art by Giovanni Battista Piazetta (1682-1754)

Let nothing, O Lord, disturb the silence of this night.
Let nothing make me afraid.
Here in the dark remind me that in order to speak to you
my eternal father and to take delight in you,
I have no need to go to heaven or to speak in a loud voice.
However quietly I speak, you are so near that you will hear me.
I need no wings to go in search of you, but have only to understand
that the quiet of this night is a place where I can be alone with you
and look upon your presence with me.
For I have you, God, I want for nothing.
You alone suffice.

 

~ “Let nothing disturb you” 30 Days with Saint Teresa of Avila, Edited by John Kirvan

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Secret

Art by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

 

Let us assume that we do want God or, at least, we want to want God, wobbly and weak though we know ourselves to be. ‘If it is you, bid me come to you upon the waters.’ (Mt. 14.28) It is the Lord and he says: ‘Come!’ So we can confidently enter into the Mystery that is God, relying solely on Jesus and not at all on ourselves. To enter into real prayer, prayer that opens us to the mystical dimension is, in one sense, to enter into an alien element. At least, it is experienced as such, though, if we are faithful we shall discover that it is in fact our true home. But we have to be willing to let go of our own criterion of what prayer is and what growth in the Spirit might mean. There are all sorts of ways of praying and there are books galore to direct us on them; yet these, at bottom, keep us in the boat. The boat might rock a bit and feel uncomfortable at times; but at least, with our method to guide us, we can man it and have some control. Real prayer lets go of the controls, or, more truly, lets go when they are wrenched away from us, and how often we experience this, even to being tipped out in squall. Oh dear! Most of us see this as an unfortunate occurrence that must never be repeated and so we refit our boat, and improve our sailing skills to ensure that we have control once more.

What does it mean in practice to say we must be there for God and let God control our prayer, let God act? Does it mean we remain inert, completely passive?
No, decidedly not! The essential thing we have to do is believe in the enfolding, nurturing, transforming Love of God which is the Reality: the Reality that is absolutely, totally there whether we avert It or not. Prayer, from our side, is a deliberate decision to avert to It, to respond to It in the fullest way we can. To do this we must set time aside to devote exclusively to the ‘Yes’ of faith.

God of Thy goodness, give me Thyself: for Thou art enough to me, and I may nothing ask that is less that may be full worship to Thee; and if I ask anything that is less, ever me wanteth… but  only in Thee I have all.
(Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, ch.5).

If we are convinced that this is the heart of prayer, this basic decision to remain open to the inflowing of divine love, then we shall understand that we can choose any method we like to help us maintain this basic desire and intention. Our troubles and distress arise from our instinctive assumption that the method is the prayer, and so we gauge the genuineness and success of the prayer by how well the method has worked.  

We  must remember that prayer takes place at the deepest level of our person and escapes our direct cognition; therefore we can make no judgement about it. It is God’s holy domain and we may not usurp it. We have to trust it utterly to God. This is one of the principle ways in which we surrender control and “walk on the water”. We must be ready to believe that ‘nothingness’ is the presence of divine Reality; emptiness is a holy void that Divine Love is filling. Remember, we are casting ourselves wholly on Jesus, on his ‘Come’! We must give up wanting assurances either from within or without.
You see, we cannot have it both ways!

~ By Ruth Burrows, OCD

 

 

Make a Garden

 

Art by Charles Courtney Curran, Betty Newell

 

“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

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Reflection on Prayer… God – or ego?

 

A vision, art by Yongsung Kim

 

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.

 

~ By Ruth Burrows, O.C.D – Essence of Prayer     

Transfiguration

 

Transfiguration (1596), art by Giovanni Battista Paggi (1554-1627), Basilica San Marco, Florence, Italy

 

We want to know you, Jesus.
We want to cherish and hold
Adore and revere
Esteem and glorify you.
Keep you in our hearts
Glimpse you in our lives
Trace you on our paths,
Comforting the homeless
Grieving with the mourners
Forgiving our sins
Healing our wounds
Raising our dying
We are afraid, awed, overwhelmed at your glory.
We are touched, moved, transformed by your love.
We are cleansed, renewed, refreshed by your forgiveness.
We thank you
We praise you
We love you.
You… the transfigured One.
You… the resurrected One.
You… the One…
“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”
Amen.

[Author unknown]

Prayer of a Soul Taken with Love

Tomb of Saint John of the Cross ~ Photo taken by me in Segovia, July 2017

 

I recently came back from a trip to Spain and visited the Monastery of San Juan De La Cruz, Discalced Carmelite Fathers in Segovia.  The Monastery stands next to the Shrine of La Fuencisla. St. John of the Cross is buried here.
The church has a single nave with side chapels. The marble and bronze mausoleum of St. John of the Cross is in the side chapel of the Evangelio.

There I read the most beautiful prayer by St. John of the Cross “Oracion del alma enamorada” Prayer of a soul taken with love….

You will not take from me, my God, what You once gave me in Your only Son, Jesus Christ in Whom You gave me all I desire.  Hence I rejoice that if I wait for You, You will not delay. With what procrastinations do You wait, since from this very moment you can love God in your heart? Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth.  Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners.  The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine; and God Himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me. What do you ask, then, and seek, my soul?  Yours is all of this, and all is for you.  Do not engage yourself in something less, nor pay heed to the crumbs which fall from your Father’s table.  Go forth and exult in your Glory!  Hide yourself in It and rejoice, and you will obtain the supplications of your heart.

A Prayer to Our Lady of Mount Carmel

“Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel – Be our constant hope.
Mary, perfect disciple of the Lord – Make us also faithful to him.
Mary, Flower of Carmel – Fill us with your joy.
Virgin Mary, Beauty of Carmel – Smile upon your family
Sweet Mother of Carmel – Accept me as your child.
Holy, Mother beyond compare – Remember your children forever.
Holy Virgin, Star of the Sea – Be our beacon of Light.
Protecting Veil – Shelter us in the mantle of your love.
Mary, conceived without sin – pray for us who have recourse to you.”
Amen.

 

Virgen del Carmen. Escuela mejicana, s. XVIII:

Art: Virgen del Carmen. Escuela Mejicana, s. XVIII