If we look at God without knowing that God always sees us first, and if we don’t encounter a love-filled gaze, then it is not God we meet. “Videntem videre,” says Augustine: We see the one who sees us. His gaze is prior and encompasses all. We are already known by God before we know him. We do not get to know God by looking at him, but by letting him look at us, and by enduring in his sight. One does not get to know the sun by staring right into its light, but rather by covering one’s eyes and exposing oneself to its rays. It is God’s gaze that makes us what we are. God is always first.
Every human being has a deep longing to be looked upon with love, to be known by another. Is it not part of love to hide nothing from the beloved? Everyone desires to be lovingly affirmed for being just what one is.
It is a singular joy to let oneself be beheld by God, to consciously give up all resistance against his merciful light, and thus become completely transparent. One could say that holiness is nothing but living every moment in the presence of God’s loving glance. Nothing impure can resist it. If you dare to give yourself over to it, and let God see into your innermost recesses, then you are purified without even knowing how. But it all depends on whether you truly let him see everything.
~ A meditation by Father Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.
Before The Beauty Of God
Oh, what Beauty, you exceed every other beauty’s features! Wounding not, you pained indeed, without pain destroyed and freed my love from all worldly creatures.
Oh, knot that so joins forever two things as unlike as we, unknown why our bond you sever, since when tied you strengthen ever and draw good from injury.
Bind that without being to Being of eternity; without finishing, now do, not having to love, love too, exalt our nonentity.
If all the love you have for me,
my God, is like my love for you,
say, what detains me, that I do?
Or what is it delaying thee?
— Soul, what of me are your desires?
— My God, no more than you to see.
— And what most in you fear inspires?
— What I fear most is losing thee,
A soul within its God now hidden,
whatever else should it desire,
but to e’er greater love aspire,
and in that love remain all hidden,
returned anew into love’s fire?
One love that owns me I request,
my God, my soul within you centered,
for making me the sweetest nest
where union can the best be entered.
~ By Saint Teresa of Ávila, O.C.D.
Si el amor que me tenéis,
Dios mío, es como el que os tengo,
Decidme: ¿en qué me detengo?
O Vos, ¿en qué os detenéis?
— Alma, ¿qué quieres de mí?
— Dios mío, no más que verte.
— Y ¿qué temes más de ti?
— Lo que más temo es perderte.
Un alma en Dios escondida
¿qué tiene que desear,
sino amar y más amar,
y en amor toda escondida
tornarte de nuevo a amar?
Un amor que ocupe os pido,
Dios mío, mi alma os tenga,
para hacer un dulce nido
adonde más la convenga.
~ Poema místico de Santa Teresa de Ávila, Carmelita Descalza
Wishing you all a happy and blessed Feast day of Saint Teresa of Ávila!
Deseandoles a todos un feliz y bendecido dia de Santa Teresa de Ávila!
Love, I think, is an arrow shot by the will, and, freed from every pull of earth, flying straight at God with full force, it infallibly strikes His Majesty. Once it has pierced the Heart of God, absolute Love, it rebounds with immense graces…
O secrets of God! We must silence our understanding admitting that, never of itself can it fathom the greatness of God. Let us remember here Our Lady the Virgin, how she, in her great wisdom, surrendered in this way, and to her question to the angel, ‘How shall this be done?’ , received the answer: ‘The Holy Ghost will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’
~ Saint Teresa of Avila, ‘Conceptions of the Love of God’
I gave myself so totally,
and the exchange has thus been done that my Beloved is for me, and I’m for only my Loved One.
When that sweet Hunter from above had wounded and o’erpowered me,
and left me in the arms of love, my soul abiding languidly;
new life came in recovery, and the exchange has thus been done that my Beloved is for me, and I’m for only my Loved One.
The arrow used in wounding me with his love he had deigned to fill,
and so my soul was made to be at one with its Creator’s will.
No other love could e’er fulfill,
since to my God surrender is done, and my Beloved is for me, and I’m for only my Loved One.
~ A poem by Saint Teresa of Avila, ‘Flame of Love’
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.
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
“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