Today, October 15th, the Church keeps the feast-day of one of my favourite saints – Teresa of Avila. She was often referred to as God’s Gadbout because she spent a lot of her energy in founding convents of nuns throughout Spain in the 16th century. She was forever on the move and yet she is remembered best for her teaching about Prayer and particularly about Contemplative prayer which requires stillness. No matter how busy she was – and she was very busy – she made sure her heart was constantly fixed on God, whom she referred to as Your Majesty. God for her was very near. Indeed she coined a famous phrase – ‘God walks among the pots and pans’ We find God in the ordinariness of life, and if we train ourselves to recognize that, we shall meet Him in the everyday events of our lives and in the people we meet. This is about finding Heaven in Ordinary.
Teresa believed that God was within us as well as beside us, and here she took up our Lord’s own teaching that the Kingdom of God is within us. We encounter Him in the silent depths of our hearts.
You know that God is everywhere, she says, which is a great truth; wherever God dwells there is heaven, and you may feel sure that all which is glorious is near His Majesty.
Then she refers to St Augustine who sought God in many places and at last found the Almighty within himself. We don’t need to go to heaven to find God, she says, We are not forced to take wings to find Him, but have only to seek solitude and to look within ourselves.
She calls this seeking God in solitude within ourselves the prayer of Recollection – or Contemplation. In her work, Interior Castle, she develops this using the imagery of a King in his Palace.
Let us realize that we have within us a most splendid palace built entirely of gold and precious stones – in short, one that is fit for such a Lord – and that we are partly responsible for the condition of this building, because there is no structure so beautiful as the soul full of pure virtues, and the more perfect these virtues are, the more brilliantly do the jewels shine
What we find in this Palace is the mighty King who, she says, has deigned to become your Father and Who is seated on a throne of precious value, by which I mean your heart.
Realizing this took her quite a while.
Had I understood always, as I do now, that so great a King resided in my soul I should not have left Him alone so often, but should have stayed with Him sometimes and not kept His dwelling place in such disorder.
For Teresa, then, it is when we enter into silence and spend a little time with God in our hearts that the soul makes progress in the prayer. God becomes the centre of our being, always to be found when we still the voices of the world that claim so much of our attention.
Teresa says that it is only through silence that we can encounter the love of God and receive it into our hearts. God is very near. We should seek him within.
A Prayer of St Teresa
(often known as Teresa’s bookmark.
It was found in her prayer book after her death)
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.