Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Feast of St. Teresa

Today is the feast day of Saint Teresa of Avila, the 16th century Carmelite mystic.  For those of us soothed by meditation, we owe her a debt of gratitude.  But really, all of us, especially women, owe her a debt of gratitude.  Saint Teresa made some important gains for women in the church, by way of her writing and her leadership during the Counter Reformation.  I've always given medieval women credit for simply surviving in such a patriarchal institution, and for a woman to actually thrive despite the constrictions is quite remarkable.

Often, mystics make me feel further away from God--their visions are so different from anything I've experienced.  Many of what I've read about Saint Teresa has moved me similarly--her visions are so full of pain and piercings that they leave me a bit revulsed.

I'm grateful to Christine Valters Paintner, who has helped me see a different version of St. Teresa.  Paintner has written a wonderful book, The Artist's Rule:  Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom, which I'll review more thoroughly when I've finished reading it.  But in reading it, I've come across two references to Saint Teresa which have made me reconsider her.

In a guided meditation, Paintner says, "The great Spanish Carmelite mystic St. Teresa of Avila described such a spiritual journey as a movement through concentric rooms of an interior castle until we reach the diamond at the center of our being.  She says when we reach this diamond we will finally realize how truly beautiful we really are" (page 11).

Paintner talks about the sacraments of daily life:  "This is one of the elements I love most about Benedictine spirituality.  The cup you take down from your cupboard each morning for tea or coffee is as sacred as the chalice that holds the consecrated wine.  St. Teresa of Avila, the Carmelite mystic, said to the sisters of her community:  'The Lord walks among the pots and pans.'  We make artificial distinctions between sacred and secular, between what is worthy of our awe and gratitude and what is not." (page 38).

May the Lord be with you in your kitchen today or in your living room where you watch the television or in the Autumn afternoon with its many delights.

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