Friday, June 30, 2006
I have several books going on my bedside table:
Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, for my daily psalms
John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul
Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Jesus and Interior Castles
Plainsong Psalter for when I feel like singing the psalms
My NRSV leather bound bible which I bought myself after my UU baptism
A whole bunch of Merton books, from The New Seeds of Contemplation to Reading the Bible to Praying the Psalms.
The Cloud of Unknowing.
Ramon Lull, The book of the Lover and the Beloved
And various other books: Way of a Pilgrim, a few C.S. Lewis, History of Christianity from the Reformation on.
Many of these books are very dense... slow going for me. I have hardly any retention when I read them. I just read a paragraph, or perhaps a whole chapter, and get lost in the midst of it. Teresa of Avila, in particular, brings me to a completely different place. In Teresa of Jesus, she talks about cultivation of the soul using the metaphore of a garden. And God waters it in different ways. Sometimes directly, sometimes with rain, sometimes by diverting a nearby stream. All of these different ways of praying serve to nourish and enrich the soul in her quest to become one with God.
I have been reading this book for over a year. I read a few sentences.... a paragraph, and then I feel like I just can't read on at that moment. It is too dense. Too rich. Contains too much.
When I read Teresa, I wonder if you can be a mystic and housewife. I find myself wondering if I could spend 20 years at prayer, as she did, only to discover that for that whole 20 years, she was missing the point. She says, herself, that for those 20 years, she was doing it 'wrong'. I don't really know about that... maybe it takes 20 years to till the soil. 20 years to prepare for the seeds. In real life, we would all starve to death, if that were so! But some land is so dry and empty it needs years of amending before it can be fertile. God worked on me for YEARS before I was finally ready to accept the seeds. And even now, they struggle. I find rocks and clumps of hard earth. I need to prune and sweep clear the path between the rows. And oh, those weeds. If I turn away for even a moment, I find them choking out the little seedlings so quickly.
I read Teresa and am blown away by her abilility to describe what the process of connecting to God is like. Above all, the ability to talk about it coherently impresses me. I can barely talk about it at all, never mind making it comprehensible, even to myself. Maybe that is part of what takes 20 years... the ability to navigate the seeming chaos and see the patterns in it.
Mostly, when I read Teresa, it is like hearing from an old friend. She speaks to me across time and space and comments on my day to day stuff. She nudges and cajoles me. She reassures me and points things out that need pointing out. If Episcopalians took saints as patrons, I would choose her.
I leave you, today, with a quote from her friend, John of the Cross. This little tidbit comes from a regular dose of his writings, emailed to me from a yahoo group I joined.
Neither is the sublime communication nor the sensible awareness of His nearness a sure testimony of His gracious presence, nor is dryness and the lack of these a reflection of His absence. As a result, the prophet Job exclaims: If He comes to me I shall not see Him, and if He goes away I shall not understand. [Jb. 9:11]
John of the Cross
"The Spiritual Canticle"