Saint Teresa was born in Avila, Spain in 1515, into a wealthy and aristocratic family. Many accounts describe Teresa as magnetic, and by her own admission she was a flirt, and loved “to draw people to me and get them to like me.” This flirtatious, gregarious girl became one of the world’s great mystics, a revered and much-loved saint. Her story is one of great personal struggle to attain the highest states of consciousness during a life of intense activity.
St. Teresa lived during a time of great turbulence and change. Worldwide explorations were happening—Teresa’s brothers were part of the early voyages to the New World. The Renaissance was in full bloom; so also was the Inquisition. Teresa was called before the Inquisition when the church questioned her extraordinary mystical experiences. Amazingly, Teresa was able to convince her accusers that her experiences came from God and not the devil.
Teresa helps us to realize we don’t have to wait to know God—that in the hustle and bustle of life we can feel God’s presence and live from a place of profound faith and trust in God. Teresa said that all the effort we make to draw closer to God is not lost or wasted, even if we fail in the effort. The effort itself is the key. Here are Teresa’s own views on the subject.
Teresa, ever pragmatic, knew that after a while familiar things begin to disappear, including pictures of saints, statues, natural elements, and the written word. So you don’t just have them around, you relate to them. She says to reverently touch and interact with pictures or statues as you pass. Move from the heart toward them; place a flower consciously before them. When reading, make notes or underline.
Use your imagination
When Teresa first entered the convent, she would watch the nuns at their devotions. Some of them would be so moved in their prayers that they would weep. Teresa said she wasn’t moved at all, but wanted God to touch her. So, she imagined God was with her as she prayed, as she went through her day, guiding and helping her. In time she felt Him with her all the time.
Think of God
Think of God as your closest friend or dearly beloved. Think of God in the morning; thank Him for this new day. Think of God at night as you go to sleep. Look for God in nature. Think of God throughout the day. Tell Him of your love. Be creative about how to remind yourself to do this.
Maintain a sense of humor
Teresa encourages us with her wonderful light touch. Even on the serious subject of spiritual attainment, she has many great one-liners: “From silly devotions and sad-faced saints, good Lord deliver us.” And “A sad nun is a bad nun.” About the Inquisitors, she says, “I fear these fellows who fear the devil, more than I fear the devil himself!”
One of the most famous stories from Teresa’s life takes place when she is 65. She is travelling in the winter and bad weather has washed out and flooded the road. Teresa, elderly and infirm, leaves the carriage and hitching up her skirts, starts to wade through the icy water. Halfway across the water she sees Christ standing on the far bank. Smiling at her he says, “Don’t worry Teresa, this is how I treat all my friends.” Smiling, Teresa replies, “Ah! My Lord, no wonder you have so few.” When she gets to the far bank, Christ has gone and she is warm and dry.
Fording the icy waters
How do we learn to take life’s experiences in this spirit? When we find the road “washed out, and flooded” do we think, “Maybe this means I’m not supposed to continue?” Consider that perhaps you should continue and question instead what’s causing your reluctance. Fear? Unwillingness?
Whether saint or saint-in-the-making, our challenges will always feel like “washed out and flooded” roads. We learn to ford the icy waters through spiritual practices—meditation, prayer, positive attitudes, affirmations, etc. As we practice, keep in mind God’s smiling words: “This is how I treat all my friends.”
A long time member of Ananda, Nayaswami Uma is a Lightbearer and teaches at Ananda’s Yoga and Meditation Retreat in Assisi, Italy.