Upon conversion to Catholic Christianity, it was if I’d landed in another universe, one filled with women I did not recognize and could not relate to. I met joyous moms with five, seven, ten kids who seemed filled with light, life and children. Women who continued their pregnancy through to the birth of a child she knew would live only hours or days.
In a word, saints. Or so they seemed to me. Too far away for friendship-even conversation…unreachable.
But after I read about a “conversation” between St. Teresa of Avila and Christ about the plight of her best friend John, I was intrigued. To Teresa’s fears about the consequences of the nine-month long dungeon imprisonment and near starvation of her beloved St. John of the Cross, the Lord replied:
“Teresa, whom the Lord loves, he also chastises, this is how I treat all my friends.”
The acerbic Spanish nun allegedly replied to Jesus, “No wonder you have so few of them.”
I laughed heartily then and still do as I consider the writings of this mystic; this woman who considered herself ‘too stupid’ to write about her methods of prayer. And only did so because of her vow of obedience. Teresa’s descriptions of her sins of vanity, pride and selfishness are ruthless.
Such a puzzling combination of gut-wrenching self-knowledge, wit, wisdom and mysticism. And yet my connection with St. Teresa of Avila is undeniable and, at times, audible.
So much so that her pithy poem shown in the image ends the Prologue of my first novel. Prayed by the agnostic protagonist, Dr. Lindsey McCall, in her prison cell. More on the Spanish saint and me in a bit but first some background.
A German Jewish philosopher and atheist named Edith Stein, upon reading the books of Teresa of Avila in the early part of the last century early would utter in astonishment, “This is truth!” She would become St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Carmelite nun and murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz in 1942.
Teresa of Avila lived and died over 500 years ago in a time we can’t relate to unless we think past our assumptions and consider what was happening in the sixteenth century. Wars, political and economic instability, a near constant battle between religious ideologies and scientific discoveries. Almost continual turmoil where accepted realities of the culture were frequently overturned.
Her admonition to her fellow nuns, “All times are dangerous times,” surely fits the chaos of our 21st-century- world.
Teresa’s insights into “Your Majesty” -her method of addressing our Lord, could have been fuel for the Inquisition had she come to their attention. For she was one of the first to conceive of the Triune God as Wisdom, Power and Love.
Her presence on my committee was foreordained.
When my new vocation of writing fiction made itself known, I decided I needed a committee. Since a committee had been required for my doctoral dissertation, it was only reasonable that in my new incarnation as a Catholic fiction writer, forming a committee was the first step. A committee with heft.
The committee chair could be none other than St. Ignatius of Loyola [to me, he’s the guy who became Catholic because he had nothing else to do.] And it was at “his church” that this new, unplanned vocation showed up. Teresa is accompanied by St. Francis, St. Thomas More [of course], Teresa Benedicta, St. John Paul ll: a committee with heft.
Before answering consider our recitation of the Apostle’s Creed: ‘I believe in the community of saints’.
If a community then doesn’t that imply membership?
And doesn’t membership convey benefits?
Ponder St Paul’s magnificent words to the Ephesians for a moment or five.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Coincidentally, a number of years ago, shortly after moving from the east coast to the west where we now live, we drove to Los Angeles and visited the Cathedral there, The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. The walls of the cathedral are entirely adorned with images of the saints. While walking around the church, I realized that if I meant what I said each time I recited the prayers of the faithful, a relationship would be developed.
I could get some help…affirmation for the committee.
These are just a few of the convictions I have learned from Teresa of Avila:
This long-ago woman at times is so real to me that I can hear her. Often without conscious awareness that I am asking for help, I hear a response in a cadence and words that feel uniquely hers.
Teresa called them locutions when she spoke with Christ, I’ve never read what the convention is for the conversation from a saint but here are a couple of examples of what I mean.
The first novel was an arduous task. While on a long walk with the dogs in Nevada, I was battling all the self-criticism, insecurity and voices shouting, “Are you crazy? You can’t write a novel, you’re too…” “You don’t know what you’re doing!”
Quite distinctly, I heard, “Did you think this would not require hard work?”
So clearly that I stopped still, looking around and then realized….and grinned. Hence St. Teresa’s dominance not just in the Prologue but of an entire chapter in that first novel.
And got back to work.
Never forget our friends in Heaven!