St. Teresa of Avila

Perhaps Teresa of Avila was destined to be a saint.  Her grandfather, Juanito de Hernandez, was a converso, a Jew who had converted to Christianity.  Conversos were always held in suspicion by a Spanish Catholic Church concerned with proper doctrine and busily developing notions of race to export to the New World.  It was thought that Jewish blood made it impossible to really be a Christian, so conversos were accused of being crypto-Jews, refusing to eat ham and secretly keeping a Saturday Sabbath.  Juanito was condemned by the Inquisition.  Such a condemnation was very effective, inspiring subsequent generations to become the most pious keepers of the faith.

Teresa’s father bought a Christian knighthood and her mother enforced a strict Christian piety and education on Teresa and her brother, Rodrigo.  It was so effective that, when she was seven, Teresa and Rodrigo ran away from home to be martyred in the ongoing wars against the Moors.  Her mother died when she was 14, so she adopted herself to the Virgin Mary as her spiritual mother.  But, as teenage girls will do, she also began to explore popular culture: romantic tales of knights and damsels in distress.  She soon found herself cloistered with Augustinian nuns in Avila.

Soon after her arrival in Avila, she became ill.  In her fevered dreams she began to have visions.  She cultivated these ecstasies through mystical disciplines found in spiritual manuals that were available at the time.  The exercises taught her to journey inwardly, to examine her conscience, and endure an ascetic life.  These visions continued throughout her life, sometimes uninterrupted for years at a time.

She began to write when she was in her fifties.  Her writings were autobiographical, but were intended as manuals for the contemplative life. She described her practices and the visions that resulted from them.  She advised aspiring mystics on the meaning of her experience.  Perhaps her greatest work was The Interior Castle.

In The Interior Castle, she describes the soul as a beautiful castle made of diamond.  God lives inside, in the deepest part of that castle, but God’s light shines out into the world through the crystalline walls.  However, in sin, the walls become dingy and clouded, covering the Divine Light.  Our task, as Christians, is to journey inside, to meet and know God’s presence in our own souls, to keep the windows clean, so that God’s light can shine out.

Please join us this Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we invite St. Teresa into our local canon.  We will simulate some of her contemplative practice and talk about the possibility that religion can actually be transformational.

Grace & Peace,

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