I’m a tiny bit late. She has already ordered her usual black coffee and has obviously charmed the pants off the waiter. He continues to smile and wave at her from behind the counter from time to time throughout our stay. I’m happy to see she brought her tambourine like I asked, even though she hadn’t wanted to on the phone. I love that thing.
It’s funny that in her rough brown Carmelite habit, her rope sandals and dark veil, she is not the weirdest looking person in the coffee shop. But people do notice her as they walk by, and she gives each an inviting smile they can’t help but return.
Once we both have our coffees, and she’s hugged me, we settle down at our favorite table. I turn on my recorder.
I am always in awe of her. But she is as cozy and comfortable as my own mother would be. She is certainly “Doctor of the Deep,” a woman challenging and inspiring, but she is ever practical and balanced. Sometimes she is pretty funny, too.
“Holy Mother, Happy Feast Day! “ She smiles broadly, and we toast with our coffees. She knows I like to do that and she humors me.
“ You come from a time when people thought contemplative prayer was dangerous and were afraid to practice it. In our day, they seem to think it’s some esoteric thing they could never do and they don’t see why they would want to or why it is any use to anyone.”
She looks thoughtfully at her coffee and then out the window at the people going by. Prayer to her is like breathing. Why would anybody not want to breath? She knows, though… she knows how we can’t be silent or still these days. It’s harder than ever to live a quiet life, to believe, and to pray, really pray.
“Perhaps if they feel that way, they don’t know what prayer is, what it can be, what it can do. The soul finds her true peace in it. It is a very real work in and for the Church.”
“So when you talk about prayer what do you mean? A lot of people think of it as saying set prayers or asking God for something, that sort of thing.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” she says, sitting bolt upright for emphasis. “ Say your prayers. But when you do, think carefully of Who you are talking to and what you are saying. If you are talking to your friend, for example, but all you are doing is saying words, not giving him eye contact or listening so he can talk, what kind of conversation, what kind of relationship is that? Christ is your Friend. You are already starting to do what I called ‘mental prayer’ when you give Him at least the contact and attention you would give any dear friend.”
The waiter brings her a plate of cookies for no reason, and she smiles warmly at him. I can’t take her anywhere that this sort of thing doesn’t happen.
“People so often rattle off their prayers without thinking or opening their hearts. If they call that prayer…well…words fail me.” *
An eyebrow comes up as she sips her coffee. Her expression says nothing could be more ridiculous than “praying” like that.
We sit silently for some minutes drinking our coffee. She hasn’t touched the cookies so I’m certainly not going to.
“Why would anybody need anything more than living a good Catholic life?” I ask, as I am sure many do.
“Jesus is here within us,” she says passionately, putting her hand over her heart. “And we shouldn’t leave Him there all alone. * This is very important. You need to remember that His throne is your heart. You yourself are His castle. Be with Him there.”
I love how she says that.
“And all the life of prayer,” she says as she smiles at a child who runs by, “is to lead us to good works, good works, my daughter!” ***
“We become His hands, His feet, His Heart for the world and the Church through the transforming love we find in prayer. A soul completely given to Him becomes a window for the out-streaming of God’s grace into the world for everyone and for the good of the Church. This is our fulfillment and our work in this life, our gift to give and our destiny in eternity!”
“Do you have any advice for those who might be interested in praying the Teresian way?”
I was hoping she would say something cool and mystical but…
As she often does, she wants to go over the pre-requisites of a life of prayer.
“My idea is that we not just give some time to prayer each day,” she says. “We craft a life that is prayer!”
“Live a simple life inside and out. Keep a good conscience. Be faithful to the Church. Train yourself to make room for the Lord. Then He will come at His own perfect time in His own way and do the rest. You will find peace and the Lord will find a place to rest His head! That place will be your own soul. Let nothing steal your treasure: * His company, His indwelling, His peace. Mental prayer… is nothing more than falling in love with Christ and conversing often in secret with our Friend who we know loves us.” ***
I beam at her. Wow. Just wow.
I glance down at my notes.
“Another thing that might discourage modern people from exploring your ideas is that you talk about detachment a lot. That usually sounds harsh to people of today. When you say to practice detachment from things and people, but you urge us to love one another what do you mean?”
“ I mean to love those around us, through and for God. This is to see through God’s eyes, to love with God’s Heart. That’s detachment. It isn’t a cold, distant ideal, it’s letting the Lord be the center of all your love and desires.”
I am suddenly aware once more of the cookies between us.
There is something I am dying to know, though, Reader, before I turn off the recorder. I bet you want to know too!
“Can you tell us much about your life with God as it is now?” She looks almost demure but she is radiant as she tells me, “The Lord of Love is mine and I am truly His at last.”
I can’t get anything else out of her about it except that our life on Earth is like “a couple of hours,” or a “night at a bad inn.” * Any trouble we take for God is nothing compared to being with Him in Heaven forever.
I notice the cookies are gone but there are a lot of people walking around with cookies…. How did she do that?
Giving my head a quick shake, I ask her, “Holy Mother, is there anything you would like to leave our readers with?”
She leans forward. “Don’t let anything scare you in this world,” she says tenderly, ****“everything passes but God will never change. Be patient, endure, and things will happen for you. If you have God you have everything.”
She is enchanting when her eyes glow like that.
When we get up to leave, I say, “Oh hey, you forgot your halo!” I pick up the tambourine, waving it, and put it behind her head. She pinches my arm. She says that clearly I seem to have forgotten my halo today. I am laughing and she pretends to be annoyed but I know she’s not. We go out and have some fun with that tambourine of hers. I’ve always thought she looked cool with that thing. And she can really dance.
Happy Feast Day, St. Teresa of Jesus, Doctor of the Church, Foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, great Teacher of Prayer. Thank you for all the wisdom and inspiration you have given us. Pray for us that we may become good friends of Christ that He might form us for the work of His Kingdom.
I am not a Teresian scholar, only one of Teresa’s daughters. Some of this piece is paraphrased teaching of hers, and some of it reflects who St. Teresa is to me, and what she teaches me. Hopefully this describes some of her ideas in a fun way, without the time barrier. When I did quote her verbatim I put her words in italics.
By the way she really did dance around with a tambourine sometimes. And I bet she looked cool.
* The Way of Perfection
** The Interior Castle
*** Life, her autobiography
***“…Mental prayer is nothing more than falling in love with Christ…” is translated this particular way by Fr. Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. in his book, The Teresian Gospel.
**** “everything passes” known as “St. Teresa’s Bookmark”
I have written more specifically on Teresian Prayer in my article Five Minute Mystic which you can find here: http://www.austincnm.com/index.php/2013/07/five-minute-mystic/#.Ulw_kY41ZSU