Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Meditation on Teresa of Avila

This Lent we have taken a journey into the "Interior Castle" of Teresa of Avila. It has been a wonderful journey. Last week Ema Rosero Nordalm shared this meditation on Teresa. I thought she did just a good job that I should share it with you. Enjoy...
Fr. Paul



THE INTERIOR CASTLE

The writings of Teresa de Avila as they appear in The Interior Castle or The Castle of the Soul or Las Moradas the title in Spanish, tell us that our “souls are the paradise in which God takes its delight”. Teresa sees the soul as “if it were a castle made of a single diamond or made of very clear crystal in which there are many rooms”. She calls those rooms, mansions, just the same as the mansions in heaven.
Tonight I am inviting you to use your holy imagination, to venture in the silence of our souls and to adventure in the spiritual journey that Teresa de Avila describes in her writings.
To begin, I would love for you to get into a relaxed position in your chair. I will guide you first on a short exercise to breathe, and to relax. First, by contracting your diaphragm expel as much air we have in our body, pressing your stomach muscles to your spinal column, out comes the air, pressing to expel the most, and then bringing the new air which comes with white light and makes a balloon in your stomach. The light fills every part of you body, your muscles, your bones, your veins and even your cells. Let's do it again: excel and inhale.
Relaxed, feeling safe, and embraced by the loving presence of the Holy Spirit, let's imagine our castle. Let's imagine it as one castle made up of many mansions, with a mansion at the center, the most important one, the mansion where we can come in divine union, the union of our soul with God, the lover of souls, our creator. The rest of the mansions we can arrange them as we desire, mansions upstairs, mansions downstairs, on one side and on the other. This is the castle of your soul, your morada, where we can dwell in God's infinite love.
Teresa de Avila tells us that first of all, and in silence we must pray the way we know best. She says that to enter into the castle of our souls meditated prayer is necessary. So, let’s listen to a prayer. (Read Psalm 139:1-11)
Our prayer has opened the door of our First mansions. God's presence accompanies us. In this mansion we are invited to stay as long as we need to, to exercise humility. The twelve steps of the Benedictine Rule can help us with humility:
Being humble is to recognize God's presence not only in our lives, but also in all that surrounds us.
It is to accept God's will.
It is to accept spiritual guidance.
It is to persevere.
It is to recognize our faults.
Being humble is to live simply.
We are honest to ourselves.
We are open to learn from others.
We listen to others.
We speak with kindness to others.
We accept others as they are.
We are centered and in harmony with all that surrounds us.

The Second mansions invite to practice our prayers. We can practice the prayers learned when we were going up:
Think of prayers of adoration in which the praise of God’s majesty and grandiosity leave us with a sense of owe, and admiration for his glory and the glory of its creation: (Read psalm 117)
Think of prayers of thanksgiving in which we acknowledge over and over again, how small, how helpless and how needy we are; we acknowledge our nothingness without God’s blessings: (Read psalm 111: 1-4)
The prayers of confession which we do in solitude, by which we come to know God’s profound, and abundant love for each one of us. (Read psalm 51: 1-2)
And the prayers of intercession through which we go in front of authority, we go in front of God on behalf of souls we know or do not know that are in need, suffering or in trouble: (Read psalm 28: 1-2)
And, to practice with prayers of petition our best model is Jesus prayer in the garden: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done”.
In the Third mansions called the mansions of the exemplary life, the mansions of the life of virtue, we work in our values, our values of gratitude, justice, forgiveness, generosity, courage, loyalty, wisdom, knowledge, humanity, hope, mercy, temperance, spirituality, humor, enthusiasm, curiosity, love of learning, perspective, open mindedness, integrity, originality, valor, kindness, perseverance, honesty, leadership, discretion humility, and we work on how best to live our lives, how we work on becoming prudent, discrete, organized. According to Teresa de Avila “love in this mansion needs to surrender from reason if we want to experience it completely in its inspiring force”.

“Prayer of the quiet” that takes to a state of quietude happens in the Fourth mansions. Our will is lost to God’s will. Our soul now is like a fountain that receives the water of life directly from the spring of life. We are free from fear and so free is our love. Teresa tells us that in this mansion “we move from ordinary prayer to infused prayer, where the feeling is of a pouring in of God’s love that gives new life, new vigor, new significance, and back again”. She also tells us that “As these Mansions are now getting near to the place where the King dwells, in the seventh mansion, there is great beauty and there are such exquisite things to be seen and appreciated in them that the understanding is incapable of describing them. It seems that, in order to reach these Mansions, one must have lived for a long time in the other mansions, but she says that “there is no infallible rule about it, as you must often have heard, for the Lord gives when He wills and as He wills and to whom He wills, and, because the gifts are His own”.

When we reach the Fifth, and the Sixth mansions Teresa tells us that our soul is completed possessed by God through the prayer of union, God the lover and our soul the beloved see each other for long periods of time.
The Seventh mansion found as we said in the middle of the castle, filled with a ‘magnificent light, warmth and delight is where our spiritual marriage takes place: our soul and God becomes one. A feeling of “ineffable and perfect peace” overcomes us. Maybe we experience the beatific vision, the ecstasy or rapture of the life to come.
Let’s spend a little time in any of the mansions you have discovered tonight. And let’s promise ourselves that we will visit them again and again to grow ever more in humility, in our prayers, in our prudence and discretion, and in those most joyful and desired mystical moments, the moments in which our soul will be in loving union with God our creator, who delights in that union, our God who is always expecting us in his most desirable paradise, the paradise of our souls.
Let’s say with Teresa de Avila:
Let nothing trouble you.
Let nothing scare you.
All is fleeting.
God alone is unchanging.
Patience
Everything obtains.
Who possesses God
Nothing wants.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A New Hymn; "Fr Paul's Song"

I have subjected my congregation to the following song for the past few weeks. It made its debut on the First Wednesday in Lent following Ash Wednesday as part of our Lenten Discipline. While we explore the "Interior Castle", as Teresa of Avila instructs us to do, I thought it good to have a song to focus our thoughts and prayers as well. The song finds its focus on the Emmaus Story that comes to us from the 24th Chapter of Luke's Gospel. That Easter Day, several disciples found themselves on the road to Emmaus when a stranger came along and walked some distance with them as their "companion". At first they did not recognize him. But he opened their minds to the scriptures, and ultimately broke bread with them. It was then, in the breaking of the bread that he suddenly vanished, and it was then that they came to recognize him as the Christ. Thus in a biblicaly ordered life we find ourselves directed to recognize the Christ in many, friend and stranger alike and in greater humility within ourselves as well.
The second verse recognizes that love cannot be divided and is of course the greatest gift of all, much as Paul's Hymn to love suggests to be the case. (1 Corinthians 13)
The third verse hearkens to Matthew 25 verses 31 and following where Christ is recognized in the "least of these"; the homeless, the hungry etc. When we see the Christ in these we minister not just to the poor we minister to Jesus himself.
The fourth verse is based on a growing understanding in the church that when we are in Christ we are no longer divided by race, ethnicity, class, gender or orientation. Many of us base this on the mandate we see in Galatians 3:25 and the context that this verse arises out of. It is a powerful statement. I realize that a vast majority of the faith community world wide refuses to read this biblical material, but I have always lived my life in a biblically ordered way. I will continue to do so and cannot allow a few verses of Leviticus or a misunderstanding of Romans 1 cloud or deflect my obedience to scripture.
The Good Friday event is universal. Jesus stretched out his loving arms on the hard wood of the cross so that all might come within the reach of his saving embrace; after all, "he is the perfect offering for our sins but not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world". (1 John 2:2)
The final verse of the Hymn is really a bit personal, I must say but biblically ordered as well. Some of you know I recently had a bout with prostate cancer, and had surgery in a rather tender spot. My son Joshua and I had one of those long heart to heart conversations during my convalescence that struck a chord with me. He was puzzling over some of the many references to Job he had come across throughout literature. Given the nature of my own vulnerabilities, the subject of suffering seemed timely for both of us. So much human literature devotes itself to the mystery of suffering and simply hold it "out there" for us all to simply witness often without answer. But, said I to Josh, there is an answer; God speaks forcefully and decisively in Job, Chapter 38. It is a wonderful passage and is worthy of reading in its entirety (as is the whole Bible, by the way...the WHOLE Bible...not just the parts you like). In Job 38, God gets a bit put out with all the talk of suffering and who is to blame and why things are the way they are. Then with purely powerful rhetorical proclamation God tells Job to "gird up your loins and stand up like a man and TAKE IT". I must tell you, this spoke powerfully to Joshua and me both. It took Joshua's breath away on the spot and mine as I thought more and more of it.
It was in the wake of all this that I penned the following words. They are my song pure and simple. There is nothing complicated about it. It is just who I am and who I understand God to be. I picked a tune that is very un-Episcopalian. It is a very simple tune to go with the words. I like it a lot. Some others do too. Folks have encouraged me to share it, so here it is.

Fr. Paul’s Song

Come, Lord Jesus our Companion, awaken hope along the way

In Broken Bread and Holy Scripture, be known to us and with us stay.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

One in Christ we come to greet you, friend and stranger we’ll not hate

Love can never be divided: race, class, gender; gay or straight.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

In the homeless and the hungry, may we see your precious eyes;

Give us courage, house and feed them, Lest we miss your heavenly prize.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

Your sweet children and the orphan, all the refugees of war,

Women, gay folk and the outcast stand and knock at Christ’s own door.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

Jesus arms are true and constant, gathering in the wayward tossed

With a Mother’s true compassion not one soul shall ‘er be lost.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

At the end of life’s grand journey, Gird our loins with your good power;

Make us mindful of your goodness, in the trials of that hour.

Refrain,

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; walk with us Emmaus’ Way

Jesus, Jesus how I love you; speak within my heart I pray.

Words: “Fr. Paul” Bresnahan (1945- )

Music: William J. Kirkpatrick (1838-1921)