St. Teresa of Avila

I mentioned her in my sermon. Andrew Sullivan posted the following poem today: “Teresa” by Richard Wilbur, who turned 90 this week.

After the sun’s eclipse
The brighter angel and the spear which drew
A bridal outcry from her open lips,
She could not prove it true,
Nor think at first of any means to test
By what she had been wedded or possessed.

Not all cries were the same;
There was an island in mythology
Called by the very vowels of her name
Where vagrants of the sea,
Changed by a word, were made to squeal and cry
As heavy captives in a witch’s sty.

The proof came soon and plain:
Visions were true which quickened her to run
God’s barefoot errands in the rocks of Spain
Beneath its beating sun,
And lock the O of ecstasy within
The tempered consonants of discipline.

via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.

Teresa, as I said today, thought deeply and extensively about prayer, and wrote with great insight. She was especially concerned to distinguish between “true” visions and those which seemed to come from Satan or were self-induced. Jessa Crispin, in an essay devoted to the question about the relevance of philosophers’ lives for their thought, uses Teresa as an example of someone who “did not always live out their philosophy.” In fact, Teresa’s life was full of times when she lived far from the ecstatic experiences for which she was famous, when her attempts to come close to God were thwarted, either by herself or by God, and faced constant criticism from churchmen who thought her experiences were faked.

At the same time, she was well aware that such experiences could be faked, or products of self-delusion. In her autobiography, she writes with considerable sophistication about how to distinguish the “real” from the faked and shows herself a perceptive psychologist.

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