Teresa of Avila, 1582

Today is the commemoration of St. Teresa of Avila, who died on October 4, 1582. I share one of her poems:

In the Hands of God

I am Yours and born for you,
What do You want of me?

Majestic Sovereign,
Unending wisdom,
Kindness pleasing to my soul;
God sublime, one Being Good,
Behold this one so vile.
Singing of her love to you:
What do You want of me?

Yours, you made me,
Yours, you saved me,
Yours, you endured me,
Yours, you called me,
Yours, you awaited me,
Yours, I did not stray.
What do You want of me?

Good Lord, what do you want of me,
What is this wretch to do?
What work is this,
This sinful slave, to do?
Look at me, Sweet Love,
Sweet Love, look at me,
What do You want of me?

In your hand
I place my heart,
Body, life and soul,
Deep feelings and affections mine,
Spouse—Redeemer sweet,
Myself offered now to you,
What do You want of me?

Give me death, give me life,
Health or sickness,
Honor or shame,
War or swelling peace,
Weakness or full strength,
Yes, to these I say,
What do You want of me?

Give me wealth or want,
Delight or distress,
Happiness or gloominess,
Heaven or hell,
Sweet life, sun unveiled,
To you I give all.
What do You want of me?

Give me, if You will, prayer;
Or let me know dryness,
An abundance of devotion,
Or if not, then barrenness.
In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace.
What do You want of me?

Give me then wisdom.
Or for love, ignorance,
Years of abndance,
Or hunger and famine.
Darkness or sunlight,
Move me here or there:
What do You want of me?

If You want me to rest,
I desire it for love;
If to labor,
I will die working:
Sweet Love say
Where, how and when.
What do You want of me?

Calvary or Tabor give me,
Desert or fruitful land;
As Job in suffering
Or John at Your breast;
Barren or fruited vine,
Whatever be Your will;
What do You want of me?

Be I Joseph chained
Or as Egypt’s governor,
David pained
Or exalted high,
Jonas drowned,
Or Jonas freed:
What do You want of me?

Silent or speaking,
Fruitbearing or barren,
My wounds shown by the Law,
Rejoicing in the tender Gospel;
Sorrowing or exulting,
You alone live in me;
What do You want of me?

Yours I am, for you I was born:
What do You want of me?

(translated by Adrian J. Cooney, OCD, from The Collected Works of Teresa of Avila, Volume Three, 1985)

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.

Do not be afraid: A Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany

March 6, 2011

Today is the Last Sunday of Epiphany. It’s been a long season of Epiphany, almost two months. Christmas is nothing more than a faint memory and if we were in a different part of the country, spring would be well on its way. The season of Epiphany always begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism by John. It always ends here, with the story of the Transfiguration. In between those two, we hear stories of Jesus Christ’s appearances to his disciples and to us. This Sunday provides us with another opportunity to experience and try to understand the glory of Christ, even as we look forward to Lent with its very different emphasis.

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