We are always in the presence of God, yet it seems to me that the manner in which He is present is different for those who pray.
So said Teresa Cepeda y Ahumada, a most extraordinary 16th century Spanish woman. We know her as St Teresa of Avila or St Teresa of Jesus, the founder of the reform of her Carmelite order with St John of the Cross.
Her feast day is 15 October, but she’s been on my mind a lot because her spiritual classic Interior Castle, was a set text this year for the faith conversation group I’m a part of.
I never tire of spending time with the thinking of this extraordinary woman – a mystic, a charismatic leader, a gifted writer – who was at the same time utterly practical and understanding of how poor, sloppy and sad human nature can be. Understanding, but also intent on urging people forth regardless.
I could definitely see her bustling into my house, taking a look around and saying ‘Just point me in the direction of the kitchen (or laundry, or vacuum cleaner) and I’ll get to work’. And then sticking around for a party afterwards and telling the best jokes.
She promoted a way of living that closely followed that of the first Christian hermits and founded strictly enclosed convents, but this never closed her off from people in any way that really matters, and so many of us still find her to be great company today.
Some people, notably St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), changed their lives instantly after reading one of her books. You do have to be a bit brave to stay close to her – she constantly issues a challenge.
She won’t let us hide or distract ourselves from reality – the fact that we are always in the presence of God, who constantly seeks to give us everything we could every truly want or need, if only we allow ourselves to return the Divine friendship offered to us.
She knows this is both greatly attractive, this idea of close friendship with God, but equally the thing that we most want to avoid because it also comes with the dismantling of a lifetime’s worth of defence mechanisms, little habits, comforts, ways of thinking, that keep us from being what we truly could be.
There’s so much to say about St Teresa, but it’s probably best just to stand aside and let her use her own words:
“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices” (actually it’s thought that she probably didn’t write this, but it was on a bookmark that she treasured)
“All my longing was and still is that since the Lord has so many enemies and so few friends that these few friends be good ones.”
“Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us.”
“From silly devotions and from sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.”
“However lukewarm the brief moments we spend in prayer may be, God esteems them highly”
“Let us be occupied in prayer, not for our own enjoyment but so as to have the strength to serve.”
“Do not become disconsolate if you don’t respond at once to the Lord. His Majesty knows well how to wait many days and years, especially when he sees perseverance and good desires.”
“Accept with simplicity whatever the Lord gives us and what He doesn’t we shouldn’t tire ourselves over.”
“The Lord walks among the pots and pans helping you both interiorly and exteriorly.”
Is it any wonder so many of us love her?