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Teresa of Avila is a woman, a saint, a mystic, and a Doctor of the Church.  She is best known for her reform of the Carmelite community in sixteenth century Spain and for her many inspiring and profound writings that were saved and circulated in the decades after her death.  

As a woman of prayer, Teresa is a good model for anyone who wants to live a simple life with God in the midst of a complex world.

As persons of prayer, we are called to share with Christ the joys and sorrows that any intimate friendship undergoes.  Her writings present to us varied imageries of how a life of prayer is and what it entails.

The Soul As a Garden and 4 Ways of Watering the Garden through Prayer

The beginner in prayer must think of himself as one setting out to make a garden in which the Lord is to take His delight...

 

Beginners in prayer are those who draw up the water out of the well.  This is a very laborious proceeding, for it will fatigue them to keep their senses recollected, since they are accustomed to a life of distraction.

e.g.   oral prayer, praying with scriptures or a good book

This irrigates the garden with much less trouble, although a certain amount of effort is required to direct the water.  But the Lord is now pleased to help the gardener, so that he may almost be said to be the gardener Himself, for it is he who does everything...

e.g.  good thoughts, reflections, messages from God seem to flow between the soul and God at prayer;

prayer is more spontaneous as talking to an intimate friend

It comes from heaven to fill and saturate the whole of this garden with its abundance.  We can see how much rest the gardener will be able to have... this rain from heaven comes when the gardener is least expecting it.

e.g. love of God and neighbor inspires its actions and God's communications pervades its whole day, even outside of time set aside for prayer; God's gift of presence ;  constant awareness of God's presence in everything

The Beauty of the Soul Within

The Interior Castle

Teresa pictured the soul as a beautiful mansion in which God resides in the centermost place.  This interior castle contains seven dwelling places.  We start our spiritual journey in the most exterior dwelling ( the first) and, God willing, move toward the seventh.  A person enters this seventh dwelling-one's own center- only when God allows it.  In the innermost dwelling, the person becomes united with God in continuous, conscious love.


..."we consider our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.  For in reflecting upon it carefully, Sisters, we realize that the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the  Lord says He finds His delight."

 

Spiritual Transformation

In her writings, Teresa always groped for images with which to explain spiritual truths. One of her best known images for spiritual growth or transformation is that of the silkworm at its birth, in its active caterpillar stage, in its cocoon form, and in its butterfly  stage.  Our spiritual transformation is analogous to the changes of the silkworm:

 

"You must have already heard about His marvels manifested in the way silk originates, for only He could have invented something like that.  The silkworms come from seeds about the size of little grains of pepper.. when the warm weather comes and the leaves begin to appear on the mulberry tree, the seeds start to live, for they are dead until then.  The worms nourish themselves on mulberry leaves until, having grown to full size, they settle on some twigs."

(Interior Castle, pp. 341-342)