Monday, March 8, 2010

Spiritual Pilgrim, Teresa of Avila

"This work is meant to be an introduction to Teresa of Avila's spirituality, but also an introduction to the psychology of C.S. Jung" --Spiritual Pilgrims by John Welch

The Spanish woman, Teresa of Avila, lived in Spain during the Renaissance period. She was known even in her time from the spiritual activities she promoted and the books she wrote in a time when few could read or write and even fewer women did. Concerned by an increase of governmental censorship and the efforts of Enlightenment thinkers, Teresa saw how increasingly the average person was less able to access materials to advance their spiritual development. In his book, Spiritual Pilgrims, author John Welch writes of her determination to fill this growing vacuum with her own story of a growing spirit and her efforts to continue despite opposition at times from the Spanish Inquisitors marks her for remembrance and significance, even in today's world.

The Spanish nobility, sensing its position and prerogatives threatened, turned to inquisition as an efficient means of censoring information and controlling the people. For Teresa of Avila and others, the resurgence of the Spanish order of Francisicans and their 'other-world' spirituality inspired and prompted them to action. This school of mystical prayer was irresistible to many of Teresa's generation. They avidly sought to learn of its methods. Teresa writes a story of a crystal castle in her book, The Interior Castle, that "This castle is entered by a soul... who begins a wonderful, at times, harrowing journey through the castle... as the soul enters the castle, and begins to penetrate its inner recesses, the atmosphere gradually changes. The darkness gives way to light, a glow emanating from the center of the castle... a warmth pervades the rooms comforting the guest."

Seeking God into its own heart, the soul sets aside everything, all distractions and worldly concerns. This thought arose with the re-establishment of the Francisicans and a popularized lay movement, of a devotional pseudo-Dionysius mystical contemplation which cleared the way for the everyman to participate; permitted women, especially, to access the tradition of the mystic. Welch writes, "Teresa tells us the story of her prayer life... [Her] relationship with God was alive within her and it grew with times of peace, tension, fulfillment, emptiness and transition." She sees union as total as rain falling into a river. For Teresa, her heart was burning with the flame of passion and the fearsome knowledge of  He who is. Ultimately she realizes, it is the movement towards the deepest self from which this union may emerge.

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