MYSTICISM: Teresa of Ávila, or Love’s Madness

My Writing

Teresa of Ávila, or Love's Madness by Julia Marks

I have never been one to shake my fist at man and yell out, why don’t you believe in God, the almighty, the one who loves you absolutely?  To me it has always been fairly obvious – the causes of this near-to-complete divorce proceeding that our culture likes to keep in court, drawing out the litigation, airing the seemingly eternal complaints against God, the history, the agony.

To me it’s simple: God is absolute; man is relative.  We are the ones, after all, who get to hear the ticking of the clock.  Who get to feel the streaking pain in our bodies.  Who get to know the shock of watching a loved one leave us.

God, on the other hand, experiences nothing in terms of time.  Experiences nothing in terms of his own pain.  And, whether we are in life or in death, never experiences our loss.  He is always with us.  We are always with him.  We cannot leave him.

And so we smolder in the misery of our lives; and if not in our own lives, then in the life of one of our loved ones, or someone we know and love, or even someone overseas being shot as they walk down his once peaceful street.

And now our spanking new social media, our shiny new toy that is being over used and abused gets to bring us brightly clear photographs of a sun shining down on a child being blown apart.  Videos of women starving to death, watched by overweight men sitting at their computers.  Interviews with young men who dare to speak out about the abuses of their government, young men who know that they can count the days that they still have to live.

So we wonder why God doesn’t see these transgressions as we do.  Why such abuses are allowed to happen.  We ask, how did we get so far from Eden that we can no longer smell the fruit from that tree molested so long ago?

And then come those experiences when we turn our backs on the restrictions of our lives, and we enter the silence and know the absolute that is God.

Teresa of Ávila likens our souls to a garden that, when irrigated by the water from the deepest of meditations, becomes a garden that makes the Lord himself eager to become the gardener.  God, then, is the one who does almost everything.

In this state of prayer, the faculties are lulled to sleep.  They do not entirely cease to function, but they do not understand how they are functioning.  The consolation, goodness, and delight the soul experiences here are incomparably more intense than what she tasted in the previous stage [contemplative prayer].  

This truly amazing woman wrote in her book, The Book of My Life, a chapter entitled, The Stream of Holy Madness.  While she claims a complete inability to describe this profundity of encountering God, what she does manage to eke out is nothing short of pure beauty.

I don’t know how else to explain this.  Words fail to describe it.  The soul herself doesn’t know what to do.  Should she speak or be silent?  Should she laugh or weep?  It is a glorious bewilderment, a heavenly madness.  In this blessed foolishness lies all wisdom.  And the soul takes great delight in her unlearning.

I often say that between man and God lies an infinite chasm, an abyss that we attempt to cross when we come to this point of understanding what true faith is: the point of heavenly madness.

I call it flight.  Or, sometimes, I call it skating on air.

How often have I been mystified and intoxicated with love but incapable of understanding what was happening to me?  I knew very well that it was the work of God, but I did not know how he was working.  The truth is, while the faculties in this state are almost totally united with the divine, they are not so absorbed that they cease to function.  I am so happy that today I  have understood this at last.  Bless be the lord who has given me this gift!

Most women who have gone through childbirth know what it is like to stand aside from her own life and watch it proceed without her.  The chemicals in the body, the child himself, and God take over.  There is nothing really left for the mother to do but try and keep her sense of humor.

And so it is with this level of prayer, a prayer in which God becomes the gardener of our souls and takes charge.

When I go into flight, I have, at times, felt that I had been turned into a ball in a pinball machine, being whacked by the paddles of God, life, and those elements in life that are not God.  When the flight ends, I watch as the dust settles.  Then, in time, I become aware of the seeds that were sown during that flight, and appreciate the true difference between God and man: the absolute gentleness and love of God made clear in what he has created.

O God, help me!  What is a soul like in this state?  She wishes she were made all of tongues to do nothing but praise the lord.  She babbles a thousand words of holy madness, trying to find exactly the right way to please the one who has taken her captive.

It is through the discipline of letting go that we can fall into holy madness.  It is through our allowing God to lead us to the point of nothingness that we can turn and face that which is the madness of life on Earth and connect God to man in our souls.  It is through prayer that we can experience the absolute in the universe, and find our patience for the relative in our lives.

O my true lord and glory!  The cross you have prepared for those who have attained this state is both unbearably heavy and exceedingly light.  It is light because it is so sweet.  And it is heavy because there are times when the soul cannot bear to carry it another step.  Yet she would never want to be free of it unless being free meant going straight to you.

This reminds me somewhat of Milan Kundera’s phrase, The unbearable lightness of being.

Oh, what freedom it is to consider it captivity to live in the world and abide by its rules.  This freedom is a gift from God.  What slaves wouldn’t risk everything to earn their ransom and return to their homeland?  This is the true path.  Why linger along the roadside?  The treasure we seek is so vast that unless we keep walking, we will not attain it until the end of our lives.  May the lord help us on our way!

Tear up what I have just written if you think it would be best.  Consider it to be a private letter from me to you.  And if I have been too bold, please forgive me.

I love this woman.

Amen.

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