REFLECTION: Exclamations of the Soul to God (I through V), by Teresa of Ávila

I

O life, life, where can you find your sustenance when you are absent from thy life?  In such great loneliness, how do you occupy yourself?  What do you do, since all your actions are faulty and imperfect?  Wherein do you find comfort, O my soul, in this stormy sea?  I grieve for myself, but still more do I grieve for the time when I lived without grief.  O Lord, how smooth are your paths!  Yet who will walk in them without fear?  I fear to live without serving you, yet when I set out to serve you I find no way of doing so that satisfies me or can pay any part of what I owe.  I feel that I would gladly spend myself wholly in your service, and yet, when I consider my wretchedness, I realize that I can do nothing good unless you give it me.

O my God and my mercy!  What shall I do, so as not to destroy the effect of the wonders which you work in me?  Your words are holy, just, of inestimable worth and of great wisdom: and Wisdom itself, Lord, are you.  But if my mind busies itself with this, my will complains, for it would have nothing hinder it from loving you.  And in themes of such surpassing greatness the mind cannot attain to a comprehension of the nature of its God; it desires to enjoy him, yet knows not how, while confined within this grievous prison of mortality.  Everything impedes it, though at first it was aided by meditation on your wonders, wherein it can the better see the baseness of numberless deeds of its own.

Why have I said this, my God?  To whom do I complain?  Who will hear me if not you, my creator and father?  But what need have I to speak that you may understand my grief, since I see so clearly that you are within me?  This is folly on my part.   But ah, my God, how shall I be sure that I am not separated from you?  O my life, that must be lived in such uncertainty about a matter of such importance!  Who would desire you, since the gain to be derived or hoped for from you – namely, to please God in all things – is so unsure and fraught with such peril?

II

Often, my Lord, do I think that if life lived apart from you can find sustenance it will be in solitude, for there the soul rests with him who is its rest indeed.  True, as this cannot be enjoyed with full freedom, the soul’s torment is often doubled; yet, by comparison with that of having to deal with creatures and being unable to commune alone with its creator, it becomes a joy.  But how is it, my God, that rest itself is wearisome to the soul which strives after nothing but pleasing thee?  O powerful love of God, how different are your fruits from those produced by love of the world!  For love of the world desires no companions, thinking that they may take from it what it possesses.  But love for my God increases more and more as it learns that more and more souls love him, just as its joys are damped when it sees that all are not enjoying that same blessing.  O my good!  Even during the greatest joys and delights which I experience in your company I suffer at the thought of the many who do not desire these joys, and of those who will lose them forever.  And thus the soul seeks means of finding companionship and is glad to abandon its own enjoyment, thinking that this may help others in some degree to strive to attain it.

But, my heavenly father, would it not be better for the soul to defer these desires until it is enjoying fewer favors from you and to spend itself wholly in rejoicing in you?  O my Jesus, how great is the love that you have for the children of men!  The greatest service that we can render you is to leave you for love of them and for their advantage.  By doing this we possess you the more completely; for, although the will has less satisfaction in the enjoyment of you, the soul is glad that you are pleased and sees that, while we live in this mortal life, earthly joys are unsure, even though they seem to be bestowed by you, unless they are accompanied by the love of our neighbor.  He who loves not his neighbor loves not you, my Lord, for in all the blood you did shed we see the exceeding great love which you bear for the children of Adam.

III

When I meditate, my God, upon the glory which you have prepared for those who persevere in doing your will, and think how many trials and pains it cost your son to gain it for us, and how little we had deserved it, and how bound we are not to be ungrateful for this wondrous love which has taught us love at such a cost to itself, my soul becomes greatly afflicted.  How is it possible, Lord, that all this should be forgotten, and that, when they offend you, mortal men should be so forgetful of you?  O my redeemer, how forgetful are men!  They are forgetful even of themselves.  And how great is your goodness that you should remember us when we have fallen and struck you a mortal blow, and should forget what we have done and give us your hand again and awaken us from our incurable madness so that we seek and beg you for salvation?  Blessed be such a Lord, blessed be such great mercy, and praised be he forever for his merciful pity!

O my soul, do you forever bless so great a God!  How can a soul turn against him?  Oh, how the very greatness of his favor condemns those who are ungrateful!  Do you come to the help of such, my God?  O children of men, how long will you be hard of heart and fight against this most gentle Jesus?  What is this?  Is it possible that our wickedness will prevail against him?  No, for human life is cut short like the flower of the grass and the son of the virgin shall come and pass that terrible sentence.  O powerful God of mine!  Since you will judge us, whether we will it or no, why do we not consider how important it is to please you against that hour?  Yet who, who would not wish to have so just a judge?  Blessed are they who at that dread moment shall rejoice with you, O my Lord and my God!  When you have raised up a soul and it has understood how miserably it has ruined itself to gain some brief pleasure and is resolved ever to please you and you help it with your favor (for you, my beloved Good, never forsake those who love you nor fail to answer those who call upon you), what help is there, Lord, for such a soul, to enable it to live, instead of dying with the remembrance of having lost all the good that it would have were it in the state of baptismal innocence?  The best life that the soul can live is a life which sorrow for its sins turns into death.  Yet how can the soul that dearly loves you endure this?

But what foolish things I am asking you, my Lord!  I seem to have forgotten your wonders and your mercies, and how you came into the world for sinners, and did purchase us at so great a price, and did pay for our false pleasures by suffering such cruel tortures and scourgings.  You did cure my blindness by allowing men to blindfold your divine eyes, and my vanity by wearing so cruel a crown of thorns.  O Lord, Lord, all this causes the greater grief of one who loves you; my sole consolation is that, when my wickedness is known, your mercy will be praised forever; and yet I know not if my distress will ever be ended until all the miseries of this mortal life are ended and I see you face to face.

IV

My soul seems to find rest, my Lord, in meditating upon the joy which it will have if by your mercy it be granted to enjoy you.  But first of all it would wish to serve you, since it is to enjoy what you did gain for it by service.  What shall I do, my Lord?  What shall I do, my God?  Oh, how late have my desires become enkindled, and how early, Lord, did you go in search of me, calling me to spend myself wholly in your service!  Did you perchance, Lord, forsake the wretched or turn from the poor beggar who sought to approach you?  Can it be, Lord, that there is any limit to your wonders or to your mighty works?  O my God and my mercy!  Now will you be able to show your mercies in your handmaiden!  Powerful are you, great God.  Now will it become clear, Lord, if my soul, looking upon the time it has lost, is right in its belief that you, in a moment, can turn its loss to gain.  I seem to be talking foolishly, for it is usual to say that time lost can never be recovered.  Blessed be my God!

O Lord, I acknowledge your great power.  If you are mighty, as indeed you are, what is impossible to him who can do all things?   Do you will it, my Lord, do you will it; for, miserable though I am, I firmly believe that you can do what you will; and, the greater are the marvels of you that I hear spoken of, the more do I reflect that you can work others yet greater, the stronger grows my faith and the greater is the resolution with which I believe that you will perform them.  And how can I wonder at what is done by the Almighty?  Well know you, my God, that in the midst of all my miseries, I have never ceased to recognize your great power and mercy.  May it prove of avail to me that I have not offended you in this.  Restore the time I have lost, my God, by granting me your grace both in the present and in the future, that I may appear before you with wedding garments, for you can do this if you so will.

V

O my Lord!  How can one ask you for favors who has served you so ill and has hardly been able to keep what you have already given?  How can you have any confidence in one who has so often betrayed you?  What, then, shall I do, comfort of the comfortless, and help of all who seek help from you?  Can it be better to keep silence about my necessities, hoping that you will relieve them?  No, indeed; for you, my Lord and my joy, knowing how many they must be and how it will alleviate them if we speak to you of them, do bid us pray to you and say that you will not fail to give.

I sometimes remember the complaint of that holy woman, Martha; her complaint was not merely of her sister – I feel sure that the chief cause of her sorrow was the thought that you, Lord, had no compassion on her for the labor that she was enduring nor cared whether or no she was with you.  Perhaps she thought that you had less love for her than for her sister, and this would have troubled her more than serving.  One whom she loved so dearly, for love turns labor into rest.  And so she said nothing to her sister, but made her complaint to you, Lord, alone, for love made her bold enough to ask why you had no care for her.  Your answer, which seems to imply that the source of her complaint was as I have been saying, was that it is love alone which gives value to all things and that the most needful thing is that it should be so great that nothing can hinder its operation.  But how can we have this love, my God, in the degree merited by the Beloved, if the love which you have for us is not united with it?  Shall I complain with this holy woman?  Ah, I have no reason to do so, for I have ever found in my God far greater and stronger proofs of love than I have known how to ask or to desire.  I have nothing to complain of save that your loving-kindness has borne with me too long.  What, then, can one ask of you so wretched as I?  That you will give to me, my God (as Saint Augustine said), so that I may give to you, to repay you some part of all that I owe you; that you will remember that I am your handiwork; and that I may know who my creator is, and so may love him.

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