Archive for the ‘St. Theresa of Avila’ Category

Discipline is not a dirty word . . .

Monday, August 1st, 2011

. . . when you’ve fallen down the side of  the mountain. I’ve hit a brick wall of late with my spiritual life, but if I didn’t have my discipline, I would have fallen off the mountain entirely and not even known why. And it would have been a lot harder to climb back up again (and it’s hard enough as it is!).

Discipline was not an appealing option

Being one of those “free-spirited” souls, I have never been attracted to discipline. It put constraints on my freedom and my time. Despite taking 5 years of piano lessons as a child, I can’t play a note in part because I didn’t have the discipline to practice. Often I feel like I’ve squandered my musical talent because of the inability to reign in my “free spirit.”

Applying discipline to my spiritual life didn’t seem to fit either. I remember watching The Nun’s Story with Audrey Hepburn and noticed the way she chafed at the bell ringing for prayer. She hated the interruption and even openly complained to her superior that the bell disrupted important spiritual conversations with patients or interfered with her work as a surgical nurse.

Little did I know I would be applying the concept of the bell to my own prayer life. And it’s proving to be most effective.

A fire burning to a fire dying out

For the last several weeks I have been reading Fr. Thomas Dubay’s book, Fire Within and it is helping me to find the fire within me. It’s a primer on contemplative prayer according to Saints Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. I was reading about Teresa’s seven mansions of prayer when the dryness hit.

I fell away from reading and found prayer increasingly difficult. Deep emotion and consolation turned into dryness and flatness. In the blink of an eye, I felt a million miles away from God yet I knew He had never left my side.

Discipline, technology and concrete measures

The regimen that I had initially set up for prayer was proving to be my lifeline.

I use technology to assist me in my prayer and I have several different rituals that I use to assist me:

  • I have set up my iPod to ring like the bell of a monastery to remind me to pray at different times during the day. Since reading about Teresa’s support of using concrete means to pray, I have loaded spiritual pictures and icons on my iPod so I can look at them as I pray. I also thumb my rosary ring when I pray the Divine Mercy at 3pm.
  • I have been praying a scriptural rosary each day to keep my mind from wandering (The Rosary Army has an excellent one that you can get on iTunes or listen to online. My own Sung Rosary has a scriptural Rosary book which I’ve used).
  • I listen to the daily readings from the USCCB website in the morning and at night, go to sleep listening to the daily mass using the CatholicTV app.
  • In the past I have prayed the Divine Office using the podcasts from divineoffice.org.

And slowly, ever so slowly, I feel myself clawing back up the mountain.

Discipline is life-giving

Rituals can sometimes rule your life, but they can also help to save it. I am so very thankful to Holy Mother  Church for providing the daily mass, the structured prayers and most of all, the wisdom to recommend that we use these resources. I hope that I will always remember how much discipline and structure are helping me to come closer to God.

Emotion is sweet but fleeting. Discipline can be just as sweet, and it’s a lot more dependable too. God does indeed supply all that we need!

 

 

 

Prayer in the midst of distraction

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

In my reading of Thomas Dubay’s book, Fire Within, I have come upon the chapter describing St. Teresa of Avila’s seven mansions. As a preliminary to the discussion of the mansions, Fr. Dubay described her teachings regarding vocal prayer.

Letting go of old habits

As a pure beginner in contemplative prayer, I have felt confused of late as to whether I should be using my imagination to conjure up images during prayer, or think of concepts. From my reading I have gathered that my imagination falls very short of what is possible just by letting go of everything human and allowing myself to be drawn into God’s presence.

Being a creative sort, and a visual learner, putting aside my imagination has been hard to say the least. I have found some wonderful consolation in prayer doing such things, and have also pondered many wonderful ideas. These things aren’t wrong, but they just scratch the surface. God is inviting me to go much deeper and to do that, I must put aside these primitive ways of praying.

Concrete suggestions

Bless St. Teresa and her innate understanding of human nature. She offers concrete ways to enter into this prayer, and I tried one this morning amidst an array of distractions.

She suggested focusing on a favorite image of Jesus and I have an icon I treasure that hangs on wall across from the rocking chair in our bedroom where I will pray and write. It’s pictured to the left.

I began to pray my rosary and focused on the picture. Now mind you, there was an unusual amount of noise and chaos going on around me – the roofers had arrived promptly at 7:30 am and were tearing our roof apart! Shingles were falling like rain!

Peace in the midst of chaos

In the middle of the rosary, one of the workman knocked on the door, needing to get into our basement to access the chimney. I calmly let him in and resumed my prayer.

My son then came in and we discussed plans for the day. I continued to remain calm and returned to prayer as if nothing happened.

This has never happened before!

Interruption to prayer always entailed frustration, aggravation, irritation. Yet this time I managed to stay in the presence of Jesus and remained calm. My peace was not disrupted.

Gazing upon the face of Jesus

The only thing I can think of that I did differently was to keep my focus on Jesus and just gaze upon Him.

My spiritual mother daily sits in her rocking chair and just contemplates the face of Jesus. I was in awe of that and envied her.

Now I have a taste of what she experiences.

Possibilities

It’s possible for me, and it’s possible for you too. Fr. Dubay reminds anyone who will listen that we are all called to deeper communion. St. Paul reminds us to “pray always.” It can be done.

And the more you taste it, the more the desire will grow.

Reading between the lines regarding detachment

Monday, June 27th, 2011

I have just begun a book that will mostly likely be my summer companion. It’s called Fire Within by Thomas Dubay, SM. It’s a thick volume with densely packed type on an intense subject: contemplative prayer, based upon the writings and lives of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Happily this book was also available as an eBook which I promptly downloaded onto my ipod. Because I can adjust the size of the type, somehow the book seems less intimidating. :-)

The need for contemplative prayer

I could not have read this book even 6 months ago. Contemplative prayer demands a surrendered life and had God not prepared me with The Prayer of Mary: Leading a Surrendered Life, I could not have handled this book. It was recommended to me by a confessor (thank you Fr. Moe!) after he listened to me talk about the fear that permeated my life. He knew I needed to surrender my life and tap into the power of contemplative prayer.

Learning to detach

I haven’t even gotten into the “guts” of the book yet but I know I’m going to have to learn how to detach. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll detach from my possessions, from money, from the desire to have my own way, ” etc., etc. But I’m finding it’s more than that. I have to detach from my family, my friends, my interests, ambitions, desires, and especially my feelings. For example, I’ve known for a while that I need to detach from my grown children. A reminder today from my daughter and her “I really want to strike out on my own and not be tied to my parents all the time” attitude told me to back off and give her the space she wants until this time passes. I remember feeling that way at her age and it does pass eventually. She’s an adult now and I must let her go.

Feelings can do you in

Then there are those feelings that come up over matters so trivial yet they can have a profound affect on my attitude. My weakness is aggravation and the Enemy knows it. I have a wicked temper and he knows just how to set it off. Until recently I used to believe it didn’t matter if I spouted off when I got angry so long as I did it privately but I learned from God that in fact this was not so (see previous post, The Value of Self Control). It builds a thick barrier between myself and the Spirit, and I find it hard to pray or to love, and it sure snuffs out joy and patience!

So what got me so mad? Ever tried vacuuming a pool? We have an above-ground pool and the vacuum consists of the head (which does the scrubbing and vacuuming), a long pole that the head is connected to, and a very long hose that is connected to the pump. When vacuuming goes smoothly, I rather enjoy it as I love doing anything with water. BUT, when it goes wrong as it did yesterday, it can be an extremely frustrating task. That vacuum thought of every way to possible to malfunction in the form of detaching the hose from the pump, or the head from the pole, or the hose from the head. It must have happened in one shape or form about a dozen times and I was beside myself with aggravation by the time the job was done. Needless to say, my self control went right out the window!

The anger grows . . .

Anger like that lasts and builds on itself. Later on in the day while preparing dinner for my son and his new girlfriend, the microwave kept tripping the circuit breaker. Somehow I got the potatoes to cook but not without a lot of aggravation.

Prayer to the rescue!

When this cycle continued into this morning I knew I was under attack from the Enemy. This is actually the first time that I’ve ever recognized an extended period of aggravation as an attack and I applied the one foolproof defense against it: prayer. I prayed the rosary this morning to try and prepare my heart to hear the scriptures, and then listened to the readings of the day. The first reading from Genesis, chapter 18, verses 16-33 recounted Abraham’s petitioning to the Lord to not exact punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah if there were just a handful of innocent people. The psalm’s response, “The Lord is kind and merciful,” summed it up perfectly. And in reflecting on that thought of being kind and merciful, how could I possibly be either with all this anger inside, especially over such stupid stuff?

I entered into a quiet space with the Lord and relayed my desire to let go of this anger and knock down the barrier it created. I found myself sitting next to Jesus on a dock, and my ankle had a chain around it. The chain was connected to a large barge. With Jesus’ help, I unlocked the chain and we both pushed the barge away with our feet and watched it slowly sail down the river and out of sight. Just as slowly my peace returned and I felt the anger dissipate. And I am happy to report, the attack has ended.

I can see that I have much to learn about detachment!  As in all things in the Christian life, there is so much more in between the lines.

A prayer of surrender

Here’s a wonderful prayer of surrender courtesy of The Catholic Spiritual Direction blog:

Loving Father,

I surrender to you today with all my heart and soul. Please come into my heart in a deeper way. I say, “Yes” to you today. I open all the secret places of my heart to you and say, “Come on in.” Jesus, you are the Lord of my whole life. I believe in you and receive you as my Lord and Savior. I hold nothing back.

Holy Spirit, bring me to a deeper conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. I surrender all to you: my time, my treasures, my talents, my health, my family, my resources, my work, relationships, time management, successes and failures. I release it and let it go.

I surrender my understanding of how things ‘ought’ to be, my choices and my will. I surrender to you the promises I have kept and the promises I have failed to keep. I surrender my weaknesses and strengths to you. I surrender my emotions, my fears, my insecurities, my sexuality. I especially surrender ______ (Here mention other areas of surrender as the Holy Spirit reveals them to you.)

Lord, I surrender my whole life to you, the past, the present, and the future. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, I belong to you. (Remain the Lord in a spirit of silence through your thoughts, a heart song, or simply staying in His presence and listening for His voice.)

I encourage you to read more on this wonderful site – the  Catholic Spiritual Direction Blog.

Here’s one way to learn how to see Christ in others

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

I’ve been pondering a lot lately about how Mother Teresa could so readily find Jesus inside of every person she met. I read in a wonderful book by Fr. Alexander Schmemann (Great Lent: Journey to Pascha) about how she may have done it (and he wasn’t even writing directly about her):

“Christian love is the ‘possible impossibility’ to see Christ in another man, whoever he is, and whom God, in His eternal and mysterious plan, has decided to introduce into my life, be it only for a few moments, not as an occasion for a ‘good deed’ or an exercise in philanthropy but as the beginning of an eternal companionship in God Himself. For indeed, what is love if not that mysterious power which transcends the accidental and the external in the ‘other’ – his physical appearance, social rank, ethnic origin, intellectual capacity – and reaches the soul, the unique and uniquely personal ‘root’ of a human being, truly the part of God in him?”
(Chapter 1 Preparation for Lent pg. 25, Great Lent: Journey to Pascha)

And when we can look into another person’s soul, what do we find? St. Theresa of Avila says:

“…the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says he finds his delight. So then, what do you think that abode will be like where a King so powerful, so wise, so pure, so full of all good things takes his delight? I don’t find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvelous capacity. Indeed, our intellects, however keen, can hardly comprehend it, just as they cannot comprehend God; but he himself says that he created us in his own image and likeness… His Majesty in saying that the soul is made in his own image makes it almost impossible for us to understand the sublime dignity and beauty of the soul.” (from the Catholic Spiritual Direction blog)

I knew I needed something, a God-inspired technique, to help me see into the souls of others, and the Lord inspired me with this during prayer one day:

Greet Jesus in everyone you meet.

I knew that the Lord meant that I should look into the face of anyone I meet on the street, smile, and say “Good morning,” Good afternoon,” or just “Hi.” I would greet each person as if I were greeting Jesus in person. Didn’t St. Thérèse of Lisieux always talk about the power of a simple smile?

Sounds easy, right? Not! I’m shy and have always avoided direct eye contact with others, thus avoiding intimacy. I tend to look down at the sidewalk when I encounter strangers while walking to work. In obedience though, I am trying to do what the Lord has asked and it’s incredibly hard to do! BUT, each time I do it, it reminds me that Jesus is in that person and I am greeting Jesus. And the more I emulate Mother Teresa, seeing Jesus in others, the more I will truly love as Christ loves, and I will do what He would want me to do.

Hey, maybe I’ll even get over my shyness! What a miracle that would be. :-)