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 Studying the Prayer of the heart in saint Theresa of Avila

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Jean
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PostSubject: Studying the Prayer of the heart in saint Theresa of Avila   Thu Mar 26, 2009 12:27 pm

Studying the Prayer of the heart in saint Theresa of Avila
_____


The choice that many of you did for the Essay to study saint Theresa of Avila is an excellent one and I do support it one hundred percent.

My advice for the Essay would be to focus on her explanation of the Method itself (the practical side of it). We find the "method" mainly in the chapters 26 and 28 to 31 of the "Way of Perfection". If you can focus on these chapters, especially 28 to 31, by analysing her explanation of the "Prayer of recollection" (chapters 28 and 29) and her explanation of the "Prayer of quiet" (chapters 30 and 31), finding the main points, putting them in a certain order, summarising these 4 chapters that would be great.

"Prayer of recollection": Chapters 28 and 29: Equivalent to the movement in the water, by the "general help" (Life 14,16) of the Grace of God. We can do it and we have to do it.
"Prayer of quiet": Chapters 30 and 31: Equivalent to the movement in the air/space, by the "specific help" (Life 14,16) of the Holy Spirit. God gives it when he finds the humility of Mary in us.

By doing this simple, but yet deep and useful exercise you will certainly benefit a lot from this first hand contact with saint Theresa.
Again: the focus should not be a general knowledge on Prayer or Spiritual life, but a clear understanding of the method of the Prayer of the heart: how practically to do it according to her. Sticking closely to the text (by quoting it), sticking to this great author, and trying to learn directly from her.


Some Theological aspects involved in the Prayer of the heart:

When saint Theresa of Avila begins for the first time ever in her writings to explain the specific and supernatural action of God when He comes and takes us (for us: the movement in the air/space), in the book of her Autobiography, she mentions the "general help" of the grace of God and the "particular help" of the Holy Spirit. And after mentioning it she says two important things: on one hand she says "there are many who do not know this" and on the other hand she says that the Theologians know that.

"It seems beside the point to say this, as we know that God always understands us and is always with us. There is no possible doubt that this is so; but this Emperor and Lord of ours desires us now to realize that He understands us, and what is accomplished by His presence, and that He is about to begin a special work in the soul through the great satisfaction, both inward and outward, that He gives it, and through the difference which there is, as I have said, between this particular delight and contentment and others which we experience on earth, for He seems to be filling the void in our souls that we have caused by our sins. This satisfaction resides in the most intimate part of the soul, and the soul cannot tell whence or how it has come to it; often it knows neither what to do, nor to wish, nor to ask. It seems to find everything at once, yet not to know what it has found: I do not myself know how to explain this. For many purposes it is necessary to be learned; and it would be very useful to have some learning here, in order to explain what is meant by general or particular help (for there are many who do not know this) and how it is now the Lord's will that the soul should see this particular help (as they say) with its own eyes; and learning would also serve to explain many other things about which mistakes may be made. However, as what I write is to be seen by persons who will know if I am wrong, I am going on without worrying about it. I know I have no need to worry from the point of view either of learning or of spirituality, as this is going into the possession of those [the theologians] who will be able to judge it and will cut out anything which may be amiss." (Autobiography 14,16)

In her book the "Way of perfection", while commenting the "Our Father", she will do a very important theological step by explaining a common word in the New Testament: "the Kingdom of God". This expression is rather specific to the newness of the New Testament, to what Jesus is bringing to us and that we don't find before (in the Old Testament) or in another religion. She will say that the supernatural action of God in the prayer of quiet (which is the particular and specific intervention of the Holy Spirit in our life, typical of the New Testament), is the Kingdom of God:
"Now, daughters, I still want to describe this Prayer of Quiet to you, in the way I have heard it talked about, and as the Lord has been pleased to teach it to me, perhaps in order that I might describe it to you. It is in this kind of prayer, as I have said, that the Lord seems to me to begin to show us that He is hearing our petition: He begins to give us His Kingdom on earth so that we may truly praise Him and hallow His name and strive to make others do so likewise.
This is a supernatural state, and, however hard we try, we cannot reach it for ourselves; for it is a state in which the soul enters into peace, or rather in which the Lord gives it peace through His presence, as He did to that just man Simeon." (Way of perfection 31,1)
"Seeing" the Kingdom, "entering" in it and all the other expressions and descriptions the Lord does of the "Kingdom" in the New Testament acquire a practical depths, experimental dimension, and a theological reading as well.

In her book, "The interior Castle", when she starts to describe the specific help of the grace of God, starting from the fourth Mansions, she will use the expression: "the supernatural".

"Before I begin to speak of the fourth Mansions, it is most necessary that I should do what I have already done -- namely, commend myself to the Holy Spirit, and beg Him from this point onward to speak for me, so that you may understand what I shall say about the Mansions still to be treated. For we now begin to touch the supernatural and this is most difficult to explain unless His Majesty takes it in hand, as He did when I described as much as I understood of the subject, about fourteen years ago. Although I think I have now a little more light upon these favours which the Lord grants to some souls, it is a different thing to know how to explain them. May His Majesty undertake this if there is any advantage to be gained from its being done, but not otherwise." (Interior Castle, Fourth Mansions, chapter 1, par. 1)

The existence of the supernatural action of God doesn't mean that God doesn't give his grace before, it means that He gives a different type of grace. The "general help" of the Grace of God is not the specific Gift of the Holy Spirit and His action in the New Testament. The general help of the grace of God, that we find in the three first Mansions in the Interior Castle is a grace that is given to everybody, and always. Therefore it is up to us to use it or not (see: Way 28 and 29). But this first type of Grace is not yet the Gift of the Holy Spirit. The Economy of the grace of God before the coming of the Kingdom of God by and in Jesus is different! This is why Jesus, while announcing his message was saying: "behold, the Kingdom of God is now near" (see: Matthew 3,2; 4,17; 10,7; Mark 1,15; Luke 10,9.11; 21,31)! It means that the way God is behaving with humanity, the way He gives Himself is now different, new! This is the specificity and uniqueness of the Action of God through the risen Lord.

Making a sharp and clear distinction between the "general help" and the "specific and special help" of the Grace of God is essential to understand the movement in the water (we can and we have to do it, it should become a habit) and the movement in the air/space (he does it when he finds the humility of Mary).
Without understanding this essential distinction (general and specific help) the life of prayer, and more specifically the prayer of the heart, won't be fruitful and efficient. This distinction underlines the existence of 2 things:

1- Prayer is a living relationship with a living Person: the Risen Lord
2- In order to have a relationship, a love relationship, two freedoms will be involved. Each freedom has it's own territory. God respects our freedom, therefore he constantly gives us the capacity to "move in the water" of our own feelings and will. Christian Spiritual life and Christina prayer are an entrance in God's intimacy, entrance in his House: the Holy Trinity, by dwelling in the Son, facing the Father (in pericoresis), in the Spirit. In order to enter in God's intimacy, in God's "territory" (kingdom) we need to respect God's freedom, God's Action, and God's Wisdom. Therefore in order to enter in His intimacy he needs to be totally "in control" of what is happening. This is why, moving in the air/space, and more specially entering in the Sun (the Oven of love of God: Jesus) we need to acknowledge the fact that He is the one in charge. Moving in God's "territory"/domain requires the respect of His being, his love, the Gift of himself! It requires as well for us a long learning curve of learning what is to receive freely and give freely, and not to "posses the Gift of God". This is one of the characteristics of God's domain.

Not knowing the distinction between the two types of action of God, may lead us to have a spiritual life "in the water", and never experiencing being in the air/space, never experiencing the direct and personal action of the Holy Spirit, when He introduces us in Jesus, the Oven of Love. This makes us lead a non fervent spiritual life, with no direct and personal knowledge and love of God. We miss the core of Christianity: meeting the Risen Lord everyday.

Thank you for your attention

Sincerely

Jean


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PostSubject: Re: Studying the Prayer of the heart in saint Theresa of Avila   Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:16 pm

Way of Perfection chapter 16


Describes the difference between perfection in the lives of contemplatives and in the lives of those who are content with mental prayer. Explains how it is sometimes possible for God to raise a distracted soul to perfect contemplation and the reason for this. This chapter and that which comes next are to be noted carefully.
The first four paragraphs of this chapter originally formed part of V., but, after writing them, St. Teresa tore them out of the manuscript, as though, on consideration, she had decided not to leave on record her knowledge of such a worldly game as chess. The allegory, however, is so expressive and beautiful that it has rightly become famous, and from the time of Fray Luis de Leon all the editions have included it. The text here followed is that of E.


1. I hope you do not think I have written too much about this already; for I have only been placing the board, as they say. You have asked me to tell you about the first steps in prayer; although God did not lead me by them, my daughters I know no others, and even now I can hardly have acquired these elementary virtues. But you may be sure that anyone who cannot set out the pieces in a game of chess will never be able to play well, and, if he does not know how to give check, he will not be able to bring about a checkmate. Now you will reprove me for talking about games, as we do not play them in this house and are forbidden to do so. That will show you what kind of a mother God has given you -- she even knows about vanities like this! However, they say that the game is sometimes legitimate. How legitimate it will be for us to play it in this way, and, if we play it frequently, how quickly we shall give checkmate to this Divine King! He will not be able to move out of our check nor will He desire to do so.
2. It is the queen which gives the king most trouble in this game and all the other pieces support her. There is no queen who can beat this King as well as humility can; for humility brought Him down from Heaven into the Virgin's womb and with humility we can draw Him into our souls by a single hair. Be sure that He will give most humility to him who has most already and least to him who has least. I cannot understand how humility exists, or can exist, without love, or love without humility, and it is impossible for these two virtues to exist save where there is great detachment from all created things.
3. You will ask, my daughters, why I am talking to you about virtues when you have more than enough books to teach you about them and when you want me to tell you only about contemplation. My reply is that, if you had asked me about meditation, I could have talked to you about it, and advised you all to practise it, even if you do not possess the virtues. For this is the first step to be taken towards the acquisition of the virtues and the very life of all Christians depends upon their beginning it. No one, however lost a soul he may be, should neglect so great a blessing if God inspires him to make use of it. All this I have already written elsewhere, and so have many others who know what they are writing about, which I certainly do not: God knows that.
But contemplation, daughters, is another matter. This is an error which we all make: if a person gets so far as to spend a short time each day in thinking about his sins, as he is bound to do if he is a Christian in anything more than name, people at once call him a great contemplative; and then they expect him to have the rare virtues which a great contemplative is bound to possess; he may even think he has them himself, but he will be quite wrong. In his early stages he did not even know how to set out the chess-board, and thought that, in order to give checkmate, it would be enough to be able to recognize the pieces. But that is impossible, for this King does not allow Himself to be taken except by one who surrenders wholly to Him." (Way of Perfection Ms Escorial 24,1-4)


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PostSubject: Re: Studying the Prayer of the heart in saint Theresa of Avila   Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:25 pm

Saint Theresa: relationship between Communion and Prayer of the heart:

Way of perfection: Chapter 34

Continues the same subject. This is very suitable for reading after the reception of the Most Holy Sacrament.

10. Oh, we know not what we ask! How much better does His Wisdom know what we need! He reveals Himself to those who He knows will profit by His presence; though unseen by bodily eyes, He has many ways of revealing Himself to the soul through deep inward emotions and by various other means. Delight to remain with Him; do not lose such an excellent time for talking with Him as the hour after Communion. Remember that this is a very profitable hour for the soul; if you spend it in the company of the good Jesus, you are doing Him a great service. Be very careful, then, daughters, not to lose it. If you are compelled by obedience to do something else, try to leave your soul with the Lord. For He is your Master, and, though it be in a way you may not understand, He will not fail to teach you. But if you take your thoughts elsewhere, and pay no more attention to Him than if you had not received Him, and care nothing for His being within you, how can He make Himself known to you? You must complain, not of Him, but of yourself. This, then, is a good time for our Master to teach us and for us to listen to Him. I do not tell you to say no prayers at all, for if I did you would take hold of my words and say I was talking about contemplation, which you need practise only if the Lord brings you to it. No: you should say the Paternoster, realize that you are verily and indeed in the company of Him Who taught it you and kiss His feet in gratitude to Him for having desired to teach you and beg Him to show you how to pray and never to leave you.
11. You may be in the habit of praying while looking at a picture of Christ, but at a time like this it seems foolish to me to turn away from the living image -- the Person Himself -- to look at His picture. Would it not be foolish if we had a portrait of someone whom we dearly loved and, when the person himself came to see us, we refused to talk with him and carried on our entire conversation with the portrait? Do you know when I find the use of a picture an excellent thing, and take great pleasure in it? When the person is absent and we are made to feel his loss by our great aridity, it is then that we find it a great comfort to look at the picture of Him Whom we have such reason to love. This is a great inspiration, and makes us wish that, in whichever direction we turn our eyes, we could see the picture. What can we look upon that is better or more attractive to the sight than upon Him Who so dearly loves us and contains within Himself all good things? Unhappy are those heretics, who through their own fault have lost this comfort, as well as others.
12. When you have received the Lord, and are in His very presence, try to shut the bodily eyes and to open the eyes of the soul and to look into your own hearts. I tell you, and tell you again, for I should like to repeat it often, that if you practise this habit of staying with Him, not just once or twice, but whenever you communicate, and strive to keep your conscience clear so that you can often rejoice in this your Good, He will not, as I have said, come so much disguised as to be unable to make His presence known to you in many ways, according to the desire which you have of seeing Him. So great, indeed, may be your longing for Him that He will reveal Himself to you wholly.
13. But if we pay no heed to Him save when we have received Him, and go away from Him in search of other and baser things, what can He do? Will He have to drag us by force to look at Him and be with Him because He desires to reveal Himself to us? No; for when He revealed Himself to all men plainly, and told them clearly who He was, they did not treat Him at all well -- very few of them, indeed, even believed Him. So He grants us an exceeding great favour when He is pleased to show us that it is He Who is in the Most Holy Sacrament. But He will not reveal Himself openly and communicate His glories and bestow His treasures save on those who He knows greatly desire Him, for these are His true friends. I assure you that anyone who is not a true friend and does not come to receive Him as such, after doing all in his power to prepare for Him, must never importune Him to reveal Himself to him. Hardly is the hour over which such a person has spent in fulfilling the Church's commandment than he goes home and tries to drive Christ out of the house. What with all his other business and occupations and worldly hindrances, he seems to be making all possible haste to prevent the Lord from taking possession of the house which is His own.

CHAPTER 35

Describes the recollection which should be practised after Communion. Concludes this subject with an exclamatory prayer to the Eternal Father.

1. I have written at length about this, although, when writing of the Prayer of Recollection, I spoke of the great importance of our entering into solitude with God. When you hear Mass without communicating, daughters, you may communicate spiritually, which is extremely profitable, and afterwards you may practise inward recollection in exactly the same way, for this impresses upon us a deep love of the Lord. If we prepare to receive Him, He never fails to give, and He gives in many ways that we cannot understand. It is as if we were to approach a fire: it might be a very large one, but, if we remained a long way from it and covered our hands, we should get little warmth from it, although we should be warmer than if we were in a place where there was no fire at all. But when we try to approach the Lord there is this difference: if the soul is properly disposed, and comes with the intention of driving out the cold, and stays for some time where it is, it will retain its warmth for several hours, and if any little spark flies out, it will set it on fire.
2. It is of such importance, daughters, for us to prepare ourselves in thy way that you must not be surprised if I often repeat this counsel. If at first you do not get on with this practice (which may happen, for the devil will try to oppress and distress your heart, knowing what great harm he can do in this way), the devil will make you think that you can find more devotion in other things and less in this. But [trust me and] do not give up this method, for the Lord will use it to prove your love for Him. Remember that there are few souls who stay with Him and follow Him in His trials; let us endure something for Him and His Majesty will repay us. Remember, too, that there are actually people who not only have no wish to be with Him but who insult Him and with great irreverence drive Him away from their homes. We must endure something, therefore, to show Him that we have the desire to see Him. In many places He is neglected and ill-treated, but He suffers everything, and will continue to do so, if He finds but one single soul which will receive Him and love to have Him as its Guest. [124] Let this soul be yours, then, for, if there were none, the Eternal Father would rightly refuse to allow Him to remain with us. Yet the Lord is so good a Friend to those who are His friends, and so good a Master to those who are His servants, that, when He knows it to be the will of His Beloved Son, He will not hinder Him in so excellent a work, in which His Son so fully reveals the love which He has for His Father, as this wonderful way which He seeks of showing how much He loves us and of helping us to bear our trials."
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PostSubject: Re: Studying the Prayer of the heart in saint Theresa of Avila   Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:14 pm

Few advices while reading saint Theresa of Avila:

Remember, the first goal of this "exercise" is to put you in a direct contact with an important Author (saint Theresa) and just to let your read, and re-read her in order to "enter" in her world, her words, and learn from her. Reading, praying, reading with the Presence of the Master (the Holy Spirit who explains, underlines etc..) listening to her, re-reading, accepting to change our first "perception" of what she says into a more objective understanding, these are some of the elements of this exercise.
The more you stick to what she says, the better it is for you, the more you learn. One of the most difficult exercises in mysticism (Mysticism: description of the action of the grace of God in us) is to have a bit of objectivity, and not to project our thoughts or understandings on the text! Quite hard to search for this "objectivity", to stop our mind or feelings from jumping on the first meaning that comes to us.
It involves as well the search for "re-cognition", how to re-cognise the experience we read, in us (or not yet in us). So prudence is essential, discernment...
I am aware of the difficulty, but I will first of all value the honest effort, the method, but not necessarily the result of that effort. If the result is fine it is ok. But what I will try to evaluate is the capacity of "listening" to the text and what the text says, not us!
I am aware that it requires years of experience, therefore I know that I am in front of an early experience! And trust me, reading what is written (and not what we think it is written) is one of the hardest exercises... Just READING...
So, have a lot of fun, but try to listen...

Continue, and don't hesitate to re-read again... even 3 times the whole 4 chapters... nothing bad in that, on the contrary. Read, and, study as well.. trying to see the meaning of this or that expression in her language! Each author has his own language. So you can stop at a word, and try to find it in her writings, trying to see it's meaning or meanings...

Jean
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