St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila was asked to write about prayer, and so she came up with an image of a garden.  Watering is a particularly pertinent chore this time of year, and one I particularly hated as a child, so perhaps the great mystic's words can be of help.


Teresa said there are four stage of prayer, just as there are four ways to water a garden.  The first method is to bring water in a bucket from a well.  This is "active" prayer.  It might consist literally of activities, like service or outward works of piety. 


In the second stage, water is taken from an aqueduct or a water wheel, flowing down from a mountain.  This is indicative of a person who has begun to truly pray in the heart and is experiencing consolation from God.  We do not produce joy and comfort; God does. 


A stream waters nearby plants in the third method.  This is symbolic of the soul who is absorbed in God and God's will is active and operative in that person.  The stream waters the garden with no effort.  The person so abandoned to God is tool in God's hands.  Father Wilfrid Stinissen, a Carmelite monk (the same religious order as Teresa) from Belgium, writes: "Now it is no longer I who do God's will, but God who accomplishes his will through me."


The fourth image is that of a gentle rain which waters the plants.  This is a state of complete union with God, where a person, sometimes called a mystic, is completely passive as God showers his grace upon the individual, like a rainfall.  This is the most nourishing way, and ultimately what we will experience in heaven when we are united to God in an effusion of love. 

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