Teresa was born on March 28, 1515, in Avila, Spain -- a scant twenty-three years after the Moors were expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella. She is said to have been a stunning beauty with black hair and a voluptuous body. Her beauty, with her intelligence and sense of humor, captured the heart of everyone who knew her... yet her life was to unfold, not in marriage, but in a life dedicated to intense interior contemplative prayer -- while at the same time actively engaged in forming and reforming intentional religious communities.
This briefest of possible introductions, truthfully, does no justice to Teresa's life and faith: but the point of it is not to re-construct an era, a place, nor a religion. Rather, it is to invite the serious student of "Mystery" and worker in the "field of Compassion", to engage ever more deeply with the One Love, who is at the same time: Source, Sustainer, and Liberator. This was Teresa's example: this is our opportunity! [The best book to study about Teresa's life and teachings is "Teresa of Avila, Mystical Writings, by Tessa Bielecki.]
Meanwhile, astronomers have discovered a structure in the universe so large that modern cosmological theory says it should not exist: a record-breaking cluster of quasars -- young active galaxies -- stretching a mind-boggling 4 billion light years across! By way of comparison, our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is "just" a hundred thousand light-years across... (not that any of us are planning either of those vacation trips right now...).
Why is a cosmological surprise mixed in with ruminations on spiritual mystery? Well, this being now the 21st century, to be "interested" in one requires interest in both! The writings of the mystics -- whether Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, Goddess, Ancient Indigenous, etc. -- are as "windows" for a deeper look (usually intuitive) into the nature of Reality, into the truth of our being, and into the Only One (the Unitive Reality). Likewise, the work of scientists, particularly the work of astronomers and quantum physicists, are "unlocking doors of new perception" for the modern mystic to venture through. This meeting of "sage and scientist" holds out the hope that humanity might be able to survive the chaos of predatory cultures, religions, economics, and politics: only an evolution in consciousness is capable of transforming chaos into community, violence into justice, hate into harmlessness, poverty into abundance, and division into unity.
So, back once more to Teresa. Why read her writings now? Why look to her example in this century -- one so very different from hers? The answer lies in the "grit" of transformation: while grace is always a free gift, pearls are seldom tossed upon the walkway to be trampled upon. Teresa fought hard for every free gift of grace that she received! Our philosophical tendancy in this day and age is to either "say our prayers" or "state our intentions" and then wait to be "delivered"... it isn't to surrender our minds to constant Remembrance... it isn't to surrender our hearts to the alternating "whims" of the Holy One: now abandonment... now ravishing... now the dark night... now the ecstasy... And it is definitely not to surrender our wills to the Consciousness of One Love: without limits... Yet, this is precisely the example of Teresa!
Take a listen:
"The soul is like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or a very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms..."
"The things of the soul must always be considered as plentiful, spacious, large; to do so is not an exaggeration..."
"The soul is capable of much more than we can imagine..."
"Have great confidence, for it is necessary not to hold back one's desires, but to believe in God that if we try we shall little by little, even though it may not be soon, reach the state the saints did with His help..."
"If we practice love of neighbor with great perfection, we will have done everything."
"The Lord doesn't look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done."
"The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love."
"Oh Love! How I would want to say this word everywhere!"
"Perfection as well as its reward does not consist in spiritual delights but in greater love and in deeds done with greater justice and truth."
Teresa for the Mystic-Activist, is an example of love in action, of perseverance in the face of great obstacles, and of a living spirit of constant adoration... Even while washing dishes, it was in the adoration of constant "remembrance": "Lord of All Pots and Pans", was a working refrain for Teresa... we would do well to follow her example in the "everyday" of building a world worthy of our children.
Robert Daniel Smith was privileged to serve the homeless and marginalized for 30 years in Salinas, California. Together with his wife, Michelle, they founded an intentional community called the 'Companions of the Way', also in Salinas. Robert and Michelle are community organizers, Catholic Worker renegades, sacred activists, writers, poets, artists, Divine Mother devotees, and practitioners of Kriya Yoga as taught by Rev. Ellen Grace O'Brian of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment. Michelle is also a Montessori public school teacher. Robert is also an ordained Interfaith Minister.