Why Leadings?

Not to lead, but to be led            -- by the Holy Spirit.

See Leader, Servant, or Slave? in the section below, "Walking the Walk".

Jack in Denali National Park, 2012.

God's Wrath

Why was Sodom destroyed? Ezekiel tells us in chapter 16, verse 49: "This was the sin of your sister, Sodom: Pride, full-ness of bread, and abundance of idleness. Neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy."

That's also why Jerusalem was destroyed.

And now, with greed as our national virtue, what hope is there for the United States of America? We are afflicted by imperialistic pride, obesity, and entertainment addiction, and we are all called to do our part to "strengthen the hand of the poor and needy".

"Strengthen the hand" is the King James wording. Modern translations say "help the poor and needy." And there's a world of difference between the two. Helping the poor = as little as throwing some cash in the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas time. That's charity. It's doing for, not doing with.

My Grandmother was right about charity. On a below-zero day, she went out on the back porch with a skillet to throw hot grease on the back-yard snow. She shivered as she re-entered the kitchen and said, "Wooooh, colder than charity."

Strengthening the hand is much different. We get personally involved with another person who needs help, and we work with her or him to get the needed help. That's risky. You're vulnerable. It takes prayer, time and patience. You need knowledge and wisdom from the LORD. There are great rewards, however. You get a brother or sister.

Strengthening the hand is great work for our churches -- which we ignore far more often than we perform. Why? Because we're afflicted with the Ameri-can curse of individualism. Christians are to be a tribe -- a tribe that takes care of each other. In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls us "the Israel of God" -- the new 13th tribe.

Jesus said, "The poor you shall always have with you." He didn't mean that as a curse -- the notion that the poor are an inevi-table nuisance and expense, to be hidden in the slums. Rather, He was saying, "You shall always be among the poor."

When you strengthen hands, you fulfill Deuteronomy 15:4-5: "However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the LORD your God . . ." It's a glorious responsibility and promise.

And how do prosperous Americans fulfill that promise? Generally, by making sure they have no contact with people who are poor -- and we have been that way from our beginnings in the 17th century. Early villages in Massachusetts solved the problem by out-lawing poor people. Today, we deal with the same problem by confining the poor in urban reservations, our slums.

As the Supreme Court Bailiff says at the beginning of each session, "God save the United States of America..." 

Wednesday
Dec032014

PART 2, FOUR WAYS TO WATER THE GARDEN OF YOUR SOUL

By Teresa of Ávila

PART  TWO

6. The Stream of Holy Madness: Let’s now speak of the third water that nourishes the garden of the soul—a spring, a stream, an irrigation ditch. This waters the garden with much less labor, but it still requires some effort to channel the flow. But, the LORD is so eager to help you at this stage that He almost becomes the gardener. He does almost everything.

In this stage of prayer, the soul experiences consolation, goodness and delight, which are incomparably more intense than in the prayer of quiet. The faculties are lulled to sleep. They do not cease to function, but they do not understand how they are functioning. The only power the will, mind, memory retain is the ability to surrender themselves totally to God. All the soul wants is to rejoice in this great glory.

This state of prayer is nothing other than a death. It is a dying into God, a near total dying to all earthly things. And it is a joyous passing.

I don’t know how to explain this. Words fail. The soul herself doesn’t know what to do. It is a glorious bewilderment, a heavenly madness. In this blessed foolishness lies all wisdom. And the soul takes great delight in her unlearning. The soul utters a stream of praises here without pausing to compose them. She babbles a thousand words of holy madness. The soul cannot contain herself. Her flowers are already blooming.

[Comment: Is she describing the experience of speaking in tongues?]

I am no poet, but in this divine delirium, I composed spontaneous stanzas that expressed my anguish with passionate accuracy. I simply complained directly to my God about my blessed distress. I wanted my whole being to shatter into pieces to show the joy I felt in such pain.

I clearly see that when martyrs suffer persecution, they do not do this on their own – a greater power gives them strength to endure all things. But, what greater pain the soul bears when she steps back into the ordinary world with its petty concerns and formalities.

Even as I write this, I am not free from holy, heavenly madness. It is a gift of Your divine mercy. Please, my King, either let everyone I speak to go crazy for love of You, or else forbid me from speaking.

All my soul wants is to be free. Sleeping tortures her. Eating poisons her. She watches herself wasting precious hours of this life on comforts. But nothing comforts her anymore except You. O, my true LORD and Glory, the cross You prepared for me is unbearably heavy and exceedingly light. It is light because it is so sweet. And it is so heavy that sometimes I cannot carry it another step. Yet, I only want to be free of it when I can go straight to You.

What slaves wouldn’t risk everything to escape and return home? This is the true path. If you risk everything for God, you will find that you lose all and gain all.

7. The Fragrance of Virtue: In the Prayer of Holy Madness, the soul’s joy is so intense that she expects to be completely ejected from her body—and what a glorious death that would be. She has given the whole of her being to her Beloved. She has entirely relinquished self-interest.

The will stands alone in a place of deep quiet. Yet, while you are praying in Holy Madness, the intellect and memory can take care of business and do acts of generosity. So, the soul can lead contemplative and active lives at the same time. You can efficiently conduct business, tend to people in need, or read a good book, but you will not be fully in charge of yourself.

The soul finds the pleasures of the world entirely unsatisfying now. All she seeks is an ever-intensifying connection with God. He alone satisfies her desires.

When these experiences happen to you, you will be happy to find them all written down here so you can recognize what they are. It’s one blessing to receive the grace of God; it’s another to understand what kind of grace you are receiving. And it’s a third to be able to explain it.

In the prayer of holy madness, the intellect and memory remain free. It is astonishing to witness the havoc they wreak when they are left alone. They want to turn everything into chaos. Sometimes I detest the memory. It exhausts me. I ask my God, “When will my soul be entirely whole in praise of You, rather than fragmented and useless?”

We become caught up by our attachments and cannot focus exclusively on God. This happens to me frequently. In fact, it just happened to me today. Memory and imagination never rest. They wage war on the soul, and she cannot defend herself. But, they can’t do the soul real harm. They flit like nocturnal moths – annoying, but harmless.

I have worn myself out looking for a remedy. The closest thing I have found is to pay no more attention to the memory than you would to a crazy person. Only God can stop it. Meanwhile, patiently endure it, as Jacob did with Leah. Then, God will bless us by letting us enjoy Rachael.

This third spiritual water bubbles up from an internal spring and bathes the soul in peaceful glory. Her joy is so great that the body also shares in the soul’s delightful interlude. All the virtues flower at the taste of such grace.

8. The Prayer of Union: May the LORD give me the right words to explain the fourth spiritual water. In the previous three states of prayer, the soul dies to worldly things, but she still has her senses. But in this new fourth state, the senses are transcended.

The soul’s joy is incomparably greater, but both soul and body are drained of the power to communicate. Any distraction is a torment.

The fourth heavenly water is so abundant that when it falls, it saturates the whole garden. In beginning the spiritual path, the heavenly rain almost always falls after a long period of con-templative prayer. The praying soul is like a small bird flying around for a long time, and God wants to reward her. The soul seeking God finds herself slipping into a kind of swoon. With a rush of gentle joy, she feels everything begin to fade away. The breath and bodily powers dwindle. It takes tremendous effort just to wiggle the fingers. The eyes close. She can hear, but does not understand. She cannot speak. As the power of the body decreases, the strength of the soul increases. She experiences a vast delight.

No matter how long it lasts, the prayer of union causes no harm. If I have been ill before, I feel much better afterward. The time the soul remains in this state is actually very short. I don’t think my faculties have ever been suspended for as long as half an hour.

Some people end up spending many hours in prayer this way. Once the faculties have tasted this wine and become intoxicated, they willingly lose themselves all over again. All I can say is that the soul sees herself as one with God, and the soul is incapable of doubting the truth of her union with Him.

How am I going to describe what the soul goes through? The LORD spoke to me, “The soul utterly dissolves, my daughter, so it can fully unite with me. It is no longer the soul that lives, but I.”

The walls of Avila are the most preserved Medieval walls in Europe.I don’t know how to explain this prayer of union. I don’t have the vocabulary. My intellect stops dead in its tracks when it ponders how You bestow such blessings on my soul which offends You so much. I cannot find the words to thank You for such favors, so I sometimes take comfort in uttering nonsense.

“LORD, look what You are doing! Have You forgotten my wickedness? Obviously, You have forgotten. How else could You forgive me? I beg You to place limits on Your mercies. Please don’t pour such precious liquid into such a broken cup. I tend to spill it. You squander such a treasure when You put it here where my craving for worldly pleasures is not yet dead.

“How could you hand over the keys to this fortified city to such a cowardly defender? The minute the enemy attacks, she flings open the gates and lets him in. She is incapable of making use of the treasure for anyone else. Please grant these blessings to someone else who will make better use of them.”

I said things like this to God. How foolish I was. What a lack of humility! The LORD knew perfectly well what is right for me. Remember: This heavenly rain, this great blessing, always leaves immense blessings in the soul.

9. Divine Rain: The prayer of union leaves the soul in a state of great tenderness. She longs to be consumed and is overcome by the urge to weep—not in sorrow, but in joy. I suddenly find myself bathed in tears without knowing how I shed them. But these same tears that quench the fire also make it burn more intensely. This may sound like nonsense, but it happens.

Afterward, the life of my soul and God’s great glory are revealed with perfect clarity. The mind doesn’t have to scavenge for this truth. There it is – fully cooked. My soul only needs to eat and understand. My soul realizes that she needs to be disciplined, but she is being punished with glory. So, my soul dissolves in praise of God.

Blessed be You, O my Beloved! You have taken this mud and transfigured me into clear water for Your own table. May You be praised.

The soul continues to progress. She sees that the fruits are not her own, and she distributes them. The more she gives away, the less she needs. She wants to share God’s gifts with others. Why should she be the only wealthy one?

Few souls reach this state without suffering misunderstandings, criticisms and illnesses. These trials cultivate the soil of the soul. Surrendering self-interest softens the earth and lets the water penetrate it. Yet, if the soil is still hard and choked with thorns – as mine used to be – it will dry up. If you are not grateful for your gifts and if you still miss the mark by rebelling, your garden will wither. So, the LORD in his mercy decides to stop the rain for a while, and you may think your garden is ruined.

This happened to me. I write this to console weak souls, like myself, so you will not despair and stop trusting God’s greatness. So, if you fall after being raised up so high, don’t be discouraged. Tears gain all things. One water draws down the other. Stay the course, and prayer will carry you into the harbor of light.

This dryness is exactly how the spirit of evil attacked me. I thought I was unworthy to pray. I lacked the humility. So, for a year and a half, I didn’t pray at all. Well, for at least a year, anyway. My life was an utter mess. My only success was plunging myself into hell. I didn’t need devils to drag me there. In public, I was pretending to be Your friend, while treating You like an enemy in private. I recited the assigned vocal prayers, but I didn’t even do that well.

But I didn’t abandon my intention to return to private prayer eventually. I was just waiting to be free from sin. Oh, how far astray this hope led me! The spirit of evil wanted to keep me hoping til Judgment Day and then send me straight to hell.

O God, save me! What blindness! What a sight it was to see You reach out and raise a fallen soul like me, after such an ugly betrayal. What a tremendous debt I owe to You. You have left me a healing ointment for my wounds – an ointment that not only soothes my wounds, but eliminates them. I am a wicked person. I can’t believe my heart doesn’t shatter as I write this.

But, I was still a fledgling. I was a little bird, not yet ready to fly. Overconfidence is a peril. We need the counsel of a spiritual director. I didn’t know what harm could come from trusting too much in myself. This is what destroyed me.

Thank You, my Beloved, for the gift of crying. I return these small tears as a small repayment for my betrayal. I know my well is impure, because I often refuse Your divine blessings and choose evil instead. Please cleanse this muddy water, so I don’t tempt others to judge me as I have judged them.

I used to wonder why you ignore some holy souls who work hard to serve You—and instead bestow blessings on me, who is religious in name only. But, now I see that You withhold their reward to give it to them all at once. They are strong, brave souls who can serve You without self-interest. I, on the other hand, am weak. I need to taste Your favors here on earth.

Some people began to place me on a pedestal when they found out about the divine favors You gave Me—in spite of my wretchedness and obvious wickedness. And this was followed by a wave of criticism and persecution from another faction. I was inclined to agree with the second group, so I didn’t blame anyone for blaming me. Here are some of the things they said:

  • ·      She’s trying to make herself out to be a saint.
  • ·      She’s bringing in new practices without being able to obey her own monastic rules.
  • ·      She’s nowhere as good and holy as other sisters in her house.
  • ·      She detracts from the goodness of our community by replacing good customs with bad.
  • ·      With her negative teachings, she’s capable of causing terrible damage.

Those who accused me were innocent, but they taught me about myself.

I wondered why You gave gifts so generously to me, but withheld them from others. You replied, “Stop meddling, and just serve Me.” This was the first time I ever heard Your voice, and it scared me.

May I always be so foolish! Please, LORD, never again grant me the power to offend You. May I be consumed in the fire of prayer!

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Source for these excerpts is Teresa of Ávila. 2007. The Book of My Life. Translated by Mirabai Star. Boston & London: New Seeds. The excerpts come from part two of the book, “The Four Waters,” chapters 11 to 21.

You can read part three of this article, as well as a brief biography of Teresa, by going to the column on the right and scrolling up to the section “Santa Teresa.”

Note: The original Spanish title for this book, finished in 1560, was Su Vida. The Spanish has an intriguing ambiguity. It can mean either “Her Life” or “Your Life.”

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Purpose of this blog is to compile several books for my grandchildren to read in 25 years.

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