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

TERESA OF ÁVILA: BRIEF BIOGRAPHY

(Also known as Teresa of Jesus)

The “wild woman of Ávila”--local beauty, ex-debutante, vivacious conversationalist, nun, abbess, mystic, author of best sellers, Inquisition victim, founder of the Barefoot Carmelite order, and mystical Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church—is difficult to capture in a brief biography.

Let’s put Teresa in a modern American context. For a comparable set of lifetime achievements today, a woman would have to do the following:

Be debutante of the year at sixteen.

Be mostly self-educated.

Found and develop an electronics manufacturing company with fifteen subsidiaries.

Reorganize another electronics firm run by a friend, John Cruz.

Be a leading jazz artist, who simultaneously improvised lyrics, music, and dance.

In effect, be married to Jesus and converse with Him regularly.

Become a pioneer feminist.

Suffer poor health for most of her productive life.

Be subject to repeated FBI investigations and prosecutions on charges of treason.

Be convicted of subversion and do two years of hard time under house arrest.

During house arrest, write three New York Times best sellers.

Through letters, be consulted regularly by neighbors, clergy, governors, senators, and presidents.

Be subject to numerous psychological studies because of her personal experiences of Jesus.

And do all this while mostly staying in her office in Kokomo, Indiana.

Be awareded the Nobel Prize in literature after her death.

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Regarding her electronics firm. She was able to set up each subsidiary by making a midnight raid and leaving a core group of experts, whom she thereafter managed by snail mail. After her death, the firm became a world-wide enterprise.

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Included on this blog section are three excerpts on prayer from the middle third of Teresa’s autobiography, Su Vida. The translator of Teresa’s Su Vida, Mirabai Star, describes herself as “a Jewish practitioner of Buddhist meditation, a devotee of a Hindu guru, and a trained philosopher.” However, she had lots of Roman Catholic input on her translation—especially from a close friend who is a nun and a Teresa scholar.

Mirabai Star, though born in New York, grew up in Northern New Mexico. The New Mexican Spanish she learned from age twelve onward was the Spanish, mostly unchanged, from sixteenth century Spain. So, as the only woman translator of Su Vida into English, Mirabai and Teresa spoke the same language.

Here’s Mirabai Star’s summary of Teresa’s life—with added comments in brackets from the Wikipedia article and other sources.

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The great sixteenth-century Spanish contemplative, Teresa of Ávila, has been celebrated for more than four centuries for her mystical experiences. She did not actually have any, however, until she was nearly forty years old.

[Young Teresa was fascinated by accounts of the lives of the saints, and ran away from home at age seven with her brother, Rodrigo, to find martyrdom among the Moors. Her uncle stopped them as he was returning to the town, having spotted the two outside the town walls.]

Teresa was the granddaughter of a converso, a Jew forced by the Inquisition to convert to Christianity on pain of death. Her “tainted” blood, combined with her distinctly unfeminine intellect, political daring, and wild visions made her the target of severe persecution throughout her life. She was not an obvious saint.

[Born in 1515, she was a natural leader. As a child, she had an ingenious capacity for inventing new games and playing the starring role: the knight, the fairygodmother, the martyr burned at the stake. “I was strikingly shrewd when it came to mischief,” she confessed. She loved to laugh and laughed often. When she did, everyone else around her laughed.

[She liked perfume and fine clothes, chivalry, romance, and the color orange. Many men in Ávila were in love with her. “Teresa de Ahumada? With her fine mind, shapely legs, and ample dowry,” a neighbor remarked, “she’ll marry whomever she chooses.” That was rare freedom in an age of arranged marriages. But at the age of twelve, Teresa saw her thirty-three-year-old mother die in childbirth, so marriage was not an appealing alternative.

[Instead of marrying an ordinary man, Teresa married Jesus, as all nuns do. Next time you see a nun in a habit, notice the wedding ring. In Teresa’s case, however, the marriage with Jesus became more than a theory. It became a reality. They conversed.]

At eighteen, Teresa entered the Convent of the Incarnation with a high degree of ambivalence. At twenty, she professed her vows more as an act of rebellion than one of devotion. These choices literally almost killed her.

For the next two decades, Sister Teresa struggled with a god. But she wanted even more to be liked by other human beings. Endowed with natural beauty, charm, intelligence, and humor, Teresa was the center of attention in any situation—among her own family, entertaining visitors in the convent parlor, or convincing powerful men to agree with her point of view.

Then one day Teresa entered an oratory [a small chapel] and happened to notice a statue of Christ scourged at the pillar. She glanced at his sweet, suffering face, and it brought her abruptly to her knees. Suddenly she was sobbing. She pressed her forehead to the floor and cried out to him, “Please, my Beloved, give me the strength to adore you! Do not ever let me forsake you again!”

After years of being incapable of “squeezing out a single holy tear,” Teresa could not stop crying. Her whole life heading up to that moment felt trivial and misguided. She saw that she had manipulated her own journey while God waited patiently for her to hand over the reins and let him drive. She had never truly surrendered. She had never really loved him.

Now the love that flooded her threatened to annihilate her. And the more she felt herself consumed by this love, the more she longed to be consumed. “I refuse to get up from this spot until you give me what I want!” she told him—not unlike the vow of the Buddha under the Bodhi Tree a millennium before her. The torrent of tears washed away any last trace of self-reliance. She placed herself unconditionally in God’s hands.

From that moment on, Teresa experienced an unrelenting series of raptures, visions, and voices. Word of the unconventional nun and the dramatic favors she was receiving from God spread throughout Spain and invoked the suspicion of the Inquisition. The resulting investigation ultimately yielded the jewel of spiritual literature, Su Vida, which we have come to know as The Book of My Life.

This book is the memoir of a life in the middle of unfolding. It is the story of a mystic’s coming of age. Like Teresa herself, it is both exuberant and profound. She often wrote under the influence of the divine ecstasy she was extolling. Teresa’s aim was to instruct rather than to entertain. And yet the sheer joy with which she expresses her passion for God and the delight she takes in lyrical metaphors and earthy imagery makes it a pleasure to read. She did not write to impress us with her holiness, but to document her experiences so the authorities could examine them and decide her fate. Her courage was rewarded, though not without tremendous controversy and persecution.

Teresa believed in the power of books to serve as tools of transformation. She herself experienced a significant “conversion” experience reading the Confessions of St. Augustine. When the Inquisition banned many of her favorite books on prayer, it was as if they had imposed life sentences on all her best friends. She was inconsolable until she heard the voice of God promising to replace these beloved texts with “a living book.” However, she also grew to see the limitations of language and the need to sit in the silence of unknowing.

The “learned men” who scrutinized her Teresa’s life story were hypervigilant for any traces of diabolical delusion and repeatedly claimed that Teresa’s experiences came from the spirit of evil. They needn’t have bothered. Teresa subjected her own visions to rigorous self-inquiry. Only after examining each spiritual encounter with the laser of her intellect and praying fervently for guidance did she rest in the certainty that God installed in her soul.

[As I recall, Teresa’s test for her visions was, “Unless they increase my love for Jesus and others, I assume they’re from the devil."]

St. Joseph Convent in AvilaTeresa tried to be patient and humble whenever she was denounced, but she occasionally expressed a refreshing burst of annoyance. “I don’t understand these fears,” she wrote in chapter 25. “Why do we run around crying, ‘The devil! The devil!’ when we can be saying, “God! God!’ and make the devils tremble. She goes on frankly to declare, “Without a doubt, I fear those who fear the devil more than I fear the devil himself.”

Through a deepening intimacy with Christ in prayer, Teresa came to trust that the divine favors she was receiving were pledges of love from God. They were promises of the union to come, meant to unite her heart with and dissolve her soul in his. The more she tried to obey her superiors and suppress these supernatural experiences, the more they increased in both frequency and intensity. It’s worth noting that Teresa’s life really took off where her autobiography ends. At the age of forty-five, after finishing this writing, Teresa embarked on a journey of radical reform, traveling all over the rugged Spanish countryside, founding convents and monasteries dedicated to a life of voluntary simplicity and contemplative practice. In spite of a lifetime of chronic illness, Teresa lived to age sixty-seven. She was canonized in 1622.

 Other information about Teresa:

In Toledo, Spain, she was placed under house arrest for two years and while under arrest she wrote Su Vida, The Interior Castle, and The Way of Perfection."

The barefoot Carmelites in Ávila still do the dances and songs that Teresa improvised under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

On July 16, 1555. the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Teresa and her closest friends gathered in her cell and decided they would need a separate house to follow the original Carmelite Rule: Sleeping on straw, fasting eight months a year, abstaining from meat, and living in total seclusion. They went barefoot, and that is where the name Discalced Carmelites came from. The other nuns at the Convent of the Incarnation criticized her and refused to recognize Teresa's new foundation.

Note: Going barefoot in Ávila was not fun. Ávila is at the same latitude as New York City and Madrid. The Spanish have a joke about central Spain: “We have nine months of winter and three months of hell.” In Spanish, it’s a pun: invierno and inferno.

In 1562, Teresa and her sisters left the Convent of the Incarnation to establish the convent of St. Joseph (San José) in Ávila. The bishop thought that Teresa’s reforms would reinvigorate the Church, so he encouraged her to travel all over Spain and establish new foundations and reform existing ones.

As she was returning from one of her convent-founding raids, it was raining. Her rickety covered wagon tipped over in a river, and she said, “What’s this, LORD? Another trial?” Jesus answered, “Teresa, I discipline those whom I love.” And Teresa replied, “LORD, is that why you have so few friends?”

Her most famous vision was the Transverberation of the Heart, during which Teresa saw an Angel with a golden spear tipped with fire, which was then driven again and again into her heart. She described it as "an imaginary vision seen by the eyes of the soul." The pain she felt was very real and lasted several days.

She was the only woman ever to reform both an order of nuns and an order of monks. Thus, Teresa became a leading figure in the sixteenth century Counter-Reformation.

One of her comments: “I think there is no one so politically powerful as a virtuous woman.”

She hated and feared all Lutherans as agents of the devil. Because I’m a Lutheran, I find this amusing.

She died in the arms of Anne of St. Bartholomew on October 15, 1582. Her last words were: "My LORD, it is time to move on. Well then, may your will be done. O my LORD and my Spouse, the hour that I have longed for has come. It’s time to meet each other.

While I have been through central Spain, I didn’t know about the following pious Catholic claim and didn’t check it out: “Her incorrupt body is adored in Alba de Tormes, Spain. Pilgrims can see her heart; it still bears the mark where the angel pierced it with its golden arrow.”

Teresa’s devotion to her Roman Catholic faith was never in question. However, her autobiography transcends religious dogma and attains a universal status that makes it accessible and meaningful to any seeker from any tradition. The Book of My Life—Su Vida, takes its rightful place as one of the greatest spiritual testimonies of all time. 

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes thirty-five doctors of the church. “Doctor” here means “teacher” from the Latin doctorem. The RC doctors are an exclusive club. St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas are members. St. Francis of Assisi is not. There are only four women members. Teresa of Avila and Catherine of Siena were the first, but their promotion did not occur until 1970. They were joined by Therese of Lisieux in 1979 and Hildegard of Bingen in 2012. Santa Teresa is revered as the Doctor of Mystical Prayer.

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A final comment: Forty years ago I gave my Mother a copy of Teresa’s Life. She read it. Then in puzzlement she asked me, “How could she say she was so sinful? She was a nun.” So it is in America. Smothered as we are in the dregs of Calvinism, my Mother associated sin exclusively with sex.

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In the right-hand column, scroll up to the section “Santa Teresa” to read her articles on the "Four Ways to Water the Garden of Your Soul.”  Her spiritual autobiography is worth reading just to find the sentence, "I haven't levitated very often."

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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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