What does St. Teresa of Avila have to say about successful meditation? Find out in today’s excerpt and reflection from 30 Days with Teresa of Avila.
Segovia, beginning of June 1574*
To Antonio Gaytan, Salamanca
Advice about prayer. The foundation at Segovia.
May the Holy Spirit be with you, my son!
I am not lucky enough to have time to write you a long letter as I am sure I wish that I could. I am delighted to hear from you and learn how God bestows greater blessings on you every day. He is rewarding you for what you did for us here.
Do not tire your brain by trying to work it during meditation. I have often told you what to do; perhaps you may remember. It is a higher grace from God that you should continually praise Him and wish that others should do so too, and a striking proof that your mind is fixed on Him. May He be pleased to teach us both how to repay part of what we owe Him and may He give us much to suffer for Him—if only from fleas, ghosts, and bad roads.
Antonio Sanchez was ready to let [give] the house without further discussion, but what were you and Father Julian thinking about when you wanted to buy such a place? It was fortunate that the owner would not sell it. We are about to purchase one near St. Francis’ church, in the Calle Real, the best of the suburbs and near the market. It is a very good house. Will you kindly pray about it. I am better—I was about to say I am well, for to have nothing beyond my usual ailments is very good health for me. May God give you good health and have you in His keeping for us!
Teresa de Jesus
Mental Prayer: Here, St. Teresa repeats a teaching on mental prayer and meditation that is found in each of her major works.
She admonishes her reader to avoid overtaxing his mind during mental prayer. She is oft quoted as saying that “the good of the soul does not consist in its thinking much, but in its loving much.”** Some mistakenly take this to mean that thoughts during prayer are to be avoided or to be “let go” of. However, she clearly contradicts this view in the fourth chapter of The Interior Castle where she admonishes her readers to avoid methods aimed at emptying the mind of thoughts.
Instead, she is counseling against an unhealthy preoccupation with what we think or feel in prayer. She is aware that the Holy Spirit burns with love in the devoted soul even when our thoughts and imagination do not seem to cooperate with Him. Here, the effort to be vulnerable to the presence of God can be frustrated when we dissipate ourselves on trying to control our thoughts. It is a question of surrender and trust. The intellect and the imagination can sometimes work against our efforts to pray. They act like energetic children who do not know how to behave before the Lord. But once the love of God has captured us and begins to burn in our hearts, struggling to vanquish thoughts and imaginings is a waste of time and energy.
Instead, prayer becomes the simple effort of patient awareness of the Lord’s presence in the midst of our own brokenness. St. Teresa is not surprised that we face distractions in prayer, but invites our merely natural and psychological efforts to a completely new loving attentiveness made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
*Teresa of Avila, Letters, vol. 1, complete letter.
**Teresa of Avila, The Book of the Foundations of S. Teresa of Jesus, trans. D. Lewis (London: Thomas Baker, 1919), 39.
Teresa of Avila’s signature courtesy of Carmelite Monastery, Terre Haute, Indiana.