A Matter of Life and Death: What Meditation is! From St Teresa of Avila

I Was Born For You

Editor’s Note: Teresa Tomeo has graciously shared a reflection on St. Teresa of Avila, the saint she was named after, and St. Teresa’s prayer “I Was Born For You”.

When most of us think of famous words written by mystic and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila, we think of her beautiful poem and prayer commonly referred to as “St. Teresa’s Bookmark”:

Let nothing disturb you.
Nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting in him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.


That’s why you might be as surprised as I was to learn that the theme for the celebration marking 500 years since her birth is not based on this particular prayer, which can be commonly found on the back of holy cards bearing her image. Instead it is based on another prayer; one even more powerful, because it shows the depth of her dependence on God and her total trust in Him, come what may. The poem or prayer is entitled “I Was Born For You,” [and is] also known as “In the Hands of God”. You’ll find a link to it at the end of this [post], but here are a few of the moving verses that should stop us in our tracks in terms of those of us who truly desire to do God’s will no matter what the cost.

Give me death, give me life
Health or sickness
Honor or shame
War or swelling peace
Weakness or full strength
Yes to these I say,
What is your order for me to do?

The first time I heard about this prayer was on my recent pilgrimage to Avila. The words “I was born for you. What do you want me to do?” are printed on fliers, banners, posters, and other materials promoting the yearlong Carmelite celebration. During my stay in this stunning walled medieval city, I felt St. Teresa urging me to go deeper. It was as if she was telling me that I had only begun to scratch the surface in my relationship with God and the Church. Little did I know when I arrived home that the going deeper would occur much sooner than later.

Intrigued by the words I saw repeatedly in Spain I searched the Internet for the entire prayer, but after printing it out I found myself not being able to finish or say the words in their entirety. It was too much. “I’ll work up to that,” I thought. “In the meantime, there is a lot of work to do.” So off I went, diving right back into my busy schedule of radio shows, writing, and speaking; pushing aside the urge to “go deeper,” as St. Teresa kept suggesting. And then suddenly the only thing in front of me was silence. A few sniffles that began after I arrived home from Europe turned into a major upper respiratory infection which led to the most debilitating cases of laryngitis in my 34 year broadcasting career. I was yanked off the air by my ENT* doctor who warned of possible permanent damage to my vocal chords if I did not undergo complete voice rest; no radio show, no public speaking, no phone calls, and for the most part no talking at all. Yes, complete silence was the order of the days and weeks ahead.

At first I wasn’t exactly a stellar patient. After all, there were major stories breaking in Baltimore and at the Supreme Court and I couldn’t weigh in as I normally do. Speaking engagements, at least four of them, had to be canceled; only the second time in my teresa tomeonearly 20 years as a speaker where cancellation was a necessity due to health reasons. I was grumpy and frustrated until I started to look at the glass as half full instead of half empty. Often times when I come back from pilgrimage the same thing happens. I make promises to myself to do more reading and reflecting about what I’ve seen and experienced. These are promises that I normally don’t keep. But not this time. After a few days of a tug of war with God I decided to go a little deeper and embrace the suffering and the sounds of silence.

I allowed my body to rest and rose two hours later than normal. Every morning I grabbed my Magnificat, and several other books including “Divine Intimacy” and “30 Days with Teresa of Avila” and dove in. I began to crave, instead of loath, the silence. Each Gospel reading, each book passage seemed to speak directly to me about the need to rest and to be still. With the images of Avila fresh in my mind I revisited all of the beautiful Avila sights, drawing closer to the saint whom I have loved since childhood. The saint I was named after. I learned more about her and about myself. And finally I was able to read the entire poem and say “whatever Lord.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am hardly saint material. Far from it. But occasionally even a blind spiritual squirrel such as yours truly finds an acorn now and then. I am on the mend, praise God. And it was, and is, scary for a while wondering what might happen. As of this blog entry** I am still off the air. But the silence also enabled me to think back on how through all of the tough times over the years, whether brought on just by the ups and downs of life or my own stupid mistakes, God has turned lemons into not just lemonade but Limoncello! All things He does turn to good as we read in Romans 8:28. We just have to remember to be still and to trust no matter what.

Silent or speaking
Fruit bearing or barren
My wounds shown by the Law
Rejoicing in the tender Gospel
Sorrowing or exulting
You alone live in me.
What is your order for me to do?

St. Teresa of Avila pray for us!


In the Hands of God” by St. Teresa of Avila can be found in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume 3, by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otillo Rodriguez, OCD; on pages 377-379. The entire poem/prayer may be found online at http://www.ocds.ca/cl537.pdf

* ENT – Ear, Nose and Throat
** Original blog entry posted on May 13, 2015.


This post originally appeared on Teresa Tomeo’s blog.  Used with permission.

Art: Teresa Tomeo St. Teresa of Avila Pin with wording of painting of Sainte Thérèse, Francois Gérard, 1827, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923; and Teresa’s picture, used with permission.

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