Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Fourth Mansion: The Two Fountains

Among the consolations Teresa speaks of is the Prayer of Quiet.  In the Prayer of Quiet the soul, or the inner person, experiences a marked sense of peace and rest accompanied by delight and pleasure in the Presence of God.  

Teresa tells us that the Prayer of Quiet flows from two sources, which by analogy she describes as two fountains each having its own basin.  The basin is the supply of grace, the fountain is the outflow.  She says,

Two large basins can be filled with water in different ways: the water in the one comes from a long distance, by means of numerous conduits, and through human skill; but the other has been constructed at the very source of the water and fills it without making any noise . . . [the former] is produced by meditation.  It reaches us by way of the thoughts; we meditate upon created things and fatigue the understanding; and when at last, by means of our own efforts, it comes, the satisfaction which it brings to the soul fills the basin.[i]

St. Diodochus of Photiki tells us that, “It is therefore necessary to work upon the soul forcefully for a while, so that we may come to taste divine love fully and consciously . . . (2 Cor. 2:4)[ii]   This working upon the soul is described by Teresa,

Most of the souls which dwell in the former Mansions already described [she is referring to the first three: Entry through the Gate; The Room of Self-Knowledge, and the illusion of False Security] are familiar with these feelings of devotion, for they labour with the understanding almost continuously, and make use of it in their meditations.  They are right to do this . . . they would do well, however to spend short periods of time in making various acts, and praising God and rejoicing in His goodness and in His being Who He is, and in desiring His honour and glory.  They should do this as well as they can, for it goes a long way towards awakening the will.

St. Benedict also instructs regarding the length of prayers, saying, “”Prayer should be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace.”[iii]

Teresa is also sustained by the daily cycle of prayer within the community.  The rhythm of the Hours of Prayer, the frequency of Eucharist, her persistent habit of recollection and her running dialogue with her Lord, weave together a background that stabilizes and balances her life of prayer, and keeps her feet in motion even when her mind is running on disconnect.  She observes the classic threefold way of prayer:  The Daily Offices; Informal Prayer and Habitual Recollection; and Attendance at the Mass. 

She knows from long experience that it is necessary to hold one's soul aloft to God that He may pour His blessing upon it.  I am reminded of a line from a hymn, “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew he moved my soul to seek him, seeking me; it was not I that found, O Savior true; no, I was found, was found of thee.” [iv]  All is of grace, and in all of our seeking He moves within us drawing us upward.

            While the Daily Offices are the foundation of the life of prayer, the two-fold Prayer of Recollection brings us deeper into that experience that Teresa refers to as “spiritual sweetness.”  This is a two-sided experience.  There are two basins and two fountains.  One is active, the other passive. One is acquired grace, the other infused grace.  Bear in mind that the active side also rests on the gift of grace.  She says, “This spiritual sweetness arises from the actual virtuous work which we perform, and we think that we have acquired it by our own labours.”[v]

            But there comes a break-point when God in His love and grace meets our upward motions.   She refers to Psalm 119:32 “I have run the way of thy commandments, when thou didst enlarge my heart.”[vi]  It is the last phrase that she emphasizes, and refers to in Latin,  Cum Dilatasti cor meum, “when thou didst enlarge my heart.”  As God in his love and grace meets us he enlarges our hearts that we might experience more of his presence.

            It is here that passive recollection begins.  She cautions us not to “think too much, but to love much; do, then, whatever most arouses you love.”[vii]  This is not the time for the Daily Offices, for lengthy prayers, or for active study and meditations, but rather a time for short expressions of love, perhaps for only single words that help us stay within the presence of God.

            This is illustrated by the practice of Lectio Divina.  The four steps of Lectio Divina are Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest.  The first three steps are active.  One reads the passage through several times listening for what God is saying.  Then one reflects on the meaning of the passage, not exhaustive bible study, but rather just clarifying the meaning of the text.  One then responds to God in prayer regarding what he has said.  All of that is active.  The fourth is passive, and is a form of the Prayer of Recollection.  Having heard God speak, and having responded in prayer, one then simply rests in the presence of God.  This may be for a short period of time, occasionally longer.  In revisiting the dialogue that arises from Lectio Divina the sense of the presence of God frequently returns.  That is one experience of the Prayer of Recollection.

            Our experience of the Prayer of Recollection is both active and passive, but not necessarily orderly.  It is two fountains drawing from two basins.  It is acquired grace and infused grace, by gift the infused grace overwhelming the acquired grace.  Teresa uses the term the Prayer of Quiet at the beginning of the Fourth Mansion and the term the Prayer of Recollection at the end. 

She is not systematic, but rather affective, sharing her experience from the heart, and often going off in tangents, circling around, and finally returning to her subject.  Reading Teresa is like dodgem cars, it is like entering into an exciting conversation, a dialogue, rather than listening to a theological lecture.

[i] Teresa of Avila, trans. E. Allison Peers, Interior Castle, (New York: Doubleday, 1989). p.81
[ii] Kallistos Ware, trans. “St. Diodochus of Photiki,” The Philokalia, (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), Vol. 1, p. 289.
[iii] The Rule of St. Benedict, ed. Timothy Fry,  (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1982), Ch. 20, v. 4
[iv] Anonymous
[v] Teresa, p. 73                                                                                                                                            
[vi] KJV
[vii] Teresa, p. 76                                                                                                                Copyright © Robin P. Smith 2102

Monday, May 7, 2012

Obedience in the Rule of St. Benedict

The Cycle of Daily Readings from the Rule of St. Benedict starts with the call to obedience. 

LI S T E N carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20). Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience. To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will and are taking up the strong, bright armor of obedience to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,[i]

Obedience is often difficult for contemporary Americans who beat the loud drum of independent thinking and action.  The first job of military boot camp is to boot that out of us.  Why?  In warfare, if you don’t learn obedience you and your friends might very well die.  Bear in mind, that the testimony of the saints is that we are involved in an interstellar warfare on a cosmic scale.  “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”[ii]

Our call to obedience transcends the transitory characteristics of individual leaders who may themselves die, or be transferred, or perhaps even betray their call.  For leaders to lead they also must be under obedience.  People who don’t accept authority don’t exercise it very well.  The issues are larger than personalities.  In the Church we are called to obedience for each battle, but each battle is part of a larger action.  That larger action is not to be determined by the leaders nor by the will of the people, nor by those who make the most noise.  Rather it is determined by the revealed will of God and by the action of the Holy Spirit revealed in the ongoing tradition of the Church.  “We believe what has been believed always, everywhere, and by all.”  Stepping outside of the teachings of Holy Scripture and the cautionary tradition of the Church, is not prophetic action, nor innovation, it is very simply disobedience.

We are, each of us, called to obedience.  For the call of each individual soldier of the Lord has very little to do with the plans and policies, rebellions and stubbornness that we see vaunted in the media and so many blogs.  You are called to obedience, but it may not be what you would like to hear.  You are first of all called to obey the simple fundamentals of the faith.  God has said, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”[iii] 

For most of us obedience has to do with simple everyday things.  We are called to serve.  Service is the simple basic form of obedience.  So strong is this service that Saint Paul calls himself a “bondservant.”  He is bound under obedience and he has willingly taken that obedience upon himself, because he knows that disobedience ultimately leads to death, his death, and even ours.  The battle we are engaged in is no joke, but a real action with real enemies and very real casualties.

You also are called to obedience within the Church and within the family in simple things.  Make the coffee, move the chairs, clean the kitchen, do the laundry, fold the clothes, take the trash out.  You are called to humble service.  It is in surrender to the reality of the little things that need to be done that we find the necessary place of obedience. 

There should never be a time in the life of the Church, or the life of the family when you think that you are too busy, or too important to serve.  There should never be a time in either the Church or the family when people sit back and say, “Let George do it, that’s not my job.  I have more important things to do.”  Part of the difficulty is that we want something glorious to do, and what the Lord is saying is polish your boots, or even better, polish your brother’s boots.

[i] The Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict
[ii] Ephesians 6:12-13  
[iii] Leviticus 19:2