Thought for the Day 8th June
‘’This is the confidence we have in approaching God, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us - whatever we ask - we know that we have what we asked of him’’. (1 John 5: 14-15
Two questions spring to mind, how do we gain confidence in approaching God and how do we know what is according to His will? Much has been written about prayer over the centuries. One Christian writer whom I have found helpful is St Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Carmelite nun, whose writings have some bearing on these questions. An important aspect of her thinking is that prayer is a process pf growth. She develops her thoughts through visual images. Before exploring her imagery, here is an introduction to her life.
Born in 1515 in Avila, a town in central Spain,Teresa was brought up in a devout home. Her mother died when she was 13 and at the age of 16, an active, intelligent girl with many friends, she was sent to an Augustinian convent. One of the nuns at the convent impressed her, appealing to Teresa to do something special for God. At 21 she joins a Carmelite Convent. At first happy, Teresa became dissatisfied with the lax regime: she often found the convent noisy and busy so ‘’God could not get a word in edgeways’’. She struggled with periods of physical and mental illness but discovered the freedom to relate to God more actively and imaginatively, helped by a Franciscan who advocated intelligent rather than repetitive prayer.
At 40 came a transformation, triggered by a painting of Christ’s passion. While praying she had a lasting experience of grace and forgiveness. Despite obstacles, not least from the Roman Catholic Church, she founded numerous Carmelite convents, small communities based on poverty and a common life with no privileges. These houses contributed to the renewal of spiritual life in the Carmelite Order and in the Catholic Church. She died in 1582 aged 68, canonised in 1622.
Teresa was no quiet contemplative. Described by some as adventurous and engaging, by others as wilful, she had a wide circle of friends, both secular and religious. She actively involved herself in the setting up of her foundations, played chess and danced to the tambourine. She was a practical, outgoing woman who warned against the dangers of an inward-looking religiosity; much of her writing focussed on the need to reflect God’s love in everyday life. She travelled extensively, journeying through Spain in a wagon to found new convents. She was critical of the self-indulgence of the aristocracy and their neglect of the poor. She was critical too of the Church, aware of the need to look at the assumptions of the church and society in the light of the life of Jesus.
Teresa’s writing is rich in imagery. She wrote four main works, including an autobiography in which she describes the development of prayer through the analogy of watering the garden. We, with God’s help, water the plants which God has given us (and eradicate the weeds). gradually progressing to the stage where the rain from above does the watering, in other words God takes over and His will and ours become one. In The Interior Castle, her most renowned work, she relates the journey of the soul through seven rooms or mansions to the centre of the castle where the soul is united with God and inner peace is expressed externally in good works: Martha and Mary join together.
Teresa;’s uniqueness lies in her recognition that prayer is a process of growth. This is true of our human relationships, which develop as we get to know each other, so how much more does this happen with God if we spend time with him consistently, both as individuals and with fellow believers. To return to the questions at the beginning, we can have confidence in approaching God through our reciprocal relationship with Him.Then in knowing Him we discern His will.
Our Heavenly Father,
We thank you for the gift of prayer, that we can approach you with confidence. Thank you that you hear our prayers when we ask according to your will. We pray that we may walk ever more closely with you and know you better each day, that your will may be done in our lives.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen