In our first
talk we spoke about how to learn to concentrate. We had
proposed some methods both from the East and West that
would help us to come to this concentration. Here we
would speak of some of the methods that St. Teresa
teaches in her Life and Way of Perfection,
though some of them may be latent in those already
taught. St. Teresa of Avila says: "mental prayer,
in my view, is nothing but friendly intercourse, and
frequent solitary converse, with Him who we know loves
us" (Life, chapter 8:5). She says that it is
an exercise of love. And what is required for prayer is
love and habit. It is surrender, and surrender in love
to a loving father.
We are familiar
with the words of St. Augustine: "Behold you were
within me, and I outside; and I sought you outside . .
.. You were with me and I was not with you"(Qtd. Confessions
of St. Augustine, The Divine Office III,
225*). St. Teresa would say, once we are able to
recollect, we should learn "to consider the Lord as
very deep within their souls" (Life 40: 6). Prayer
for Teresa, the teacher of spiritual life, is the
constant loving awareness of God. It is not just
accepting the presence of God, knowing that there is a
God, but it is being aware that he is here. It is being
aware that He is looking at us lovingly. "Though we
are always in the presence of God, it seems to me the
manner is different with those who practice prayer, for
they are aware that He is looking at them" (Life
Our effort is to
be constantly aware of this presence of God. The path of
prayer is very hard till we come to enjoy the experience
of God, especially in the earlier stages. "The
greatest labor is in the beginning because it is the
beginner who works while the Lord gives the
increase" (L. 11:5). "Beginners in prayer, we
can say, are those who draw water from the well. This
involves a lot of work on their part . . .. They must
tire themselves in trying to recollect their senses.
Since they are accustomed to being distracted, this
recollection requires much effort. They need to get
accustomed to caring nothing at all about seeing or
hearing, to practicing the hours of prayer, and thus to
solitude and withdrawal" (L. 11: 9b).
If we look at beginners who do not know what mental
prayer is and how to come to it, the least one can do is
to read good books, specially the gospels or something
related to the mysteries of Christ and learn to feel the
closeness of Jesus. Teresa speaks of it in chapter 4, ¶
8 of Life. She writes: "Anyone who cannot
benefit from such a practice (of discursive meditation)
will derive more profit from spending a good deal of
time in reading; and this is necessary since by oneself
one cannot get any idea . . .. Reading is very helpful
for recollection and serves as a necessary substitute -
even though little may be read - for anyone who is
unable to practice mental prayer". In the preceding
paragraph she had said: "Most of the time I spent
reading good books, which was my whole recreation".
In itself, it may not be prayer. So this way of spending
the time of prayer is justified only in case that you
just can't do anything that we will speak about.
‘reading’ may not be the same as reading a point for
discursive meditation. "I never dared to begin
prayer without a book . . .. And many times just opening
the book was enough; at other times I read a little, and
at others a great deal, according to the favor the Lord
granted me (L. 4:9a; cf. WP. 17:3). "Those who
follow this path of no discursive reflection will find
that a book can be help for recollecting oneself
quickly" (L. 9: 5; cf. WP. 27: 10).
may also be equivalent for vocal prayer. For Teresa
vocal prayer, if done well, is as good as mental prayer.
But we can play with God with this vocal prayer. It
seemed to me that, since in being wicked I was among the
worst, it was better to go the way of the many, to
recite what I was obliged to vocally and not to practice
mental prayer and so much intimacy with God" (L. 7:
1b). At the same time, when one is unable to do prayer
properly due to ill health or so, one could settle down
on vocal prayers, which may not require much
recollection and strength (cf. L. 38:1).
prayers may not fulfil any purpose except pacifying the
conscience, as many people seem to do. In the Way of
Perfection she complains about the vocal prayer of
those who "are so fond of speaking and reciting
many vocal prayers very quickly, like one who wants to
get a job done, since they oblige themselves to recite
these every day, that even though the Lord places His
kingdom in their hands, they do not receive it"
(WP. 31: 12).
II. Pictures and
method to come to recollection or concentration is the
use of pictures and images. All know of her being
impressed greatly by a statue which "represented
the much wounded Christ" (L. 9:1) and helped her to
see Jesus within her. "I could only think about
Christ as He was as man, but never in such a way that I
could picture Him within myself no matter how much I red
about His beauty or how many images I saw of Him . . ..
I liked images so much" (L. 9: 6).
about the use of images when speaking of the prayer of
quiet. "If you have to pray to Him by looking at
His picture, it would seem to me foolish. You would be
leaving the Person Himself in order to look at a picture
. . .. Do you want to know when it is very good to have
a picture of Christ and when it is a thing in which I
find much delight: When He himself is absent, or when by
means of a great dryness He wants to make us feel He is
absent. It is then a wonderful comfort to see an image
of One whom we have so much reason to love. Whenever I
turn my eyes, I would want to see His image. With what
better or more pleasing thing can our eyes be occupied
than with One who loves so much and who has in Himself
all goods" (WP. 34: 11).
everything in nature was a sign of God's presence and
would be a book to meditate on the grandeur and
greatness of God. "It helped me also to look at
fields, or water, or flowers. In these things I found a
remembrance of the Creator" (L. 9: 5).
is the popular method of discursive medita- tion. In ch.
4, para 8 she describes how to go about it. "It is
fitting for persons with this tendency (of discursive
meditation) to have greater purity of conscience than
those who can work with the intellect. This is what one
can do: For anyone, who reflects discursively (a) on
what the world is, and (b) what one owes God, and (c)
how much God suffered, and (d) on how little one serves
Him, and (e) what God gives to anyone who loves Him,
deduces doctrine to defend oneself from thought,
occasions, and dangers . . .. Discursive reflection is
an extremely difficult thing to practice" (L. 4:8).
"God didn't give me talent for discursive thought
or for a profitable use of the imagination. In fact, my
imagination is so dull that I never succeeded even to
think about and represent in my mind - as hard as I
tried - the humanity of the Lord" (L. 4:7c).
This is what she
did: "I thought of the trials Christ suffered and
that it would be no great thing if I suffered some for
Him" (L. 3: 6b). Beginners, she advises "must
strive to consider the life of Christ" (L. 11:9a).
We can meditate
thus: "In thinking about and carefully examining
what the Lord suffered for us, . . .in thinking about
the glory we hope for, the love the Lord bore us"
(L. 12:1). But "those who practice discursive
reflection, I say they should not pass the whole time
thinking . . . and without tiring the intellect"
To give more
details: "Let us begin to think about an episode of
the Passion, let's say of when our Lord was bound to the
pillar. The intellect goes in search of reasons for
better understanding the great sorrows and pain His
Majesty suffered in that solitude and many other things
that the intellect, if it works hard, can herein
deduce... This is the method of prayer with which all
must begin, continue, and finish" (L. 13:12b).
There may be many persons who are not able to practice
meditation without reading and others who will be unable
to meditate even with the reading " (WP. 17:3).
many souls that benefit more by other meditations than
those on the sacred Passion . . .. Some persons find it
helpful to think about hell, others about death; some if
they have tender hearts experience much fatigue if they
always think about the Passion, and they are refreshed
and helped by considering the power and grandeur of God
in creatures" (L. 13:13).
returning to what I was saying about Christ bound at the
pillar: it is good to reflect a while and think about
the pains He suffers there, and why, and who He is, and
the love with which He suffered them. But one should not
always weary oneself in seeking these reflections but
just remain there in His presence with the intellect
quiet. And if a person is able he should occupy himself
in looking at Christ who is looking at him, and he
should speak, and petition, and humble himself, and
delight in the Lord's presence, and remember that he is
unworthy of being there. When he can do this, even
though it may be at the beginning of prayer, he will
derive great benefit" (L. 13:22). It is because of
this also that she used a book to get a starting point
for discursive meditation.
call to union with God, Our Mother says: "We are
already betrothed and before the wedding must be brought
to His house. Here below they don't try to make those
who are betrothed renounce such thoughts. Why should
they try to prevent us from thinking about who this man
is, who His Father is, what country He is going to bring
me to, what good things He promises to give me, what His
status is, how can I make Him happy, and in what ways I
can please Him and from studying how I can conform my
way of life to His?" (WP. 23: 7; cf. 25: 3).
We can use other
truths of faith as a basis for reflection, like
"thinking of how I have offended God, and of the
many things I owe him, and, of what leads to hell and
what to glory, and of the great trials and sufferings
the Lord endured for me"(L. 8:7a).
In the Way of
Perfection she repeats this idea and says:
"there are books in which the mysteries of the
Lord's life and Passion are divided according to the
days of the week, and there are meditations about
judgement, hell, our nothingness, and the many things we
owe God together with excellent doctrine" (19:1).
Of course "You should not be thinking of other
things while speaking with God, for doing so amounts to
not knowing what mental prayer is" (WP. 23: 8b).
Later in the
chapter comparing contemplative prayer with water from
heaven, Teresa says that the meditation "through
the medium of the intellect" is like dirty water
"running on the ground". When "there is
reasoning with the intellect" it is not the living
water, real prayer (19: 6). Discursive meditation has
the disadvantage of causing distractions, going against
its own aim. "Not that this reason must be
abandoned, but one must be fearful" (WP. 19:7). In Life
she would say: "Those who practice discursive
reflection, I say they should not pass the whole time
thinking. They should put themselves in the presence of
Christ" (L. 13: 11b).
Teresa desired to pray and was prepared to take the
necessary steps. It was on reading "The Third
Spiritual Alphabet" of Francisco Osuna that she
made great progress. This is how she prayed. "I
tried as hard as I could to keep Jesus Christ, our God
and our Lord, present within me, and that was my way of
prayer. If I reflected upon some phase of His Passion, I
represented Him to myself interiorly ". This is the
"way of inability to work discursively with the
intellect" that will easily bring one to
contemplation (L. 4:7).
She writes a
little later: "Since I could not reflect
discursively with the intellect, I strove to picture
Christ within me, and it did me great good . . .. The
scene of His prayer in the garden, especially, was a
comfort to me; I strove to be His companion there"
. . . I remained with Him as long as my thoughts,
allowed me to" (L. 9: 4b). This is prayer for
can place itself in the presence of Christ and grow
accustom-ed to being inflamed with love for His sacred
humanity. It can keep Him ever present and speak with
Him, asking for its needs and complaining of its labors,
being glad with Him in its enjoyments and not forgetting
Him because of them, trying to speak to Him" (L.
12:2). "This method of keeping Christ present with
us is beneficial in all stages and is very safe means of
advancing in the first degree of prayer, of reaching in
a short time the second degree". "Keeping
Christ present is what we of ourselves can do" (L.
12:3a & 4).
the Our Father as the pattern of prayer, tells us that
the teacher "is very close. . .It is good for you .
. . to remain at the side of the Master who taught this
prayer" (WP. 24: 5). "Represent the Lord
Himself as close to you and behold how lovingly and
humbly He is teaching you. Believe me, you should remain
with so good a friend as long as you can. If you grow
accustomed to having Him present at your side, and He
sees that you do so with love and that you go about
striving to please Him, you will not be able to get away
from Him . . .you will find Him everywhere" (WP.
26: 1). It is good to note that it is not thinking of
Jesus, but "look at Him" (WP. 26:3). It is
worth counting how many times she has used this phrase
or its alternative in this paragraph and in ¶ 5. (I
found 11 times).
explain the prayer of recollection, in chapter 28 of Way
of Perfection Teresa reminds us that the Lord is
within. "All one need do is go into solitude and
look at Him with oneself" (¶ 2). It is important
that we don't "leave Him alone", see "the
Lord is within us, and that there we must be with
Him" (¶ 3), and " the soul collects its
faculties together and enters within itself to be with
its God" (¶ 4, 8). In it "we should see and
be present to the One with whom we speak without turning
our backs on Him" (29:5).
Prayer, "the soul's progress does not lie in
thinking much, but in loving much" (Foundations
5:2). Meditation, discursive reflection, thinking is not
really prayer. We should make serious effort and praying
for one hour each in the morning and evening every day,
"within a year, or perhaps half a year, you will
acquire it [prayer of recollection](WP. 29: 8; 26:2; L.
7:12). The time of prayer should be for prayer (WP. 34:
4). Realize "the Lord walks among the pots and pans
helping you both interiorly and exteriorly" (F.