Praying with Teresa of Avila

I metioned earlier in the week that I’m currently giving a Retreat in Daily Living on the theme of Praying with the Mystics. This week the retreatants are praying with Teresa of Avila.

Teresa spent a lot of time teaching her sisters and others how to grow closer to God in prayer. One of the subjects of a lot of her teaching in this regard was the Lord’s Prayer, which she felt should never involve mere recitation of words. To be prayed in an authentic manner, Teresa believed the words must be joined by mental prayer. She refers to this as recollective prayer – reciting a set prayer in a recollected fashion. A hallmark of the prayer is an ongoing effort to keep God in mind, to recall God’s constant presence. (Teresa recognized that distractions would arise in those praying in this way. She urges that when such distractions arise, one gently brings the mind back to God.)

To pray the Lord’s Prayer in this way was something she strongly urged on her sisters, teaching that “all contemplation and perfection” are enshrined in this one prayer”. She suggested they take a whole hour to pray it once, reflecting on and savoring each line.

In The Way of Perfection, she offers extensive commentary on each line of the prayer. Just to give a flavor of the commentary, Teresa calls the first line of the prayer – Our Father, Who Art in Heaven – “a reward so large that it would easily fill the intellect and thus occupy the will in such a way one would be unable to speak a word.” In it, she says, Jesus humbles himself in joining us in prayer and making himself our brother. She marvels at Jesus’ desire that God consider us his children and at the result of that desire: Because Jesus word cannot fail and God is obliged to be true to it, God as our Father must bear with us no matter how serious our offense. In Teresa’s words: “If we return to God like the prodigal son, God has to pardon us. God has to console us in our trials. God has to sustain us in the way a parent must. For, in effect, God must be better than all the parents in the world because in God everything must be faultless. And after all this God must make us sharers and heirs with” Jesus. So in this one first line of the prayer, Teresa finds all of Jesus love for us as well as the humility that allows Jesus to stop at nothing to become one with us.

My invitation to my retreatants for today is that they pray the Lord’s Prayer as Teresa instructed her sisters, spending some time in silent contemplation of each line. The idea is not to engage in a long thought process about the line, but only as much thinking as it takes to find something in the line – a word or an image or a feeling or sense – that connects one to God’s presence and love and to be in that place with God.

Consider trying it…maybe even today.


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