The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

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The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter 17

Continues the same subject, the exposition of this third degree of prayer. Concludes her exposition of the effects produced by it. Describes the hindrances caused in this state by the imagination and the memory.

A reasonable amount has been said concerning this mode of prayer and of what the soul must now do -- or, more correctly, of what God does within it, for it is He Who now undertakes the work of the gardener and is pleased that the soul should be idle. The will has only to consent to those favours which it is enjoying and to submit to all that true Wisdom may be pleased to accomplish in it. And for this it needs courage, that is certain; for the joy is so great that sometimes the soul seems to be one the point of leaving the body -- and what a happy death that would be!

In this state I think it is well, as Your Reverence has been told, for the soul to abandon itself wholly into the arms of God. If He is pleased to take it to Heaven, let it go; if to hell, it is not distressed, so long as it is going there with its Good. If its life is to come to an end for ever, that is its desire; if it is to live a thousand years, that is its desire also. Let His Majesty treat it as His own: it no longer belongs to itself; it is given wholly to the Lord; it can cease to worry altogether. When God grants the soul prayer as sublime as that which belongs to this state, He can do all this and much more, for that is the effect it produces. The soul realizes that He is doing this without any fatiguing of its understanding; only I think it is, as it were, astonished to see what a good gardener the Lord is making, and to find that He does not desire the soul to undertake any labour, but only to take its delight in the first fragrance of the flowers. In any one of these visits, brief as its duration may be, the Gardener, being, as He is, the Creator of the water, gives the soul water without limit; and what the poor soul could not acquire, even if it laboured and fatigued its understanding for as much as twenty years, this heavenly Gardener achieves in a moment; the fruit grows and ripens in such a way that, if the Lord wills, the soul can obtain sufficient nourishment from its own garden. But He allows it to share the fruit with others only when it has eaten so much of it that it is strong enough not to consume it all by merely nibbling at it,[139] and not to fail to get profit from it, nor to omit to recompense Him Who has bestowed it, but to maintain others and give them food at its own cost while itself perhaps dying of hunger. This will be understood perfectly by persons of intelligence and they will be able to apply it more effectively than I can describe it, for I am growing tired.

The virtues, then, are now stronger than they were previously, in the Prayer of Quiet, for the soul sees that it is other than it was, and does not realize how it is beginning to do great things with the fragrance that is being given forth by the flowers. It is the Lord's will that these shall open so that the soul may see that it possesses virtues, though it also knows very well that it could not itself acquire them, and has in fact been unable to do so even after many years, whereas in this short space of time they have been given to it by the heavenly Gardener. The humility, too, which remains in the soul is much greater and deeper than it was previously, for it sees more clearly that it has done nothing at all of itself save to consent that the Lord shall grant it favours and to receive them with its will.

This kind of prayer, I think, is quite definitely a union of the entire soul with God, except that His Majesty appears to be willing to give the faculties leave to understand, and have fruition of, the great things that He is now doing. It happens at certain seasons, very often indeed (I say this now so that Your Reverence may know that it can happen and recognize it when it happens to you: I myself was quite distracted by it), that, when the will is in union, the soul realizes that the will is captive and rejoicing, and that it alone is experiencing great quiet, while, on the other hand, the understanding and the memory are so free that they can attend to business and do works of charity. This may seem to be just the same as the Prayer of Quiet of which I spoke, but it is really different -- partly because in that prayer the soul would fain neither stir nor move and is rejoicing in that holy repose which belongs to Mary, while in this prayer it can also be a Martha. Thus the soul is, as it were, occupied in the active and in the contemplative life at one and the same time: it is doing works of charity and also the business pertaining to its mode of life, as well as busying itself with reading. Those in this state, however, are not wholly masters of themselves and they know very well that the better part of the soul is elsewhere. It is as if we were speaking to one person while someone else was speaking to us: we cannot be wholly absorbed in either the one conversation or the other.

This is a thing which can be very clearly apprehended, and which, when experienced, gives great satisfaction and pleasure; it is also a most effective preparation for attainment to a very restful state of quiet, since it gives the soul a period of solitude or freedom from its business. It works in this way. A person may have so far satisfied his appetite that he has no need to eat; he feels quite well fed and would not look at ordinary food; yet he is not so replete that, if he sees something nice, he will not be glad to eat some of it. Just so here: the soul in this state is not satisfied by the pleasures of the world and has no desire for them because it has within it that which satisfies it more: greater joys in God and desires to satisfy its desire, to have greater fruition and to be with Him -- that is what the soul seeks.

There is another kind of union, which, though not complete union, is more nearly so than the one which I have just described, but not so much so as the one which has been referred to in speaking of this third water. Your Reverence will be very glad, if the Lord grants them all to you (assuming that you do not possess them already), to have a written description of them and thus to be able to understand their nature. For it is one favour that the Lord should grant this favour; but quite another to understand what favour and what grace it is; and still another to be able to describe and explain it. And although only the first of these favours seems necessary for the soul to be able to proceed without confusion and fear and to walk in the way of the Lord with the greater courage, trampling underfoot all the things of the world, it is a great benefit and favour to understand it, and it is right that everyone who can do so, as well as everyone who cannot, should praise the Lord because His Majesty has granted it to a few people who are alive so that we may reap advantage from it. Now frequently this kind of union which I wish to describe comes about as follows (and this is specially true of myself, for God very often grants me this favour in this way). God constrains the will, and also, I think, the understanding, as it does not reason but occupies itself in the fruition of God, like one who, as he looks, sees so much that he does not know where to look next: as he sees one thing he loses sight of another so that he can give no description of anything. The memory remains free -- both it and the imagination must be so -- and when they find themselves alone one would never believe what a turmoil they make and how they try to upset everything. Personally, I get fatigued by it and I hate it, and often I beseech the Lord, if He must upset me so much, to let me be free from it at times like these. "My God," I say to Him sometimes, "when shall my soul be wholly employed in Thy praise, instead of being torn to pieces in this way, and quite helpless?" This makes me realize what harm is done to us by sin, which has bound us in this way so that we cannot do as we would -- namely, be always occupied in God.

As I say, it happens at times -- to-day has been one of them, so I have it clearly in mind -- that I find my soul is becoming unwrought, because it wants to be wholly where the greater part of it is, yet it knows this to be impossible. Memory and imagination make such turmoil within it that they leave it helpless; and the other faculties, not being free, are unable to do anything, even harm. They do the soul extreme harm, of course, by disturbing it; but, when I say "unable to do harm", I mean that they have no strength and cannot concentrate. The understanding gives the soul no help whatever by what it presents to the imagination; it rests nowhere, but goes from one thing to another, like nothing so much as those restless, importunate little moths that fly by night: just so the understanding flies from one extreme to another. This comparison, I think, is extremely apt; for though the understanding has not the strength to do any harm, it importunes those who observe it. I do not know what remedy there is for this, for so far God has not revealed one to me. If He had, I would very willingly make use of it, for, as I say, I am often tormented in this way. Here we have a picture of our own wretchedness and a very clear one of God's great power; the faculty which remains free causes us all this fatigue and harm, whereas the others, which are with His Majesty, bring us rest.

The remedy which I finally discovered, after having caused myself much fatigue for many years, is the one I spoke of when describing the Prayer of Quiet: the soul must take no more notice of the will than it would of a madman, but leave it to its work, for God alone can set it free. In this state, in short, it is a slave. We must bear patiently with it as Jacob bore with Lia, for the Lord is showing us an exceeding great mercy if He allows us to enjoy Rachel. I say that it is a slave because, after all, however much it may try, it cannot attract to itself the other faculties; on the contrary, they often compel it to come to them and it does so without the smallest effort. Sometimes, seeing it so confused and restless because of its desire to be with the other faculties, God is pleased to have pity on it, and His Majesty allows it to burn in the fire of that Divine candle, which has already deprived the others of their natural form and reduced them to ashes: so great are the blessings they are enjoying that they have become almost supernatural.

In all these types of prayer which I have described in speaking of this last-mentioned kind of water, which comes from a spring, the glory and the repose of the soul are so great that the body shares in the soul's joy and delight, and this to a most marked extent, and the virtues are very highly developed in it, as I have said. It seems that the Lord has been pleased to describe these states in which the soul finds itself, and to do so as clearly, I believe, as in this life is possible. Your Reverence should discuss the matter with some spiritual person, who has himself reached this state and is a man of learning. If he tells you that it is all right, you may take his assurance as coming from God and be grateful for it to His Majesty. For, in due time, as I have said, you will rejoice greatly at having understood the nature of this, until He gives you grace to understand it fully, just as He is giving you grace to enjoy it. As His Majesty has granted you the first grace, you, with all your intellect and learning, will come to understand it as well. May He be praised for all things, for ever and ever. Amen.

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