By Paul Russo, member of Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community Centering Prayer Group
When it was announced that our Centering Prayer Group would be hosting a half day retreat with COSD I knew that I’d be attending. It’s always a special experience when one is able to support one’s community events; but, when the central theme was to be Teresa of Avila I was definitely in.
We were very fortunate to have Oliva Espin, Phd., professor emerita of Women’s Studies at SDSU and a member of our home community of Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community (MMACC), who is well versed in Teresa’s life and works. Coupled with her down to earth delivery and sense of humor, she allowed us to get a better sense of the human experience of this saint, mystic, first woman Doctor of the Church and early feminist.
For me this day’s event was rich in history, spirituality and community. (There always seems to be much more energy in the room when “two or more gather” together in these types of events.)
The twenty minute sit along with some Taize singing based on words from Teresa’s works was sandwiched between two talks making for an environment of deep learning and prayer.
One of the things that struck me was the emphasis on Teresa’s humanity. She was born into a Jewish family and, like the rest of us, she was the product of her culture and time. One’s culture definitely can and will color one’s approach to how we articulate and interpret our own spiritual journey.
It is apparent that Teresa was very much aware of the struggles women were having finding their own identity and place in a society dominated by a patriarchal worldview. Teresa founded seventeen convents to provide places where women could meet and prayerfully experience the Divine.
She was aware that the language of religion, by its very nature, is symbolic and metaphoric. In her master piece work, Interior Castles, Teresa is able to draw from her own experiences and articulate them in symbolic and metaphoric ways. This challenges her readers/students to prayerfully ponder what she is saying, in order to grasp the reality that “prayer is a relationship”.
There was so much in these talks that could be touched upon. Let me just close by singling out a few of the rich morsels that spoke to me:
- Dogma has no value if it doesn’t reveal God.
- One’s posture at prayer must facilitate recollection.
- Become aware that one’s very life is the vehicle of divine revelation. Another way I like to say this is “God comes to us disguised as our life.”
- Our prayer life is a developmental process in which we can begin to know our true selves and consequently the Divine.
- Contemplative prayer is the practice of “resting in God” where we are invited “not to think, but to love much”.
- Like rain on a promising garden, God is doing the work within us.
- Finally, Teresa’s encouraging words “Nada te turbe…”, Let nothing disturb you.
Thank you, Oliva Espin, and thank you Teresa of Avila.