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Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life

Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life

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by Mirabai Starr, Tessa Bielecki

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Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) is one of the most beloved of the Catholic saints. In 1562, during the era of the Spanish Inquisition, Teresa sat down to write an account of the mystical experiences for which she had become famous. The result was this book, one of the great classics of spiritual autobiography. With this fresh translation of The Book of My


Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) is one of the most beloved of the Catholic saints. In 1562, during the era of the Spanish Inquisition, Teresa sat down to write an account of the mystical experiences for which she had become famous. The result was this book, one of the great classics of spiritual autobiography. With this fresh translation of The Book of My Life, Mirabai Starr brings the inimitable Spanish mystic to life for a new generation, with contemporary English that mirrors Teresa's own earthy, vernacular Spanish, and that presents us with—four centuries after Teresa's death—someone we feel we know: a woman intoxicated with God yet filled with an overflowing love for the world.

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Shambhala Publications
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Penguin Random House Publisher Services
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861 KB

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Chapter 1: A Child's Passion for God

There was no valid reason for me to be so wicked. My parents were righteous people who revered God. And God granted me the option of being good as well. I had all the help I needed to curtail my negative tendencies. But I was incorrigible.

My father loved good books. He had some that were written in Spanish, so his children could read them, and they had a positive influence on me. My mother made sure that we all said our prayers and offered devotion to our Lady and to certain saints. When I was around six or seven years old, exposure to these holy things began to stir something in me.

It helped that I never saw either of my parents act with anything other than integrity. They were both blessed with many virtues. My father, for instance, had great compassion for the poor and sympathy for the sick. He was kind to his servants and could not bear to keep slaves. In fact, when one of his brother's
Moorish slaves was staying at our house, my father treated her like one of his own children. He couldn't stand it that she was not free, he said. My father spoke only the truth. Nobody ever heard him swear or gossip. He was a profoundly decent man.

My mother, too, was a deeply virtuous woman and absolutely honest. She struggled with illness throughout her life. Even though she was incredibly beautiful, she never paid attention to her looks. In fact, by the time she died at age thirty-three, she was already dressing with the dignity of a much more mature woman. My mother was deeply serene and exceptionally intelligent. She endured terrible trials during her time on this earth,
but she died in the fullness of Christ's love.

We were a family of three sisters and nine brothers. By the grace of God, all were as virtuous as our parents. Except for me. Even so, I was my father's favorite. There actually might have been some reason for this at one time. Before I started rebelling against God, I believe that God had given me some very good inclinations. It causes me such pain now to remember how I took these blessings for granted and did not make use of them.

I loved all of my brothers and sisters, and they loved me.
They certainly never stood in my way or prevented me from serving God.
I had one brother, close to my own age, whom I loved best of all. We used to read the lives of the saints together. When I read about certain women saints who endured martyrdom for the sake of God, I
concluded that death was a small price to pay for the utter joy they were given in return when they were whisked away to heaven.

desperately wanted to die like this. Not out of holy devotion, at least not that I was aware of, but from sheer urgency to get hold of the sublime fruits that my books promised were stored up for me. My brother and I would discuss how we could best make martyrs of ourselves. We decided to head off to the country of the Moors, begging bread along the way, and ask them to please, for the love of God, chop off our heads. I believe that our Lord had given us, even at such a tender age,
the courage to follow up on our plan. The only thing stopping us was the fact that we had parents.

You know how it is said that both pain and glory are eternal? My brother and I used to spend hours pondering this together. "Forever!" we would say. "Forever! Forever!"
It seems that my frequent repetition of this phrase knocked on God's door and offered me a lasting glimpse of the Way of Truth when I was only a small child.

When I finally accepted that there was nowhere I could go where I could convince them to kill me for the sake of God, my brother and I decided to become holy hermits. In the small orchard behind our house, we would pile up stones to build our hermitages. But they immediately came tumbling down, thwarting our project over and over again. Even now, as I remember how young I was when God gave me the precious gift of devotion, I am filled with sadness to see how I lost it along the way through my own carelessness.

As much as I could, which was not much at all, I gave alms to the poor. I
tried to be alone whenever I said my prayers. And I prayed often. My mother had a disciplined practice of saying the rosary, and she inspired the same commitment in us. When I played with other little girls, I loved to pretend that we were building convents to live in. I
think I always wanted to be a nun. But, unfortunately, I wanted other things more.

When I was around twelve years old, my mother died.
When it began to dawn on me what I had lost, I was overcome by grief.
Weeping uncontrollably, I threw myself at the feet of the image of our
Lady and pleaded with her to be my mother now. It seems to me that even though I made this prayer with naïve simplicity, she answered me. I
have found that whenever I have placed myself in her circle of mercy,
the Blessed Mother has turned to enfold me. It disturbs me deeply now to see that somewhere along the way I abandoned so many of the good impulses I had begun to cultivate.

O my Beloved! It appears that you are determined to save me. May it please you to do it! You have already poured such a bounty of blessings upon me. What I don't understand is why you have allowed this dwelling of my soul, where you have chosen to live, to remain in such a terrible mess. It is not for my own advantage that I ask, but for your honor and glory.

Why am
I even saying this? I already know it's my own fault. You did everything you could possibly do, from the time I was very young, to make me fully yours. I can't blame my parents either, since all I ever saw in them was pure goodness and concern for my well-being.

As I
passed through childhood, I began to become aware of the many natural graces my Lord had bestowed on me. Instead of giving thanks for these gifts, I started to use them against him, as I will now explain.

Meet the Author

Mirabai Starr is an adjunct professor of philosophy and religious studies at the University of New Mexico. She has studied a wide variety of religious traditions, including Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity. She is also the translator of Teresa of Ávila’s Interior Castle and The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross. She lives in Taos, New Mexico.

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