Falling into the Arms of God: Meditations with Teresa of Avila

Falling into the Arms of God: Meditations with Teresa of Avila

by Megan Don


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781577314844
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 03/28/2005
Pages: 176
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x (d)

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Falling Into the Arms of God

Meditations With Teresa of Avila
By Megan Don

New World Library

Copyright © 2005 Megan Don
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-57731-484-0


Within oneself, very clearly, is the best place to look [for God] ... and it's not necessary to go to heaven, nor any further than our own selves; for to do so is to tire the spirit and distract the soul, without gaining as much fruit. (Collected Works vol. I, 357)

Teresa of Avila understood that the mystery of the divine indwelling was available to all people. For her, contemplation was not restricted to nuns and monks. Likewise, she believed that engaging in an active life was not confined to those living in the secular world. Teresa's life provides us with an exceptional example of bringing the contemplative and active life together; it displays both a profound internal depth and an exceptionally productive outcome.

Of both Jewish and Christian ancestry, Teresa de Ahumada was born in Avila, Spain, in 1515, where she had a privileged upbringing and belonged to the Spanish nobility. Societal status was extremely important in sixteenth-century Spain, and Teresa's life was deeply affected by social expectations. She was also greatly influenced, however, by the religious ethos within her family, and consequently a certain dichotomous relationship was firmly established in Teresa's psyche. This dichotomy was to plague Teresa for many years to come.

At the age of twenty, after much deliberation, she chose toenter the Carmelite Monastery in Avila.

She did not make this choice because of a vocational "calling" but because Teresa understood it to be a favorable alternative to marriage. Likewise, her choice of religious order was not owing to any spiritual affiliation but was simply made because a friend of hers had recently entered the order, and she thought it would be fun to be there together.

Her fascination with the world continued while she lived in the monastery, since it was not an enclosed order, and a stream of visitors occupied much of her time as they relayed the latest gossip, fashions, and news of the town. Prayers were ordered and recited by rote, which left her soul dry and uninspired. She attempted to enter her own "prayer of quiet," but finding the thoughts in her head far too noisy and disturbing, she gave up any attempt to develop a more meaningful way to pray. Her relationship with God at this time was fairly superficial.

For twenty years she lived a divided life. On the one hand her ego desired worldly attachments, while on the other her spirit was calling her to a deeper communion with God. At the age of forty, Teresa finally surrendered completely to God. Her real life and work had begun. She returned to her prayer of quiet, allowing God to lead her, no longer relying on her own techniques. Meditation became essential to Teresa in establishing a clear and firm foundation with God, and as she walked further on her spiritual pathway, she came to understand that this external God also "rests within." It was to this place that she would constantly return to receive guidance, love, and a feeling of deep peace that she could not find elsewhere.

In 1560 Teresa was guided to reform the Carmelite Order, both male and female. She chose John of the Cross (1542-1591) to become the first friar. John had studied with the Jesuits and had a promising academic career, but he unexpectedly entered the contemplative Carmelite Order. He was to become a great Spanish mystic and saint. Teresa introduced him to her teachings, of returning to the essence of the hermit fathers from Mt. Carmel in Israel, that is, of becoming "a garden of contemplation." She encountered numerous objections and hostilities, both from within and outside the order, and was thrown into fear and self-doubt. Teresa battled with this self-doubt for many years, but with continued faith in her inner God-self, she fought long and hard against the many male clerics who ceaselessly tried to invalidate her spiritual experiences. Through this she became an advocate for inner self-guidance.

Teresa created seventeen new monasteries altogether, traveling the length and breadth of Spain in often appalling conditions - encountering treacherous floods and heavy snowfalls, often housed in roadside inns with all kinds of villains and vermin. When asked what hell was like, Teresa quickly replied, "Hell is like a night in a bad hotel."

Through founding these monasteries, Teresa became an astute businesswoman. She raised funds to purchase properties, was conversant with tax laws, and even knew how to legally evade certain land taxes. Her diplomatic and bureaucratic skills were constantly called on as she dealt with nobility and local government officials. On one occasion she even had to ask the king of Spain for a personal favor. She was, as we would say today, a very modern woman.

Teresa has given us numerous volumes of writing in which she described her profoundly rich inner life. Her masterwork, The Interior Castle, one of the most celebrated books on mystical theology ever written, is a detailed guide for the journey toward spiritual perfection. In this work, she likened the soul to a crystal castle within which are seven dwelling places. Each dwelling place has many rooms and represents certain aspects of the spiritual journey: "In each of these there are many others, below and above and to the sides, with lovely gardens and fountains and labyrinths, such delightful things that you would want to be dissolved in praises of the great God who created the soul in His own image and likeness" (Collected Works vol. II, 452). She knew the beauty and wonder of her own soul and tirelessly instructed those in her monasteries and surrounding communities. She taught them how to enter deeply into this great mystery, ultimately leading to the center of the castle - the place where God resides.

In this book I provide a reflective interpretation, relevant to our twenty-first-century psychology and spirituality, of The Interior Castle and its seven dwellings. Teresa did not name the dwellings, and so I have given them titles suggested by her writing and according to my interpretation of the journey we embark on as we enter each dwelling place. As we travel with Teresa deeper into the center of our being, the spiritual journey becomes at once more demanding and more sublime. I also draw from her other autobiographical writings, such as The Life, and from her letters.

Throughout her work, Teresa wrote mainly about the nature of the soul. Only briefly did she delineate between the "soul" and "spirit." Writing late in life, she noted that as her daily duties continued, she felt a part of herself always remaining in the divine center, while the soul and all its faculties attended to necessary business. She believed it is the spirit that is one with God, even though paradoxically there is no separation between soul and spirit. She quotes St. Paul: "He that is joined or united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him." Her philosophical musings were short, however, since she was far more concerned with the practical application of her experiences, and she ends her brief foray into these thoughts by claiming the complex subtlety of our interior workings. In keeping with Teresa's use of it, the word soul, then, is to be read as defining the whole being.

Teresa often lamented over the ineptitude of language when trying to describe the divine and her experiences. Even though she was naturally influenced by the language of her day, her writings clearly indicate that her knowledge of the Supreme Reality went far beyond the linguistic limitations we are all faced with. In keeping with the tradition of Teresa's time and her writings, I have referred to God as He. Please read the name of God as whatever is comfortable for you, whether it be Spirit, Universe, Higher Power, or Energy. And please read the gender however it feels most comfortable to you, whether it be She, He, or It.

Teresa did not use the word ego but referred to her mind, will, and pride as creating havoc in her life through self-serving impulses such as personal demands and desires, fears and worries, and self-righteousness. Nonetheless, throughout this book I use the terms ego and the smaller ego-self when referring to such impulses, both Teresa's and our own, since they capture well her meaning and since modern readers can easily relate to these concepts.

Teresa passed from this world on October 15, 1582, at the age of sixty-eight. Her body was said to give off the perfume of roses, and it did not decompose. She was canonized as a saint on March 12, 1622.

Teresa had no time for a disembodied spirituality, and she would frequently say, "God preserve me from saintly people." She displayed much courage, heart, and humor and was able to balance an active and keen intellect with the surrender of the self to God. This is why I feel that she has much to teach us. Being principally a people driven by our thinking minds, we can appreciate and learn from her balanced life of surrender. We can enter into our own innate relationship with God, while simultaneously using and cultivating our intellects to further our work here on earth, whatever that is destined to be.

How to Read This Book For the Individual Reader

Falling into the Arms of God consists of seven parts, or dwellings, each of which contains several brief chapters. This book may be read in two ways. The first is sequentially: by reading meditations consecutively, you will be taken on a journey that continually deepens your spiritual experience and your daily living. Try not to give yourself time limits when reading the book, since one meditation may especially inspire you, requiring you to stay with it for a week, a month, or more. Remember, Teresa spent her whole life journeying on this pathway.

The second way to read this book is through random selection. Sit quietly and allow yourself to come into a place of stillness; ask to be guided to the particular meditation that is relevant for you in that very moment. Teresa was a firm believer in this method of guidance and inspiration.

Whichever way you choose to read the book, try to find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Come to the reading with a sense of sacredness, both for yourself and for the divine. Give yourself time to breathe and to release your previous activities. Familiarize yourself with the theme that you are reading about - located at the beginning of each of the seven dwellings - then turn to the relevant meditation. Ask that your whole being be open to receiving what you need, and then proceed to read.

Each brief chapter consists of a quote from Teresa's writing, some reflective words, and then a meditation. I suggest that you first read the quote from Teresa's writing, then the reflective words, allowing your own experiences, thoughts, and feelings to arise as you read. Go back to the quote and read the words slowly and deliberately, letting them penetrate deeply within. Turn to the meditation at the end of each reflection and read it through. Then prepare yourself for actively entering the meditation. Make sure you are seated comfortably; begin by inhaling and exhaling very slowly, and feel yourself entering a state of deep relaxation. Gently re-turn to the meditation and follow the guidance, at the same time allowing the spirit to take you to the divinely desired and relevant place for you.

Enjoy your journey!

For Group Study

This book is well suited to study and discussion groups. I suggest using the following format.

Make a commitment to yourself, to God, and to the group for fourteen weeks (three and a half months). Present and work with one reflection and meditation a week. Owing to the large number of reflections in this book, the group will need to limit its study to two chapters from each dwelling. For example, the first week, from part 1, you could choose "What Is Real?"; the second week you could choose "The Mystery," also from part 1. The third week, from part 2, you could choose "Inclined to Love"; the fourth week, also from part 2, you could choose "The Doubting Mind," and so on through all the dwellings.

Each week a different member of the group will choose the reflection to be studied and lead the group in the following suggested way. Begin the group with a short prayer welcoming all the members and inviting the spirit to be with you and to guide you on your journey of discovery and discussion. Allow time for all members to come into deep relaxation through breathing and silence. (You may wish to conduct a short breathing meditation by simply following the breath through inhalation and exhalation). When the group has reached a place of stillness in body and mind, read Teresa's quote from the chosen reflection. You may choose to read the quote twice. Then continue to read the reflection that follows it.


Excerpted from Falling Into the Arms of God by Megan Don Copyright © 2005 by Megan Don. Excerpted by permission.
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Falling into the Arms of God: Meditations with Teresa of Avila 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
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pilgrimRM More than 1 year ago
St Teresa of Avila's writings are not necessarily for the beginner, but Megan Don makes her thoughts so understandable. She brings the interior castle before us and she walks us through it in a way that helps us connect with and recognize God within. One can tell by her writing that Megan has done much in her own spiritual walk. She now shares her walk with St Teresa and what she has come to know. This is a great work and one that brings the reader closer to God through one of the great Saints of the Church. Enjoy!