Friday, February 17, 2017

The Way of Prayer

Last summer I bought two of St. Teresa of Avila's books at the recommendation of my priest mentioning I might like her writing. He had previously loaned me Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross who was doing similar work related to reforming the Carmelite order. Starting The Way of Prayer in January, two thoughts immediately came to mind. I was relieved that her voice and style was overall easier for me to understand than St. John of the Cross' book, while still giving me a lot to think about and that I loved it so much I knew I would eventually want to read the full book, The Way of Perfection.

This excerpt from the larger book is short at 178 pages and has chapters divided by concepts from the Our Father after an overall introduction to provide context to this excerpt. Some lines from the prayer span multiple chapters. Though I could have read through the book quickly, I instead lingered while taking notes most of the book. Several aspects about the book stood out to me, and it is a book that I would want to read again over time, knowing that as my prayer life changes her ideas will resonate in different ways. 

One aspect that I especially appreciate is her voice as a mentor. She frequently provides encouragement and assurances to persevere in a life of prayer and to emphasize that it is worth investing our time in. Her confidence on the power of prayer is a reflection of her deep faith in the goodness of God who loves us and seeks relationship with us. The narration shifts between praise directed toward God (reading as an intimate prayer) and addressing her intended audience, her Carmelite sisters. I appreciated that woven throughout the book were suggestions that encompassed both what we should do and cautions. 

After I started reading the book, there has been more depth into the significance while praying the Our Father. Nonetheless, I am fully aware that because her rich work developed each line of the prayer with multiple ideas, it is probably just the tip of the iceberg that sticks with me, another good reason to reread again and again in order to retain more of the concepts.

I was also surprised that while it was all centered on the Our Father, it was much bigger in scope than I would have imagined. At times I would forget that all the ideas were linked back to specific lines until she would weave it back toward the prayer. This surprise is likely an indication that I have always underestimated the power and depth of one the basic prayers of our faith.

While reading I also noticed there were numerous ideas that were not necessarily new but that made more sense based on her explanation. I could especially think of multiple instances where concepts my priest had mentioned to me more than once and that have been lingering with me over the months now came into sharper focus, including an understanding of the connection between trials and a relationship with God. My priest's guidance over the last year and a half positioned me well for her words to resonate. It makes sense that there would be connections between her ideas and his guidance as the Carmelite spirituality links to his faith formation through his congregation.

Then, of course, there were also concepts that did feel new or that while I must have been exposed to them before had not quite gotten it and the recognition that bringing the concept to my surface of conscience will make me a better person. 

The Way of Prayer was a good entry point for me into St. Teresa's writing. The editor's note at the start refers to the overall work from which it was excerpted as her "most accessible work" (p. vii) and as being directed toward beginners. Now I have continued into her Interior Castle with an edition that includes commentary, something that has been beneficial as I transition into her last writing. 

Based on these two books, I would eventually like to read more of her works and writing about her. Aside from the full The Way of Perfection (and a commentary on the work), I would like to read her autobiography. I am also interested in My Sisters the Saints, a contemporary memoir focusing on multiple Saints that have been influential for me, with the exception of one with which I am currently unfamiliar. 

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