Teresa’s Ecstasy

Happy feast of Saint Teresa of Avila!

This is the little girl who at the wise age of 7 was convinced that she would be bad when she grew up, so she convinced her younger brother to run away with her to the crusades. So she could die a holy death before she grew up and became wicked. (Her uncle caught them right outside the city walls.)

She is seriously bad-ass.

She had an incredible ability to be practical and get things done, – a skill I sorely lack – and she was a mystic.

Both, at one time.

‘Cause that’s just the way God works.

This is the woman who could be frank with God.

She was traveling all over Spain reconverting monasteries to a more humble and holy way of life, and she was having a rough time. One day, she was traveling on the back of farm cart, when the cart went over a bump and she was thrown out into a very muddy puddle. Sitting there in the middle of the road, she lifted her hand to Heaven and groaned, “Lord, this is how you are treating me?”

At that point a vision of the Christ child appeared to her, smiled beatifically, and told her sweetly, “This is how I always treat my friends!”

Teresa took a moment to register this, and then dryly responded, “Then, forgive me for saying so, Lord, but that must be why you have so few friends!”

In one of her visions, she was pierced by a spear, which is reminiscent of both Our Lord’s experience on the cross, and a more intimate encounter with the Bridegroom. In her own words,

“I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…”

This experience was captured in the famous sculpture of Theresa’s ecstasy, and then later in a sublime poem.

by Richard Wilbur

After the sun’s eclipse
The brighter angel and the spear which drew
A bridal outcry from her open lips,

She could not prove it true,
Nor think at first of any means to test
By what she had been wedded or possessed.

Not all cries were the same;
There was an island in mythology
Called by the very vowels of her name
Where vagrants of the sea,
Changed by a word, were made to squeal and cry
As heavy captives in a witch’s sty.

The proof came soon and plain:
Visions were true which quickened her to run
God’s barefoot errands in the rocks of Spain
Beneath its beating sun,
And lock the O of ecstasy within
The tempered consonants of discipline.


One thought on “Teresa’s Ecstasy

  1. How interesting. #1) I’d never heard of this saint and now I’m actually wanting to know more about her. #2) The philosophical thought about those who are loved most by God going through awful things. I mean that actually is said in the bible, not that I can remember where at the moment…
    Anyway, thanks for food for thought! 🙂

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