Tomorrow is the day we remember Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). Visit Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body tomorrow for more.
The famous Teresa was a reformer from the center of Spain, along with her protégé, St. John of the Cross. In response to the radicals of the Protestant Reformation, which was like an earthquake in the Catholic Church of their time, those two wanted to return their monastic order to the ways to the hermits who founded it near Elijah’s Well in Palestine, on Mt. Carmel (see 1 Kings 18). They ended up with an offshoot of the Carmelites called the “barefoot” or “discalced” Carmelites.
Mariko’s emphasis on pilgrimage last night at Frankford Ave. helped me remember good times on my journeys with Jesus. While on pilgrimage in Kent over a decade ago, we stayed in Aylesford Abbey, the site of the first convocation of Carmelites in England in 1240. A yard full of elementary kids were there when we arrived, which was right in line with the order’s traditional love of children.
I am Teresa of Jesus
When we were in Avila a few years ago, Gwen and I went to the house where Teresa got started on her remarkable, influential ministry. For some reason we were the only pilgrims at the site and had a great museum all to ourselves. It seemed mysterious and important. Holy. On the stairs there was a mannequin of a little boy, replicating one of the moments of ecstasy that popped up in Teresa’s prayer. One day, as she was preparing to ascend the stairs leading to the upper rooms of the convent she met a beautiful child. He asked her “Who are you?” She replied, “I am Teresa of Jesus, and who are you?” To which the child responded, “I am Jesus of Teresa.”
Biographers say that encounter with the Lord, as a child, affected Teresa so deeply that whenever she set out to organize one of the eighteen (!) new houses she founded, she always brought a statue of the Child Jesus with her. She did a lot of teaching on contemplative prayer and encouraged everyone to leave their hearts open to visions and mysterious connections with God. But she didn’t want people to seek them or to rely on them.
Who are you?
In Carmelite spirituality there is an ancient custom of choosing a name which uniquely expresses a member’s personal relationship to the mysteries of the faith. Thus there are people like Teresa of Jesus, John of the Cross, and Elizabeth of the Trinity. In honor of these ancestors in the faith, I have been pondering what name I should have.
If the risen Lord were to ask you today, “Who are you?” How would you answer? If you were a Discalced (or another kind of) Carmelite, what new name would you choose for yourself? What mystery of the faith has been central to your life-journey in Christ?
When I pondered these questions in Teresa’s honor, I realized I have been blessed with so many ways to connect with God it is hard to choose something central (and Teresa cobbled together another name for herself, as well, since she couldn’t quite decide either). Rod of Jesus works for me, too. Rod of the Silence. Rod of the Road. Rod of the Pioneers. But mainly, I think, Rod of the Church fits, as in Ephesians 3.
The mystery of the body of Christ in action probably moves me most. It is so fragile and yet so powerful, like the sculpture our group made in the forest last Saturday.
I have never been diverted from my passion for the church’s work of restoring people to their rightful place, redeeming the creation, fulfilling what is left of the Lord’s suffering as a living organism of many harmonious parts. Maybe that is why I have a hard time figuring out a name – I would prefer to be named by my brothers and sisters as they recognize Jesus in me, Jesus living through me to contribute what I have been given to share.
“Who are you?” How would you answer? At the Men’s Retreat last weekend one of the answers we offered the men is “You are the treasure God found when he was plowing his field in you. You are the beloved of God.” That might be the best place to start in order to see how you might be described in relation to the other wonders of God.