She was a mystic. She wrote Interior Castle, and, though she is known for many quotations, her bookmark says it all:
Let nothing disturb you;
According to Sr. Margaret Dorgan, DCM, in her article, "I AM SO FOND OF THIS ELEMENT", an article which gets its title from another one of Saint Teresa's quotes (she reportedly was referring to water as an "element"), Saint Teresa of Ávila was known to have said that, "Beginners in prayer are starting to cultivate a garden on very barren soil, full of weeds." Dorgan writes, "God helps us pull the weeds and God plants good seeds", and she reminds her readers that Teresa stated that "we must take pains to water them so they don't wither but bud and flower."
As an urban gardener, I go to great lengths to make sure that my garden is always properly watered, and because I now have an array of herbs, plants, flowers, vines, shrubs and trees that total a little over eighty in number, and because I water them by hand — twice a day in "normal weather" but more than that in heat waves — traipsing back and forth from my terrace to my kitchen sink, it is very time consuming. This is something which I wrote about in one of my blog entries this past summer, and, if you'd like, you may refer to it by clicking here. However, as time consuming as they may seem, my garden-tending efforts are usually rewarded, as evident in the "aerial view" of it seen in the photograph posted below, which was taken by Juan V this past Thursday.
As you can see, everything is thriving, and undoubtedly you will conclude that great care has gone into tending my garden for it to wind up with such a beautiful result. However, if someone were to take an aerial view — or any view for that matter — of my prayer life, I am afraid they might not have such an exquisite result as Juan V did in photographing my urban garden.
Today, as I honor Saint Teresa's feast day, her metaphor of gardening as a way to teach one about prayer is on my mind. In "I AM SO FOND OF THIS ELEMENT" Dorgan also shares that in relation to the teaching of prayer, Teresa stated, "Let us see how the garden must be watered so that we may understand what we have to do, [the watering is a joint effort by God and ourselves. The labor on our part is initially hard.] You may draw water from a well which for us is a lot of work . . . and later you may get it by means of a water wheel and aqueducts by turning the crank of the water wheel. The method involves less work." [Dorgan cites this quote as being from Collected Works The Book of Her Life, Chapter Eleven — and, no dear reader, not the "well-known" Chapter Eleven, although, I will admit, prayer can sometimes feel like being on the brink of bankruptcy!]
The "empty bucket" is valuable, and making the time to pray is crucial, but, as is the case in most things, balance is crucial. Saint Teresa certainly knew this and lived this way. I've been told, by a few Teresa devotees that one day while she was having a pheasant dinner (that had been donated to the convent), Teresa gobbled her food voraciously. The other nuns looked at her in horror as she gulped down her food. Teresa's response, "When I pray, I pray, and when I pheasant, I pheasant!" A LOT TO THINK ABOUT ON THIS FEAST DAY!