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Saturday, October 15, 2011

"If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few!" (Who said it? And to Whom?)

Are you able, dear reader, to recall who is associated with the quote, "If this is how you treat your friends,it's no wonder you have so few," and to whom they were speaking? I'll give you a hint:Today, October the 15th is the day that honors the individual who said it, and it was said to God.

The story goes that when this quote was spoken to God by this person, she (ok that's two hints October 15th and female saint) was on a mission to serve Him via a certain ministry. Part of her journey involved traveling by horse across a raging stream, and, in her endeavors to reach her destination, she was thrown from the horse in such a manner that she was not only in the throes of this raging stream, but, if she moved, the horse would likely kick her. Upon her ultimate escape from this freak accident, she reportedly yelled to God, "If this is how you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few!" Still not sure who said it, 'eh? I'll give you a few more hints:

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;
Let nothing frighten you.
All things are passing.
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.
God alone suffices.

The name of the woman associated with the quote mentioned in the first paragraph is Saint Teresa of Ávila, the great Sixteenth Century Spanish Carmelite nun. I recently learned more about her because I discovered that she used the tending of gardens as her metaphor for prayer.

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 rooftop 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!]

Dorgan suggests "beginners find themselves at a well with a bucket, like the Samaritan woman . . .  a scene especially dear to Teresa. Those who are eager to deepen awareness of God in their lives take on a demanding task in drawing water for their interior garden. Hitherto they may have given most of their attention to worldly concerns. However a change has taken place in their motivation, and they want to occupy their minds with divine realities. Teresa calls this endeavor 'recollection.' It is not a memory exercise. She means collecting our thoughts and reining in our desires. 'Since these people are accustomed to being distracted, this recollection requires much effort,” she points out. (ibid) We have to take a bucket, go to the well, lower it, fill it with water, and use our muscles to lift it back up. Then we pour the water over our arid ground.'"

"We are dealing here with prayer in a meditation format," Dorgan concludes,"Our mental processes are engaged in examining our life and where it is at this moment. . . . In order to focus upon the true meaning of existence, it is necessary to move our thoughts away from their too-great involvement with secular goals. The dry soil within us is lacking true growth."

"We need water," Dorgan emphasizes with her bold-faced type,"Getting it requires exertion. Going to the well with an empty bucket symbolizes withdrawal from the other concerns that until now have absorbed us."

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!"


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