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It is very important for any soul that practices prayer, whether little or much, not to hold itself back and stay in one corner. —St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, I.2.8)
Anyone who travels knows that you cannot hesitate or wander; you must keep moving. A seasoned traveler, in particular, knows how important it is to stay the course even in the midst of the rush and chaos of getting prepared and dealing with unexpected setbacks. If you want to reach your destination, you need a certain amount of discipline and focus or you will become more and more frustrated. Who has not found themselves searching for car keys or plane tickets at the last moment?
Teresa shows little patience for those who become complacent and drag their feet along the path of prayer. How, she asks, do they ever expect to get to the end of the road? The journey theme in Teresa’s writings gives us a sense that we are “going somewhere,” writes the Carmelite author John Welch. “There is a destination to look forward to, and there is a way to that destination.”
As a result, the journey of prayer never loses momentum, even with our insecurities and setbacks, but continues with a certain rhythm. Recall that Jesus himself lived out of an ongoing rhythm of prayer, withdrawing from the crowds at times to be alone with his Father and then sharing this communion in his ministry.
Take the first step, Teresa advises, and then stop only to assess your situation and to make sure you are not lost because “it is very important for you to know that you are on the right road” (The Way of Perfection, 22.3). Above all, do not settle for a plateau or opt for security. In fact, for Teresa, “there is no security in this life,” so we must never abandon the path we are on (The Interior Castle, III.1.1).
Clearly, Teresa’s encouragement to stay the course with prayer is a gift not only to her community but to us as well. She speaks to us as a guide who has traveled the path and knows its difficulties and rewards. Moreover, she addresses everyone on the prayer journey, from the beginner struggling with how to pray to those who are more advanced. She is well aware that we do not all receive the same grace, but she believes that we are all meant to be persons of prayer.
Teresa is particularly supportive of those who are being called to transition from a meditative form of prayer— prayer that depends primarily on imagination and discursive reasoning—to prayer that is more contemplative. People at this stage in their journey, usually at midlife, are often confused by their experience, particularly if their prayer has become dry and difficult. What they need is assurance that their experience is temporary, a time of transition into deeper prayer. Teresa counsels, as always, perseverance and greater attentiveness to the call of love.
Excerpted from The Inward Path to God: A Prayer Journey with St. Teresa of Avila by Wayne Simsic (The Word Among Us Press, 2015). Available at wau.org/books