Wednesday, October 15, 2008

St. Teresa of Avila

October 15th, St. Teresa of Avila's feast day, where thousands, perhaps even millions of people pause to remember this wonderful woman. She lived in the 16th century, and during her life as a Carmelite nun, she was so in love with God, she received mystical experiences. When she was deep in prayer, tales of her ability to levitate and even fly continue to this day. And oh my, she was a very funny woman, with a mountain of spunk. Her comment here is a good example -
About the injunction of the Apostle Paul that women should keep silent in church? Don't go by one text only.
Another story involves her falling in a puddle and getting her bright white nun formal outfit covered in mud. She scolded God,
if that's the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them.
St Teresa of Avila is also the subject of some amazing works of art. There's a mountain of major works of art featuring her, but let me point you to two of the best. First Peter Paul Rubens painting, Teresa of Avila. The painting features an older St. Teresa with a book and a feather pen in her hand. The feather pen references her writings, including an autobiography that she was forced to pen by her church authorities. As such, St. Teresa was compelled to write down and share her mystical experiences, just do it Tess. And wow, what experiences she had. Her three best books are must reading if you have an interest in spiritual mysticism. Check out The Interior Castle, The Way of Perfection and Teresa of Avila, autobiography.

Which brings us to the other amazing piece of art about St. Teresa of Avila. Gianlorenzo Bernini's masterpiece - The Ecstasy of St. Teresa of Avila. Bernini draws upon the writings in her autobiography to use as inspiration for his sculpture in marble.
Beside me on the left appeared an angel in bodily form . . . He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest ranks of angels, who seem to be all on fire . . . In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated my entrails. When he pulled it out I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one can not possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul content with anything but God. This is not a physical but a spiritual pain, though the body has some share in it -- even a considerable share.[from Teresa of Avila, Autobiography, Chapter 29]
This amazing sculpture, (~ sculpt-sure?) can be viewed at Santa Maria della Vittoria, in Rome, Italy. When viewed after reflecting on her writing, & reading the words that inspired Bernini to create this massive work (11 1/2 feet high) in stone makes a powerful work even stronger. The face Bernini gives St. Teresa in this work just oozes profound joy, rapture, both sensual and spiritual, and in a word - Ecstasy.