My Matron Saint: Teresa of Avila

St. Theresa of Avila by Peter Paul Reubens
St. Teresa of Avila by Peter Paul Rubens

Introducing my Matron Saint, Teresa of Avila. She was many things, but above all, she was her whole self. She invites us to celebrate and live fully into all the sacred and diverse parts of our selves.

Teresa was born in 1515 in Avila, Spain, land of Flamenco and bull fights.

Teresa was an excellent administrator AND an insightful mystic; Proving that you can survive, even thrive, with one foot in the sublime and one in the here and now. This balance, this harmony between the mystical and the practical, is the work of every person of faith. We must integrate our holy experiences with our day-to-day tasks.

Duende-Passion/Wildness

What thrills me about Teresa was her Duende. Duende can be translated as Authenticity or as Soul, as in “you’ve got Soul.” Teresa had Duende.

Like all young women of her day and class, she was raised to be a Lady, and a wife. Teresa could have married anyone she desired. She was renowned for her fiery wit, her humor, and for her shapely legs. She heard a different call, and she acted. Against her father’s wishes, she quite literally climbed over the wall.

Some time after Teresa became the reverend mother of a new order of nuns, a group of junior nuns found Teresa voraciously devouring a roasted partridge. “What are you doing?” They cried, scandalized. “I’m eating a partridge,” She answered, “When I fast, I FAST, and when I eat partridge, I EAT partridge.

Over the years I’ve chosen heroes, goddesses, saints and teachers, to learn from. I chose Teresa because she was real… Teresa was human. She doubted herself sometimes, she struggled, she failed, and she kept on live so westboro will picketlearning and growing and forging her path. Joseph Campbell says “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take.” Rev Holly Lux-Sullivan added a corollary: “Even though you will stumble and fall, it is still your path.” I summarize this as “I’m choosing to ‘FAIL FORWARD’.”

Living life fully and authentically, doing what you are led to do, without apology? That’s who we are when we are in flow with godself, when we are sourcing to sacred. That is who I am when I am at the bedside of a dying person, while his wife and I are singing Amazing Grace. That is who I am when I am standing across the street from Fred Phelps, holding a sign that says “Celebrating on the side of love.”

Earthy/Discalced

Teresa’s prayers were graphic, (the sun), physical (the bird cradled in gods hands), and earthy (The bride who finally receives the bridegroom’s kiss). Of course she was earthy! She loved perfume and wore bright orange. (I favor purple.)

Teresa knew prayer was earthy because God, too, was earthy. “Lord, you are on the earth and clothed with it.” the best prayer involves all of our five senses: Touch, sight, smell, sound, and taste. She called prayer ‘a sweet fragrance’. and sin? It’s “a foul-smelling stench”.

My thealogy is “Earth-relating”. This is what I mean when I say that… I am grounded in the senses. I am rooted in the sacred earth.

barefootThe reformed movement that St. Teresa co-founded is called the Discalced Carmelites. Discalced or “shoeless” is meant to represent austerity, and humility. The choice to go without shoes was also a connection with the earth. Barefoot, or sandal-foot, you feel everything in the ground you stand upon. As God instructed Moses at the burning bush, ‘take off your sandals in this Holy Place’. Going shoeless is an affirmation that every place is holy, every place is sacred.

Ah, now I know why I feel compelled to remove my shoes during ritual, or when at home, or when connecting deeply with someone during spiritual direction.

Now I understand the term “being grounded”.

Humor, music, and Fun

Flamenco Flow by Ricardo Garcia
Flamenco Flow by Ricardo Garcia

Many years of living in college towns and attending or working in universities gave me a tendency to be Terribly Serious. Teresa had little patience for too much piousness: “God deliver us from sour-faced saints.” She wrote. When I remember that I am enough, and don’t have to take myself SO seriously: I can be fully my genuine self and I connect with the divine and those around me. Life with the fire of Duende, life sourced from the sacred, is a lot more fun. AND contagious.

Pain

Pierced by a flaming arrow. sculpture by Bernini
Pierced by a flaming arrow. sculpture by Bernini

Teresa had moments of communion with the divine that were exquisitely painful. So intense they hurt. some of the pain she experienced, looked at through modern eyes, was probably medical. She describes one of those moments as being ‘Pierced by a flaming arrow through the heart’. We all have moments, even days or weeks, when our compassion, our awareness, our connection to others, causes us deep pain, grief, and even despair. This pain is the source of social justice work. And we all have times when we have to surrender to the frailties of our human bodies.

The awareness of suffering breaks our hearts. And creates the fire of energy. Energy to speak truth and take action, Energy to show up, to listen, to care, to give, and to receive. Just as the Buddha taught: With true compassion, you become aware that all life is suffering, so you must respond.

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Reverend Amy Beltaine preached about St. Teresa of Avila at the UU Congregation at Willamette Falls on Sunday, August 6 in Oregon City, Oregon. Check out her preaching schedule and spiritual accompaniment opportunities at http://listentoheartsong.info

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