The Christian Heritage Centre

28 May 2024

Saint Teresa of Avila, Part 2 | The Year of Prayer

By Joey Belleza, PhD (Cantab.)

In the previous instalment, we introduced the four stages of prayer according to Saint Teresa of Avila, which she likens to four ways of watering a garden. The first stage, compared to the laborious act of drawing water from a well, requires the most effort: perseverance in the habit of prayer requires a habituation to its discipline and a concurrent struggle against the acedia or laziness which might hinder our ascent to God. One must face this initial stage of difficulty with courage and with joy, knowing that our endurance in the present will reap rewards in the future.

In this reflection, we consider the second stage of prayer, which Teresa likens to drawing water from a windlass or water mill. Once the trials of the first stage are passed, one advances in prayer with a little more ease, making use of a machine that draws water by harnessing the forces of nature. Here, the Lord grants more supernatural consolations as a recompense for the struggles of the first stage. The soul is now permitted to enter what Teresa calls “the Prayer of Quiet” or “Devotion of Peace,” a state which she describes as

a recollecting of the faculties of the soul [i.e., the intellect and the will], so that its fruition of that contentment may be of greater delight. But the faculties are not lost, nor do they sleep. The will alone is occupied in such a way that, without knowing how, it becomes captive. It allows itself to be imprisoned by God, as one who knows well itself to be the captive of Whom it loves. (The Life of Saint Teresa, chapter 14).

In other words, the intellect is no longer struggling to understand the reason why one ought to pray, as it may have done in the first stage. Rather, the intellect “rests” in its understanding of the new consolations which it enjoys in the present stage. The will, on the other hand, continues to love God, and this desire for him never ceases. This unceasing reach toward God is no longer a laborious struggle but a contentedness in recognizing that one’s humble position before God. Indeed, the will of human person becomes so completely conformed to the will of Father in imitation of Christ, that the Christian no longer struggles with competing desires. Rather, by uniting one’s desires to the desires of God, the false allure of competing desires is erased, and the soul more efficiently draws from wellspring of salvation.

In our prayer lives, let us seek the consolations gained by uniting our will to the will of God. As Christ taught to pray “thy will be done” in the Lord’s prayer, we live out that petition concretely by actively discerning God’s will and ordering our desires according to his heart. In doing so, we might enter the Devotion of Peace, and realize the truth which Dante Alighieri came to recognize in Paradiso: E ‘n la la sua voluntade è nostra pace—“in His will is our peace.”