The Seduction of St. Teresa of Avila
This is a charcoal sketch I made of the Bernini marble sculpture in Rome, Italy entitled, "Ecstacy of St. Teresa". I'm captured, disturbed, confused and fascinated by this saint. I'm not aware of anyone else in history that speaks of Divine relationship in this way. She wrote of her sensual experiences of God and the following is an account that was the inspiration for Bernini's sculpture:
"Our Lord was pleased that I should have at times a vision of this kind: I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see, unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision, such as I have spoken of before. It was our Lord's will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful--his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. During the days that this lasted, I went about as if beside myself. I wished to see, or speak with, no one, but only to cherish my pain, which was to me a greater bliss than all created things could give me."
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God alone is unchanging.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices. - Teresa of Avila
I'm learning what it means to be seduced by God. He allures me with the beauty of a Lover, though, I tend to betray the Lover for the seduction. C.S Lewis says, "The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not IN them, it only came THROUGH them, and what came through them was longing. These things--the beauty, the memory of our own past--are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."
How do we sort out the beauty of the seduction and allow the seduction to lead us to the worship of True Beauty....He holds 10,000 charms.....His charms are meant to lead me to Him, but I tend to hold to the charms themselves and settle for those. My heart breaks. I am scattered, divided, diverted. I know what I want to want, but I want something else.
C.S. Lewis says, "You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world (His country, in the experience of beauty). Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can.... It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret." - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
There it is folks.....that's the inconsolable secret of my heart that Lewis so cleverly penned. I have been pining..... there is no relief. There is a nagging ache when I come up close to beauty. It is not a passing nagging and pining. It is a continual, persistent desire that will not be satiated.
As I work through the implications of this revelation, I found help in the words of Julian of Norwich and her thoughts on penance: "For God regards us so tenderly as to see all our living here (on earth) to be penance. For our natural longing for God is a lasting penance in us, which God brings about in us and mercifully helps us to bear. God's love makes God long for us, but God's wisdom and truth with divine justice make God allow us to stay here, so God sees this as penance for us. This penance never leaves us until we are fulfilled and will have God as our reward."
It is true. God is not here in the way that I need him to be. I might glimpse his eyes of fire, spoken of in the book of Revelation, in the glance of a lover, or I might even grasp the ends of his robe in a holy conversation with a friend. I might even feel his breath in the way the wind captures a swirl of leaves as they hover above the concrete in a well-choreographed radial dance around my ankles. It's just not enough.
She goes on to say, "But here our courteous Lord showed the moaning and mourning of the soul, explaining, 'I know well that you want to live for my love. But since you do not live without sin, you are heavy and sorrowful'...I love you and you love me and our love will never be broken in two. For your gain I suffer....I protect you most securely.' In falling and in rising we are always kept preciously in one love. For in beholding God we do not fall, and in beholding ourselves we do not stand. Both of these are true, as I see it, but beholding our Lord God is the higher truth. Then we are bound to God, which is what God wants in showing us this higher truth. I understood that while we are in this life, it is very beneficial to us that we see these both at once. For the higher beholding keeps us in spiritual joy and true rejoicing in God while the other, the lower beholding, keeps us in fear and makes us ashamed of ourselves." - Julian of Norwich, Encounter with God's Love
A poignant picture of this for me was in the movie, Gravity. Sandra Bullock plays a doctor, who was out in space after six months of training because they needed her particular expertise to repair some equipment orbiting the earth. During the mission, while they were in spacesuits working on the exterior of the spacecraft, she and her co-worker (George Clooney) were bombarded with debris. This caused her to detach from anything. I saw her panic and grasp for something, anything, to hold onto. George Clooney's character is able to come and attach her to himself and he used the word, tethered. Tethered. We may have no control and think we could start spinning toward deep space, never to exist within the known realm again. But that is not God's character. He cannot disown Himself. This can never happen to us. We can never not be tethered and bound to God HIMSELF.
Zechariah 8:2 - "I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath." You long, O God! You want passionately. You are not passive in your love...the burning, the ache, the longing - You're familiar with this unrest. You will have us for Yourself and we will live together in that fulfillment.....till then, we wait, we pine and we will not settle for less than you!