Commemoration of Teresa of Avila
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. — Romans 8:22-27 (NRSV)
I grew up in a faith tradition where saints weren’t really a major deal unless they said something that the preacher learned about in seminary and it bolstered a point that he wanted to make in his sermon or lesson. I remember meeting kids from other traditions at school and being intrigued that they considered someone other than God and Jesus to kind of be there overhead to take care of all kinds of things. I remember Mama telling the story of going to school in New Orleans with kids who went to kiss the toe of the statue of St. Peter and request good grades on their tests and exams while she went home and studied. The saints, to them, were like part of the family – visited often and consulted frequently. At the time it did make me feel that my faith tradition was definitely lacking in something both interesting and important. Eventually I did graduate to a tradition where saints were a regular part of the faith, and I turn to St. Jude (my personal favorite) or St. Anthony (who has found my cell phone and car keys with some regularity) from time to time with no hesitation.
I’d never really considered Teresa of Avila, though. I could understand nuns and appreciate their calling to the religious life, but Teresa just seemed like one of those pious cards with a coiffed nun, eyes uplifted to heaven in an adoring gaze, hands precisely folded to indicate prayer and looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Then I read James Kiefer’s biography and found something interesting. When Teresa was ill she was very diligent and fervent in her prayers, but when she got better she sort of slacked off, sometimes being very “lukewarm.” Now this is something with which I can identify.
I pray when I am expected to — before meals, in church, in meetings/groups where prayer is part of the regular process and often in the middle of a sleepless night — but when it comes to ordinary life, I’m a bit lax. Oh, I do remember to say “Thank you” (most of the time) when the light stays green just long enough for me to get through the intersection, a parking space opens up right near the door of the store or when something actually works when I don’t particularly expect it to. Perhaps that’s simplistic, but there you have it. I did it just this afternoon when I was running late to an appointment and that light stayed green just long enough for me to get through the intersection without stopping. But it’s when I’m wading through stuff, especially the really deep stuff, that I tend to pray more and express it less clearly. I can’t always come up with words to say what I feel I need to say.
I am grateful for the Book of Common Prayer which so often has something that covers what I need, but there are times when I don’t have a BCP handy or I’m struggling just to breathe, totally unable to remember that page 810 holds the list of available prayers and page numbers. I believe I do pray at those times, but if you asked me to say what words I was praying or what I was praying for, I don’t think I could tell you. That’s one reason the passage from Romans seems so important to me.