The Feast of Teresa of Ávila
I was born on the feast of Teresa of Ávila. Go ahead and Wikipedia her. We will wait.
Her primary book is The Interior Castle, and it is a seminal text for anyone looking to move into a more contemplative prayer life. We studied it last year on Wednesday mornings with the help of R. Thomas Ashbrook’s Mansions of the Heart.
Being born on a saint’s day is not a guarantee of holiness, but it has marked my life as I have sought to respond to Teresa and the schools of prayer that are inspired by her.
In Teresa’s imagery, you have this interior castle made of glass, with layers of space that move inward toward the center where Christ is most purely present.
In Ashbrook’s interpretation of Teresa, he suggests that those at the first level only know that water is available at a well somewhere, then we learn that there is a well and begin to go occasionally. At some point we move closer, then pipe the water into our home. As we move inward, we begin to move from water from without to water from within. This image builds on Jesus’ declaration in John’s Gospel that springs of living water will well up from within the heart of the believer.
My question for you today is, “Where is your water coming from?” Are you going to someone else’s well every now and then? Have you dug a well in your own yard? Are you tending the communal well? Or does the water of life flow from within you?
Church can be a place where people come for years to draw living water, and it can be the place where you live, drawing water weekly, even daily. But at some point, there is a move to something deeper, more personal.
When Christ dwells in your heart, the living water of the Spirit is there in you for you to drink and draw life from within. The moment you realize this there is a danger.
The danger is that you think that you have all you need. “I’m spiritual. I don’t need a community. I can draw what I need from within.”
The danger is that you withdraw to live on your own. But the water you draw is not of your own making. It is a gift given to give life to others.
You have been given the water of life to bring life to your family, the church, and the world. You are the well other people come to for life.
In this season of stewardship, we often point to the need to maintain the well of this place, which is well and good. But right now, I want you to take a moment and realize that you are not a “member” in the world’s sense of the word. No. You are a family member here. You are a child of God, born to a purpose.
Your purpose is to bring the living water of God to those who are thirsty until they drink from their own wells and become who they were meant to be. You are a vessel of God.
Everything you have in your life is part of your vessel, your container for God’s grace and mercy, which you can use to bring grace and mercy to those around you.
We all have times when life leaves us dry, and we come to church and to friends to receive. We all have times when our well needs some new depth and a good cleaning. But we are not meant to be mere survivors of life. We are life bringers.
When I think of Teresa, I remember how she doggedly, with health issues and the constant threat of the Inquisition, walked from community to community of sisters, writing and working tirelessly to give a word of comfort and love, admonition and grace to her beloved. I remember her call to move closer to Christ, always toward that wordless quiet presence of the one who is at the center of all things, who is life.
I remember Teresa and am called to be a vessel of that presence, that life. So come to the well with us. Help us tend this holy place where we remember who we are, and whose we are. Help us bring Christ to the world.
The Very Rev. Daniel Paul Richards
Christ Church of the Ascension
Paradise Valley, Arizona