The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila, Foreword by Paula Huston, Translated by Henry L Carrigan, Jr. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2009.
Summary: St Theresa’s reflections on growing in love, humility, and the life of prayer.
About a year ago, I reviewed a different, out of print, edition of this work from the same publisher. The folks at Paraclete were so generous that they sent me their “in print” edition of the same work, published for the 500th anniversary of the writing of this work. In addition to a foreword by Paula Huston reflecting on her own encounter with this work, the translation is one into contemporary English, with instances where the translator changed sentences in the passive voice to active. In reading this edition, I felt like Theresa was speaking directly to me.
The Way of Perfection breaks down into two parts. The first focuses on the spiritual life and how one of those in the Carmelites might progress in becoming like Christ. She explains the benefits of poverty, the importance of unceasing prayer and the necessity that women love each other equally without favoritism, which can wreck the harmony of a house. She instructs on detachment from all earthly affections to focus on the love of God. This includes gifts from family. She addresses answering unjust accusations:
“No one can ever blame us unjustly, since we are always full of faults, and a just person falls seven times a day. It would be a falsehood to say that we have no sin. Even if we are not guilty of the thing we are accused of, then, we are never entirely without blame in the way that our good Jesus was” (p. 57).
She devotes several chapters to mental and vocal prayer and contemplation. She urges people to pray as they are able and that the Lord is as pleased with our vocal prayers as our silent mental praying. She stresses that the state of contemplation, resting in the Lord, is a gift that may come equally to those praying vocally or mentally.
The second part turns to the great vocal prayer of the church, the Our Father. Theresa takes us through the prayer phrase by phrase, mining its richness. She marvels how much Jesus gives us in the first words, “Our Father.” She reflects on the significance of “hallowed be thy name” and “thy kingdom come” side by side, that the presence of God’s good rule on earth reminds us of the holiness of his name. She acknowledges the challenge of yielding our will to God. She tends to spiritualize the idea of daily bread, focusing on the bread of Christ. Perhaps it is well that our need for daily physical bread be a reminder of the need to be daily nourished in Christ. She emphasizes the underlying love of each other behind the prayer to be forgiven as we forgive. “Lead us not into temptation” is not a shrinking from spiritual conflict but our awareness of our vulnerabilities to temptation and the protection of God.
I’ve but touched on the richness to be found in these pages. It certainly did not hurt me to read The Way of Perfection again. I suspect that multiple readings are warranted because, in each reading, we are different people and will hear different things.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.
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