This year the feast of St. Teresa becomes more special than ever. 500 years have passed and her legacy lives on in many of us. I, like many others, am invited to review her life to reread our history, with the hope that her message allows us to incorporate some of her depth and courage into a broken world full of questions. In this this text I point out some features of this fascinating woman, highlighting reflections, questions, and challenges she suggests to me.
From the distaff to the pen:
Teresa throws us into a dynamic tension between everyday tasks and depth. In the distaff she found the silence of the manual task. She spun and spun and only in that emptiness and in that silence she could go on weaving to give shape to her inner experience. Her pen is a symbol of coming out, of drawing from what she lives and has within, and thus she shares with others. Many times she complained about this task that required her to reflect deeply on what was going on inside and outside of her life. I think that today we need a “distaff time” so that amidst our travel, meetings, decisions, and workshops, we learn to focus on a task feeling how important it is and not thinking about the next. Making the small large means putting our entire being into the present moment. Gestalt speaks of the here and now. For Teresa it was her spinning wheel. When the spinning wheel is lived in its intensity it gradually opens bits of fullness, bits of transcendence in the midst of the everyday. The distaff of Teresa may be hanging clothes on the clothesline. One by one, the socks are coming together, each piece of clothing, each clothespin, one after another. And amid this finitude we allow ourselves to be touched, in great complicity, with women around the world who do this work every day. Guarani, Guatemalan, Ukrainian women, and yes, women ... performing a silent and invisible care work in a society that does not value what is not seen, that which is taken for granted. The distaff of Teresa is that presence of humanity that invites us to take up a pen. A pen, therefore, has to do with coming out of ourselves and share. A pen requires us to put a name to what we are living and be aware that it is not easy to translate what we live within. The pen is coming out because it invites us to recognize that we have something to say and that it is valuable.
Teresa's life is marked by her intimacy with the Lord, strong friends of God. That intimacy overcame Teresa continuously, His presence was overflowing. That river, that water that irrigates the orchard or that fine rain makes one live continually in fullness. Her mystical experience is so profound that it is a cause for sleeplessness, of uncontrolled intensity at times but, mostly and most importantly, the mystical experience of Teresa takes her to generate life in her midst. Her deep union is not a reason for isolation and withdrawal, rather it will drive her to change her life. The thrust that Teresa feels is so great, so strong that it overcomes her weakness and smallness. The power of love that overflows and mobilizes all our energy is the experience of a woman who invites us to live an authentic spirituality that is not satisfied with half measures. We are at a time when, far from what some called the death of God, there is a deep search for meaning and transcendence. Our postmodern society is recognizing, in the midst of consumption and acceleration, the need to integrate our whole being. Teresa invites us to recognize the role of spirituality in our lives by throwing questions like: what else? The union that comes from an encounter always offers clues to walk and take the next step. It is work for each one to go and find the paths and the ways of responding to the invitation to commit to life. It is to that loyalty to oneself that Teresa of Avila certainly invites us to.
Restless and wandering woman:
And so, restless and wandering woman. In a strongly patriarchal society where the role of women was systematically relegated to the private sphere, restless and wandering adjectives were not necessarily a compliment. However, these words make sense today as many of us may feel we reflected on these words. Teresa's concern led her to not be indifferent to what was happening around her. It allowed her not to be afraid and move everything that was needed when she was clear about the meaning of something. And, if needed, she was wandering. Again this false tension between activity and stillness appears. Let us learn to discern in our lives where activism is and where the activity that generates life around us is. Time is now one of the most valuable assets and we have to identify the areas in which we have to "spend life.” And, not forgetting that we have frameworks that limit our capacity for action, let us not be afraid of changing what has to change. Teresa, as she herself has told us, did not convert until she was nearly 40 years old.
Frailty and complexity:
Teresa's story is not a linear and simple story. It is the story of a rich, complex personality, full of edges. A personality full of tension and "fights" which sometimes makes her ways unclear. Her 4 days of frenzy when she was twenty are well known. Her headaches, having already founded the Discalced Carmelites, sometimes do not let her take up her pen. Her health is often fragile although sometimes her strength seems unusual. In a world that rejects what is not successful and perfect, the fragility and weakness of Teresa can also be a warning to be able to include and give space to what at first sight seems incomplete or imperfect. Only from the consciousness of our weakness bursts the opportunity to respond to our call to "be" a good life for ourselves, for others, for the world.
Teresa was definitely a woman who was able to reach the most difficult of all achievements, power over oneself. This road she did not travel alone; it was a way of overflowing love that could have no other destiny than being communicated.
Teresa Pérez González, Seville
Psychologist, Coordinator of the Area of Planning and Organizational Development InteRed Delegation of Andalusia.