"St Catherine of Alexandria" (cropped), c.1507. Raphael
What matters is not stillness itself, which can be merely physical, but what we do within it. The great mystic, Teresa of Avila, called the mind a clacking mill that goes on grinding. This is the nature of the mind; to have thoughts. We can indeed still the mind, through intense psychic application, but such application - directed wholly to the self - may be so self-satisfying as to abnegate its very purpose. The purpose of contemplation is a directed stillness, which receives rather than acts. There is only one state of perfect freedom from thought, and that is ecstasy. Raphael's St Catherine is rapt, lost to everything but her comprehension of God. She leans carelessly on the wheel of her martyrdom, which curves inexorably towards heaven where she truly lives. This rapturous state is pure gift and not for our seeking. (As soon as we seek, self comes in and renders the whole thing useless.)
Spend a few moments in contemplation with the sacred music of the Taize' community. Here they have put the Latin words of the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila to a musical chant setting for prayer. The main line, Nada te Turbe', translates as "Nothing disturbs you". Let these words wash over you in prayer, and may you come to the place where the words are your own...and rest in God, who loves you.
Prayer of St. Teresa
Let nothing disturb you; Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Nothing is wanting to him Who possesses God. God alone suffices.
The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus
Mystic | Teacher of Prayer | Doctor of the Church
St. Teresa of Jesus was born on March 28, 1515, in Avila, Spain. Her mother died when she was 14, and she entered the Carmelite Monastery in Avila in 1535. Her life as a Carmelite, though far removed from the mainstream of modern culture, still speaks powerfully to us today.
Teresa longed for a deeper relationship with God, but due to the laxity of convent life in those days, she struggled to reconcile her desire to live for God with other relationships that kept her from devoting herself completely to Him.
Repeatedly, Teresa asked God to help her, seemingly to no avail. It was not until 1554 that she experienced the conversion that would mark the rest of her life. Coming upon a statue of the wounded Christ, Teresa was suddenly and intensely moved by what Christ had suffered for her and was overwhelmed by her own lack of gratitude for His sufferings. In tears, she begged the Lord to strengthen her desire to belong to Him, and resolved not to move from there until her prayer was granted. At that moment, Teresa felt a growing strength within her.
Teresa’s conversion, which actually occurred over a period of four years, set her on a new pathway that led her to an intimate experience of God, a God she came to perceive as a beloved Friend. In prayer, God poured out His love on His daughter, who had become a willing and open vessel as she surrendered totally to her Lord and King.
Teresa’s indomitable love for God made her determined to give her all, willing to overcome any obstacle to do what God asked of her. Convinced that God wanted it, she set about reforming the Carmelite order, establishing convents throughout Spain where religious would live according to the original spirit of Carmel.
The special gifts she received from God in prayer were often misunderstood by others—her writings even came under the scrutiny of the Inquisition—and Teresa suffered much. At times she would try to suppress the ecstasies that accompanied God’s intimate presence, even questioning herself if they had come from God. Yet God continued to lead her into the innermost dwellings of her heart, where she beheld the awesome beauty of her King.
Fortunately for us, Teresa’s superiors ordered her to document the remarkable events of her life and her original works still exist today. The Book of Her Life, The Way of Perfection, The Interior Castle, and The Foundations are her main works, detailing her remarkable pathway to God. It is through these profoundly human yet mystical writings that we experience Teresa’s spirit that inspires us to enter into an ever deeper relationship with God.
Teresa died in 1582 at the age of 67. In 1622 she was canonized, and in 1970 Pope Paul VI declared her a Doctor of the Church, the first woman ever to be so recognized.
(Bio shared from The Society of Teresa of Jesus)