Book Snippets

St. Teresa of Avila describes her simple methods of meditation

4 min • Digitized on December 3, 2021

From Life of St. Teresa of Avila written by Herself, page 66
By St. Teresa of Avila

This was my method of prayer: as I could not make reflections with my understanding, I contrived to picture Christ as within me; and I used to find myself the better for thinking of those mysteries of His life during which He was most lonely. It seemed to me that the being alone and afflicted, like a person in trouble, must needs permit me to come near unto Him.

I did many simple things of this kind; and in particular I used to find myself most at home in the prayer in the Garden, whither I went in His company.

I thought of the bloody sweat, and of the affliction He endured there; I wished, if it had been possible, to wipe away that painful sweat from His face; but I remember that I never dared to form such a resolution—my sins stood before me so grievously.

I used to remain with Him there as long as my thoughts allowed me, and I had many thoughts to torment me.

For many years, nearly every night before I fell asleep, when I recommended myself to God, that I might sleep in peace, I used always to think a little of this mystery of the prayer in the Garden—yea, even before I was a nun, because I had been told that many indulgences were to be gained thereby.

For my part, I believe that my soul gained very much in this way, because I began to practise prayer without knowing what it was; and, now that it had become my constant habit, I was saved from omitting it, as I was from omitting to bless myself with the sign of the cross before I slept.

And now to go back to what I was saying of the torture which my thoughts inflicted upon me.

This method of praying, in which the understanding makes no reflections, hath this property: the soul must gain much, or lose. I mean, that those who advance without meditation make great progress, because it is done by love.

But to attain to this involves great labour, except to those persons whom it is our Lord’s good pleasure to lead quickly to the prayer of quiet. I know of some. For those who walk in this way, a book is profitable, that by the help thereof they may the more quickly recollect themselves.

It was a help to me also to look on fields, water, and flowers. In them I saw traces of the Creator—I mean, that the sight of these things was as a book unto me; it roused me, made me recollected, and reminded me of my ingratitude and of my sins.

My understanding was so dull that I could never represent in the imagination either heavenly or high things in any form whatever, until our Lord placed them before me in another way.

I was so little able to put things before me by the help of my understanding, that, unless I saw a thing with my eyes, my imagination was of no use whatever.

I could not do as others do, who can put matters before themselves so as to become thereby recollected. I was able to think of Christ only as man.

But so it was; and I never could form any image of Him to myself, though I read much of His beauty, and looked at pictures of Him.

I was like one who is blind, or in the dark, who, though speaking to a person present, and feeling his presence, because he knows for certain that he is present—I mean, that he understands him to be present, and believes it—yet does not see him.

It was thus with me when I used to think of our Lord. This is why I was so fond of images. Wretched are they who, through their own fault, have lost this blessing; it is clear enough that they do not love our Lord—for if they loved Him, they would rejoice at the sight of His picture, just as men find pleasure when they see the portrait of one they love.

Latest book snippets