Posts Tagged ‘Teresa of Avila’

NEW BOOKLET: Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement

NEW BOOKLET: Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement by Carolyn A. Greene is our newest Lighthouse Trails Booklet. The Booklet is 18 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Our Booklets are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use. Below is the content of the booklet. To order copies of Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement, click here.

Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement

By Carolyn A. Greene

Editor’s Note: Today, it is not uncommon for Christian leaders and teachers to recommend the writings of Teresa of Avila. For instance, the late theologian Dallas Willard encouraged his followers to read Teresa’s Interior Castle saying Teresa is “an example to follow.”1 Christian publishers like Bethany House, Thomas Nelson, and Multnomah Press have published books by Teresa of Avila. Rick Warren, author of the highly popular Purpose Driven Life, says her writings are among “great, classic devotional works.”2 Pete Scazzero, author of the popular book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, lists Teresa of Avila’s book, Interior Castle as one of his “top ten books.”3 Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Pathways and Sacred Marriage, favorably references Teresa of Avila numerous times in his book, Thirsting for God. And not surprisingly, contemplative authors such as Richard Foster and Henry Nouwen see her as a fellow mystic.
In 2009, Lighthouse Trails published Castles in the Sand, a story involving a young troubled girl who begins attending a Christian college where she is introduced in her Spiritual Formation class to the writings of an ancient mystic, Teresa of Avila. The following booklet is taken from Castles in the Sand narrating Teresa’s life. While Castles in the Sand is a work of fiction, Teresa of Avila is a real, historical figure (1515-1582). The depiction of her life in this booklet is based on historical records (see bibliography at end of booklet). Quotes and paraphrases of her writings are taken from her actual written works. The lives of other characters portrayed in this booklet are created from composites of true stories.
While some readers may find some of Teresa’s mystical experiences (that at times included involuntary levitating) troubling to read, it is important to understand that the “spiritual ecstasies” Teresa of Avila encountered were the result of her practicing a meditative prayer, much like one that is being practiced by countless Christians today through the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer) movement. We pray this booklet will illustrate how mystical prayer methods are dangerous and introduce the practitioner to occultism and its tormenting “fruit,” something you will not be warned about by those who recommend you study the ancient mystics. And now, the story of Teresa of Avila.
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And still they told me my visions were the work of evil spirits! For six years, I was on trial . . . six years! So many prayers and masses said, I grew weary of them all! Yet still the trances and favors have become more violent and frequent . . . oh, I am in distress, such great distress. I am weary, and so tired . . . so very, very tired.—Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun who was born in Spain in 1515. As a young girl with an active imagination and great love for books, she was profoundly affected by her mother’s death, which left her emotionally empty. In despair, she threw herself before an image of the Virgin Mary and begged her to be her new mother. This extreme devotion to the Mother Mary soon gave way to an interest in fashion as her beauty blossomed. With it, the passion for reading, writing, and romance was rekindled. Teresa’s concerned father sent her away to boarding school at an Augustinian convent. However, when Teresa fell dreadfully ill with malaria, the nuns sent for her father who came to take her home.Recuperating from the serious illness and suffering from headaches, Teresa read a book given to her from her uncle called The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna, from which she learned the practice of the prayer of recollection.* Though previously not interested in reading about such things, her illness had transformed her into a more serious kind of girl. She soon learned to practice “the prayer of quiet,”** a state where the soul is completely absorbed.

Weary of the worldly things that had once given her pleasure, she made secret plans to escape to the Carmelite Monastery without consent from her father and pursue a serious life of prayer, as her uncle had been urging her to do. Teresa later wrote about receiving “favors” that the Lord granted her as she continued to practice her “mental prayer” and the prayer of quiet, two stages of mystical prayer.

“It used to happen, when I represented Christ within me in order to place myself in His presence, or even while reading, that a feeling of the presence of God would come upon me unexpectedly so that I could in no way doubt He was within me or I totally immersed in Him. This did not occur after the manner of a vision. I believe they call the experience ‘mystical theology.’ The soul is suspended in such a way that it seems to be completely outside itself. The will loves; the memory, it seems to me, is almost lost. For, as I say, the intellect does not work, but it is as though amazed by all it understands because God desires that it understands, with regard to the things His majesty represents to it, that it understands nothing.”
The practice of the prayer of quiet continued to bring Teresa into what she called the state of union, the place where intellect and will cease to function over which she soon had no control. As the years passed, Teresa’s headaches and visions began to take their toll. She was counseled by the Jesuit Fathers to give up her “interior” prayer, but that didn’t help.
One day, she cried out, “Oh these visions! What tortures I have endured . . . how can I bear it?” she wailed. “I even gave up mental prayer. I . . . I gave it up. I did! First I waited to be free of sin, but they found no fault in me. Not a fault! Yet I was visited again, more visions . . . more revelations . . . to this most miserable sinner as I.”
Behind her, she could hear the group of nuns that stopped a short distance away, pausing for a moment before turning and walking in the other direction.
“Indeed, I have dreaded the time of prayer,” she whispered now, lest the others murmur about her even more. “Even Father Francis became afraid of my graces . . . in great distress they insisted I had been deceived by Satan. So I . . . I punished myself, oh I did, I did, in order to resist the effects! To no avail! Father Alvarez said . . . he said it was friendships I must give up, but that changed nothing. Then he told me I must recite a hymn, and I did. That was when the angel came . . . the angel . . . oh, how it pierced me! They told me . . . they said my visions were illusions of Satan and told me to point my finger in scorn at another. I tried to obey them, to no avail, so ridiculous they all are, so now I hold this crucifix in my hand at all times . . .”
She wiped her face with her wet sleeve and held up the wooden crucifix.
“And still they told me my visions were the work of evil spirits! For six years, I was on trial . . . six years! So many prayers and masses said, I grew weary of them all! Yet still the trances and favors have become more violent and frequent . . . oh, I am in distress, such great distress. I am weary, and so tired . . . so very, very tired . . .”
Her voice was weaker now as she shifted her weight from one aching knee to another on the cold, stone floor. “Yet I fear there is more sorrow ahead . . . I fear delusions . . . already they are calling for me . . . more inquiries to tell me I am deluded. How can they be sure they aren’t deluded and deceived as well? Every one of my examiners tells me something different! Oh! My soul is plunged into darkness! How I long to be alone . . . oh, when will this life ever become more than a never-ending dark night for my soul! I hear them coming even now demanding answers to unanswerable questions. How can I bear it? I want only to be alone. I just want to be . . . oh, please let me be . . .”
Gradually the pitiful sounds of her whimpering subsided as the dreadful footsteps that echoed from the far end of the corridor grew closer and then stopped. She straightened the folds of her habit, held her head high, and with a faraway look in her eyes, turned to face her visitors.
“Sister Teresa,” a man’s voice said. “Come now, we must ask you more questions.”

 Teresa referred to these favors, or trance states of mystical ecstasy, as “true union.” Some of her contemporaries who observed these experiences were concerned about Teresa.

“Where is she anyway?” said Sister Catherine, who had just come in with a basket full of freshly picked tomatoes.

“Maybe she is in a trance,” joked Sister Maria. Just last week they had all watched as Teresa had gone into another trance in the kitchen while holding a hot pan of oil. Now accustomed to her trances, their greater concern was the possibility of Teresa spilling the little, precious oil they had left.
“The priests have advised her that the visions are of the devil, and to make the sign of the cross whenever she has one,” said Catherine, the youngest nun among them. “She won’t be coming into the kitchen for a few weeks. She is fasting and doing penance.”
“So that’s why she wears a cilice!” chimed in Maria.
“A cilice. What’s that?” asked Catherine.
“It’s an undergarment made of coarse animal hair. It scratches terribly and makes you very itchy. Pray to Our Lady that you will never be ordered to do mortification and be told to wear one,” said Carmelita. “I think slicing onions in this kitchen is torture enough.”
The sisters giggled.
“I think it’s a terrible thing,” said Rosa, a serious-minded nun and the oldest among them all. “Poor Teresa. We must not talk about our dear sister in this manner. If one decides to practice penance, it is only to share the sufferings of the Lord as His bride to be one flesh with Him.”
Rosa had personally witnessed Teresa’s private confusion over the priests’ accusations that her visions were from Satan. Those accusations were the reason Teresa had taken to inflicting tortures and mortifications upon herself. Teresa was just one of many nuns who drew blood in self-flagellation. (The monks did it too, so they were told.) Perhaps she thought that wearing a prickly shirt over her wounds would make her ecstasies disappear. The purpose of such self-inflicted trials was to attain self-detachment, something of which Teresa often talked. Surely, she reaped the benefits of such disciplines, having much more tranquility and self-mastery than the rest of them. “Mortify the flesh and share in Christ’s sufferings” was the directive. Teresa’s favorite motto was “Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.”
Teresa eventually began to write about her spiritual experiences, which included hearing voices and experiencing visions during ecstatic states of rapture in which she felt herself being lifted from the ground by a powerful force outside of her control.
QUESTIONED FOR HERESY
The cell was cold. There was no table or chair. Only a rough, straw mattress in the corner provided any reprieve for the room’s sole occupant. A barefoot nun in a clean but worn habit of coarse serge knelt near the window. The last glimmer of evening light softened the lines on her aging face. Her sparse ink supply allowed no rewriting, but there was no need to reread the lines she had already written. Having commanded her to record her experiences, her confessors would weigh her story on the Inquisition’s scale of heresy.
Some said the voices she heard in her head were of the devil. But Teresa was desperate to explain that these revelations she received were from the Lord! It was the Lord who granted her these great favors and visions which she called ecstasy. They humble the soul, thought Teresa, strengthening and helping it to despise this life.
During these experiences, she seemed to receive a clearer understanding of the Lord’s rewards. Yet, she struggled with the fear these visitations also brought. She could no longer resist them or keep them a secret. Not only were the revelations themselves frightening, but visionaries like herself were often burned at the stake. Since her writings would remain in the hands of her Inquisitors for some time, she must choose her words carefully, yet tell the truth.
Dipping her quill in the inkstand, she continued to write about her life, pausing only to rub her arthritic shoulder now and then. This was to be her final writing. She was working on chapter twenty, trying to explain the difference between union and rapture and their effects.
“It seemed to me, when I tried to make some resistance, it was as if a great force beneath my feet lifted me up. I know of nothing with which to compare it; but it was much more violent than the other spiritual visitations, and I was therefore as one ground to pieces; for it is a great struggle, and, in short, of little use, whenever our Lord so wills it. There is no power against His power.”
As Teresa wrote, the light grew dim. She lit her candle, then continued to write on the parchment set on the window ledge:
“Further, I confess it threw me into great fear, very great indeed at first; for when I saw my body thus lifted up from the earth, how could I help it? Though the spirit draws the body upward after itself and that with great sweetness, if unresisted, the senses are not lost; at least, I was so much myself as to be able to see I was being lifted up. The majesty of Him who can effect this so manifests itself, that the hairs of my head stand upright.”
Deep in thought, she gazed at the candle’s flame. How could she possibly describe rapture and detachment with pen and paper? Mere words were not enough to explain the spiritual marriage she had experienced. How could she even speak of the intense pain that accompanied the sweetness of her visions and revelations, the great shocks she would feel when her Lord threw her into a trance, or the indescribable desire, which pierced her soul until it rose above itself. The days that followed such ecstasy never failed to make her feel as if all her bones had been pulled out of joint.
“I have to say that when the rapture was over, my body seemed frequently to be buoyant, as if all weight had departed from it; so much so that now and then I scarcely knew that my feet touched the ground. Yet during the rapture itself, the body is very often as if it were dead, perfectly powerless. It continues in the position it was in when the rapture came upon it—if sitting, sitting; if the hands were open, or if they were shut, they will remain open or shut.”
But she wasn’t the only one. There were others, even in this place, to whom her Lord was granting the same special graces as the ones He had granted her. Others too had experienced raptures so deep that they would appear as though dead or in a trance, sometimes for days.
As she continued to recall her own experiences, she wrote about the priest who told her God had sent her so much sickness because she did no penance, and he had ordered her to practice acts of mortification. During one such time of obedience, her spirit was carried out of her body in such a state of ecstasy that she heard words instructing her not to have conversations with men, but with angels.
She described the angel she had seen in bodily form . . .
“He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point, there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one.”

Berninis sculpture of The Ecstasy of St Teresa. Public domain.

The famous marble statue called “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” by Gianlorenzo Bernini depicts the sensual scene of the mystical experience described by Teresa of her encounter with an angel. She is reclined on a cloud with her head thrown back awaiting the thrust of the angel’s golden spear.

In the quietness of her room, Teresa had often found herself falling into a deep trance, later pondering the exquisite state of bliss she experienced during these mysterious episodes. However, lately, she found herself losing control. For example, she could no longer prevent them, even when she was in the company of others. They all knew. Some were even sworn to secrecy. But did they know how she had recently grown to fear these times? Increasingly, she struggled to resist these frightening instances when her body was raised from the ground as she prayed. Yet it was no use. She was helpless to stop it.
Teresa slowly straightened and rubbed her stiff joints. She turned to gaze at the crucifix hanging on the wall of her cell as it reflected the candlelight. Her pen rolled across the ledge of the window where she had laid it and dropped onto the stone floor as she grabbed her rosary and began counting the beads, repeating the evening prayer. Immediately, a familiar burning sensation began to grow deep within her, welling upward in surges. It was happening again . . . She grabbed hold of the ledge and began frantically to pray that no one would come through the door and restrain her again.
She recalled other times these involuntary levitations occurred. One of the eye witnesses of the favors and levitations of Teresa of Avila was said to be Sister Anne of the Incarnation.
One young nun was well acquainted with Teresa’s trances, which she referred to as the “transport of the soul.” She had witnessed some of the most disturbing occurrences in Sister Teresa’s life but had been vowed to secrecy. She hadn’t been the only one in the choir loft that unforgettable day, waiting for the bell to ring, when they saw Teresa’s body rise inexplicably about half a meter off the ground. She’d actually been off the ground! Sister Teresa’s body had hung in mid-air, as Sister Anne had later recounted with fresh incredulity! This incident had quite terrified some of them. Since Sister Teresa’s body had been trembling as well, Sister Anne had cautiously held her hands under the raised feet of Sister Teresa for the duration of the ecstasy. It had lasted nearly half an hour before she’d sunk to the floor and then stood among them, lucid once again. Teresa had turned to her calmly and quietly and asked how long she had been there, watching. It was then that Sister Anne had been sworn to secrecy, but that kind of secret wasn’t the kind that could be kept quiet for very long.

There had been other incidents as well. Teresa’s friend, a bishop, once saw her grab the bars of an altar grill during communion to prevent herself from rising into the air, as she cried out to be delivered from her ecstasy. Numerous times, and on different occasions, many others had also seen her raised from the ground. Sister Teresa had always called these experiences “Favors of His Majesty.”

As instructed by her advisors, Teresa wrote everything she knew about entering what she called the interior castle or inner rooms of the soul. She believed the key to achieving union with Christ in the center room was by way of prayer.

“As you wished, I have written everything I know.” Teresa nervously set her papers on the table before her confessors. The religious directors had ordered her to write about her method of mental prayer—her interior castle—as a book of instruction for her nuns. She had been careful to refer to herself in the third person throughout the book, as she was always under the watchful stare of her superiors. It had been a difficult task.

“But it has only been two months! You have completed it already?” the priest said, staring in amazement at the pile of papers stacked neatly before him.
“I have not only described how the soul is a castle, but also how a journey into the soul is a series of seven interior rooms, or inner courts, within the castle that one must pass through by way of prayer. Each chamber is a different stage of the journey. Read it and you shall see.”
The priest browsed through the first pages while Teresa rubbed the back of her neck. Her joints ached, her head hurt, and she was exhausted after finally completing the most important portion of her written work, so far. It had been an extremely troubling time in her life. During the last two months, her superiors had required this writing, yet she had also been expected to fulfill her regular duties, despite severe weakness. Added to that was the torment of living in fear of the next revelation or rapture that would come upon her without warning.
“So tell me, these first three rooms, or mansions, as you call them,” asked the priest, with undisguised fascination, “what stage of the journey do they symbolize?”
“The first three mansions are for those who are just beginning to learn the practice of mental prayer.”
“And the next ones?”
Weak from exhaustion, Teresa did not wish to explain. It had been difficult enough writing about these things with the turbulent noise that throbbed in her head: the roaring sound of rushing rivers and oddly, the whistling of birds pulsated continually in her mind. It was most disturbing when she was conscious of her faculties and her soul was not suspended in ecstasy. Whenever an ecstatic experience occurred, she believed it was from the top of her head that her spirit was released and moved out at great speed.
“The last four,” she began slowly, trying to shut out the roar of a waterfall in her head, “are for those who have begun to experience the indwelling after having entered the spiritual realm. It is the fourth dwelling that is the turning point, and the one most souls enter. This is where one moves from mere meditation to contemplation. It is an interior awareness when God suspends the soul in prayer with rapture or ecstasy or transport.”
“I see,” said the priest, stroking his chin. “Here I see you have written about water and worms.”
Must they keep prodding? She had done as they had asked, and there were chores to be done.
“Yes, like the spring that wells up filling every crevice, so is God’s presence to one who reaches spiritual union. But one must be dead to the outward senses and alive to His Majesty, like a silkworm that dies to produce a little white butterfly. So is Divine union in the center of the castle.”
How could she explain that although she had only mentioned seven inner mansions, there were many more rooms contained in each one, and courtyards with fountains, gardens, and labyrinths in which one could be consumed?
Teresa grew increasingly uncomfortable and longed to leave. Unaware of her misery, the priest abruptly rose to his feet.
“This will take some time to read,” he said hastily, and escorted Teresa to the door.
“I pray it is satisfactory,” she said humbly, trying not to reveal the tremendous pain in her head. “It is my strong desire to aid you in serving His Majesty. If the theologians examine my writings and find any error, it is only because of my ignorance. Perhaps I shall be in purgatory for writing this book, but I pray He shall free me from this and pardon my sins.”
The priest nodded. “We will examine the work and speak to you soon.”
The door closed behind Teresa. Her rough wool habit scraped her bare ankles with each step as she walked quickly down the dim hallway. Pausing before a statue of St. Joseph, she knelt and prayed, “I submit to the teachings of the Holy Catholic Roman Church, may the sovereign Master be praised.”

Tired and aching, she made the sign of the cross and hurried back to the convent. Perhaps she could distract herself from the inner turmoil by spinning more wool.

Teresa referred to the final stage of her “spiritual betrothal” prayer process as “rapture.” In this deepest trance state, she experienced “delectable pain” that penetrated the bowels of the soul.

In her latter years, Teresa seemed to be increasingly fearful of these favors, or painful bouts of spiritual ecstasy and levitation which she could no longer control.

“Whenever I have tried to resist the onset of a rapture, it has felt like a powerful force was lifting me from the soles of my feet. I don’t know what to compare this force to. It is far more cataclysmic than anything I’ve experienced in the previous stages of prayer. The struggle is so ferocious that it utterly wears me out. But in the end, fighting is futile. If this is the Beloved’s desire, there is no power equal to his . . .

“Still, I confess that this particular favor terrified me. If you don’t resist, the same force that carries your soul away in rapture will elevate your body with equal gentleness. Yet when you see yourself lifted off the ground and remain conscious enough to witness the event, the majesty of the One who can cause such a thing is enough to make your hair stand on end.”
Teresa often used erotic metaphors to describe these violent mystical experiences that overpowered her. She also wrote that it felt like she was being torn apart, and the aftermath of the detachment was so severe that at times she lost consciousness, being racked with torment and her bones disjointed.
CONCLUSION
The Bible teaches us that the believer who is born of the Spirit is still in control of his senses or as Paul puts it, “the spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14: 32-33; emphasis added).A Christian is not taken over by the Holy Spirit like a demonically possessed person. While God often works in ways we can’t understand, we will not experience weird things like levitation and psychic detachment that knocks us out and leaves us feeling physically sore. Anyone who practices the contemplative prayer techniques of mystics like Teresa of Avila is stepping into dangerous spiritual territory.After founding the Discalced Carmelites (barefoot nuns), Teresa of Avila fell ill and died at the age of sixty-seven. Even though her writings were controversial and she was interrogated during the Inquisition for heresy, she was later declared a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church for her teaching on prayer and today, she is often looked to as a viable resource on prayer.

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* Teresa describes this prayer of recollection as to “withdraw from those things by which your external senses are distracted.” It is a method of contemplative prayer wherein  one puts a deep mental focus on one thought thereby entering an altered state. See her book St. Teresa’s Own Words: Or, Instructions on the Prayer of Recollection. Teresa says practicing this method will more quickly lead “to the prayer of quiet” that she is so well know for.
** In Teresa’s book Interior Castle, she says the “prayer of quiet” is the entering into the “fourth mansion” (i.e., fourth stage) of meditative prayer calling it the “supernatural element of the mystical life.”
To order copies of Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement, click here.
Endnotes
1. http://www.dwillard.org/resources/RecReading.asp.
2. The interview where Rick Warren said this can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVCY8pW-ACs.)
3. Peter Scazerro, “My Top 10 Books: Spring/Summer 2013” (http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/2013-books-i-am-reading/).
Photo Credits
Cover: Painting by Baron François Gérard (French, 1770-1837), 1827, “Saint Theresa.” The photo used is a reproduction of a work that is in the public domain; taken from Wikipedia.
Page 4: Paul Hill, “St. Theresa of the Child Jesus,” used with permission from istockphoto.com.
Page 16: Painting by Peter Paul Reubens in 1615. The photo used is a reproduction of a work that is in the public domain; taken from Wikipedia.
Back cover: From fotosearch.com; used with permission.
To order copies of Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement, click here.
Bibliography
Note: The books listed in this bibliography should not be considered a recommendation. The author of Castles in the Sand and this booklet has used these books for research as well as for citing.
Teresa of Avila; The Interior Castle.
Hodder & Stroughton Christian Classics
Edited by Halcyon Backhouse, 1988
Teresa of Avila; Selections from the Interior Castle.
Harper Collins Spiritual Classics, 2004
Teresa of Avila; St. Teresa’s Own Words, Or, Instructions on the Prayer of Recollection. Waxkeep Publishing, Kindle Version (not dated)
Malone, Mary T; Women and Christianity.
Orbis Books Volume III, 2003
Teresa of Avila; The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila: Volume 1 and Volume 2
ICS Publications, 1976; http://books.google.ca/books?id=lpo1vV1kXDUC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Teresa of Avila; Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life; translated by Mirabai Starr. http://books.google.ca/books?id=wVLtJ-JFVcQC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Osuna, Francisco de; The Third Spiritual Alphabet.
Paulist Press, Translated by M.E. Giles.
The Classics of Western Spirituality, 1981.
Dalton, Rev. John; The Letters of St. Teresa.
London: Thomas Baker, I, Soho Square. Translated from the Spanish, 1902, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/teresa/letters/letters.html.
Teresa of Avila; Life of St. Teresa of Jesus of the Order of Our Lady of Carmel. Translated from the Spanish by David Lewis; Third Edition Enlarged
With Additional Notes and an Introduction by Rev. Fr. Benedict Zimmerman, O.C.D.; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/life.html.
Foster, Richard; Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home.
HarperCollins, 1992, First Edition.
St. Teresa of Avila; The Complete Works of St. Teresa of Avila: Volume 1 and 2; translated and edited by E. Allison Peers; London: Burns& Oates; 2002 edition.
To order copies of Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement, click here.

When a Young Girl Meets a Mystic and Is Introduced to Lectio Divina

LTRP Note: The following is an excerpt from Carolyn A. Greene’s novel, Castles in the Sand, the first novel published that addresses the contemplative prayer (spiritual formation) movement. In this excerpt, the young Christian Teresa [Tessa], now attending a Christian college, is in her dorm room, thinking about her new spiritual director, Ms. Jasmine, who has promised to teach her students how to enter the “inner life” just like the mystics of the past. For Tessa, a lonely foster girl who lost her parents years earlier in a tragic accident, this talk of a better, more fulfilling life was just what she was looking for.

from Castles in the Sand
by Carolyn A. Greene

The school’s spiritual formation professor had been responsible for bringing Ms. Jasmine to Flat Plains Bible College as their new spiritual director. Tessa was immediately drawn to her. Ms. Jasmine was so down to earth…. [Tessa] admired her from the very beginning.

Tessa’s mind turned to Ms. Jasmine’s promise to soon introduce them to the inner life. Although Tessa felt guarded about anything that came close to her inner life, she was drawn to Ms. Jasmine …

Ms. Jasmine had placed colorful tapestry cushions in a circle at the front of the lecture hall, and fifteen minutes into her talk the students were encouraged to take one and seek out a quiet place of solitude anywhere on the campus. Once they had found a cozy spot, they were to use the outline they’d been given to practice a listening exercise called lectio divina, a “divine reading” that would make them feel closer to Jesus.

“Come back in half an hour,” Ms Jasmine had told them, smiling as they filed by to pick up their cushions….

The listening exercise they were to do seemed simple enough. After choosing a Scripture passage, they were instructed to read it slowly a number of times and wait for a word to “come alive” to them. Then they were to take that single word, close their eyes and repeat it for several minutes. Ms. Jasmine’s had read the outline ahead of time to the class. Her voice had a soothing, relaxing effect:

Sit with your back straight in a comfortable position.
Notice first the faraway sounds that you can hear.
Next, allow yourself to become aware of sounds that are nearer.
Then listen closely to your own heartbeat; this is your very own rhythm of life.
As you shut out these sounds, you will hear the sound of silence within yourself.
Listen like this for several minutes . . .
Write down what you hear God saying to you.
Remember, he is all around you and in you.

Tessa had found her own quiet spot on a bench in the courtyard, where yellow and red leaves drifted gently to the ground from the tree above. It had seemed weird at first, and Tessa wasn’t altogether sure about it. But she read Psalm 15, and soon the word “truth” stood out to her. She straightened her back, closed her eyes, and repeated the word for at least five minutes. It was awkward this first time, because she kept looking down at Ms. Jasmine’s instructions, wanting to get it just right. At one point, she thought she had actually heard a voice speak to her. Ms. Jasmine had told them to imagine themselves having a conversation with Christ. “Don’t be afraid to listen,” were the words she thought she heard, although it was probably just the wind in the trees.

Why not try it again, Tessa thought now, as she lay wide awake in the dark. She put her head under her favorite flannel-covered pillow to shut out [her roommate] Katy’s snoring, turned on her LED book light under the blanket, and reread a page in what was now her favorite book, Selections from the Interior Castle, by Teresa of Avila of Spain. Even the picture on the cover had come alive in her imagination. It was a painting of an ancient castle with a high tower on a green hilltop. Leading up to the castle’s stone archways were winding dirt roads that crossed over stone bridges. Tessa’s imagination took her back to the storybook her mom often read to her when she was a little girl. Hesitantly, but with anticipation, she opened her new book to the page she had dog-eared earlier and began to read:

One kind of rapture is that in which the soul, even though not in prayer, is touched by some word it remembers or hears about God. It seems that His Majesty from the interior of the soul makes the spark we mentioned increase, for He is moved with compassion in seeing the soul suffer so long a time from its desire.

So beautifully written, thought Tessa. She read it over several times. Now that was beautiful literature, the kind she would like to read in the solitude of a beautiful meadow in a deep, sheltered valley. It was perfect. The word that jumped out at her was “spark.” St. Teresa and Ms. Jasmine both talked about the spark within. Ever since her parents died in the crash, Tessa felt as if her own spark had been extinguished. Perhaps she would soon be able to feel the spark come to life again if she could practice being silent like this more often. When she closed her eyes, she could almost see a tiny light growing brighter in the darkness, like a light at the end of a long tunnel. Then again, maybe it was just the lingering glare from her book light. For a moment, she tried to focus on the light. Finally, Tessa quietly turned off the light, laid Gran’s bookmark between the pages where she had finished reading, and put the book on her nightstand. At least she had figured out how to make Katy stop talking.

Tomorrow Ms. Jasmine was going to take their SF class outside into the fresh air. They were going to practice another prayer exercise called centering and take the first prayer walk through the brand-new campus labyrinth. Tessa felt as if she was about to step into a new realm, but she wasn’t quite sure what it was. Maybe Flat Plains Bible College was not such a stuffy place to be after all. She would text Gramps in the morning. He’d be happy to know she was actually beginning to like this place. (from chapter 6, Castles in the Sand)

Also see:

Table of Contents and Chapter One

Chapter by Chapter Synopsis

Chapter 19: “Bad Counsel”

What People Are Saying About Castles in the Sand:

A great read. The author has real talent. Characters like Gramps are amazingly well-sketched. Good story lay-out too, with flashes of humor. The story makes what is happening in schools & churches clear in a way mere reporting can’t. E.L., Pennsylvania, U.S.

An excellent story with an urgent message. Teenaged/college-aged girls will want to read this book because the main character is their age and they will be intrigued by “a mysterious young man who reaches out to help Tessa. Additionally, parents and grandparents of young adults will want to read the book because of the subtle implication of the spiritual danger involved in things such as lectio divina, contemplative prayer etc. And if their sons and daughters are in Christian colleges, these words are now likely a part of their children’s regular vocabulary, and naive, uninformed parents will immediately have their interest piqued when they read those words. D.H., Alberta, Canada

I’m on my second reading of Castles in the Sand. It is even better the second time!! The bonus book you sent me has been read by several people. Hannah [14 year old daughter] was the first to read the book in our house, and it equipped her to address her youth group about the terror of Avila. The leader was recommending they read Teresa of Avila’s work. Hannah spoke right up about how bad it is. You could hear a pin drop, the way the kids were so attentive. K.R., Kansas, U.S.

Remembering the Enticing Appeal of Richard Foster and Beth Moore’s Be Still Film

Be Still DVD

Be Still DVD

In 2006, a DVD film was released by Fox Entertainment called Be Still. Lighthouse Trails wrote extensively about it at the time, warning our readers that the DVD was an infomercial for contemplative prayer. Recently, a caller who very much understood the deceptive dynamics of the contemplative prayer (i.e., Spiritual Formation) movement, reminded us about the film, and we e-mailed her a copy of all the transcripts (we had transcribed the entire film in 2006). The film includes Richard Foster, Buddhist-sympathizer Catholic convert Peter Kreeft, Dallas Willard, Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Michelle McKinney Hammon, Max Lucado, and Calvin Miller. You can read some of our previous coverage here.

You can be sure that in the last 10 years since Be Still was released, the contemplative prayer movement has grown by leaps and bounds, and we have no doubt that this film has had a lot to do with this spread.

Below we have posted portions of the transcript from three of the segments (there were six altogether) of the Be Still film. You may need to read between the lines to understand the message that is being promoted because the film was  a seductive and enticing infomercial to draw people into the practice of contemplative prayer without coming right out and saying what contemplative prayer really entails. (After all, viewers could get specific instructions later by reading the writings of these people in the film). For those not familiar with the contemplative prayer movement, it may be a good idea to read this article by Lynn Pratt, “So You Want to Practice Contemplative Prayer? What’s Wrong With That?”

Within these quotes, the italicized words are added by LT for emphasis.

“Contemplative Prayer: The Divine Romance Between God and Man”

Narrator:

We live in  frenzied chaotic world under a constant siege of business and noise. The weapons of mass distraction are everywhere. We are bombarded by millions of advertisements daily. The Christian community is not exempt. We were designed to experience fullness of joy, yet many only experience fullness of schedule. Where can we go to find rest and peace?

Be still and know that I am God. We find peace in God’s presence. We get to know God better through prayer. Prayer is relationship and two-way communication with God. Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. But how can we experience abundance if we don’t learn to slow down? We need to stop and quiet ourselves to spend time in real relationship with God.

Contemplation is different from other types of Christian prayer. Contemplative prayer involves less telling God what we want to happen in our lives and more listening for God’s call to us in our heart through Scripture. As we develop the inward attentiveness to God’s divine whisper, we begin to experience His presence more throughout the day.

“What is Contemplative Prayer?”

 Richard Foster, author “Prayer”:

Contemplative prayer is listening prayer. It is attentiveness. You know how our children will talk with us and sometimes we wish that they would just listen to us. Now, that’s what contemplative prayer is. It’s being all ears to what the Father has to say to us.

[French Catholic mystic] Nicholas Grou said, “O Divine Master, teach me this mute language which says so much.” That’s the idea. It’s very simple, isn’t it? That we become attentive to God. God’s interested in us, what we have to say. We learn to become interested  in what God has to say to us.

Priscilla Shirer, author of “He Speaks to Me: Preparing to Hear the Voice of Go”:

Most of my prayer time is filled up with what I’m saying to Him, as opposed to just being quiet and actually giving him an opportunity to speak to me. And of course I’ve thought about hearing the voice of God all my life, and I’ve thought about wanting to hear Him, but it never occurred to me that I needed to consciously go into His presence with my mouth closed, giving Him an opportunity to get a word in edgewise.  And so I’ve just begun in my prayer life over the past year of my life to make a conscious effort to be in a time of prayer, and yes, to speak to Him, but to consciously say, okay, I’m done talking now, because I’m just gonna sit here in the stillness and wait to see what it is that you want to say to me.

Dallas Willard, PhD.,former  Director, School of Philosophy, USC:

It is somewhat like, uh, the story of electricity with Benjamin Franklin. And actually, we know now that electricity’s everywhere. I mean, our blood cells wouldn’t work without electricity. But it was Franklin who made the effort to contact it, as it were. So the famous story about the kite in the electric storm, and the current running down the line and jumping the gap and causing the spark and so on. And of course it’s a wonder that the old fellow wasn’t killed on the spot with it, because lightning has been doing that for a long time.

Buddhist-sympathizer Catholic convert, Peter Kreeft:

It’s easy to allegorize it. The key is Franklin’s own ego. And the sky is God. And the electricity is grace and the kite line is prayer. And he’s sending himself up to God in order to get charged.

Jerry Shirer:

When my son and I, Jackson, when we play sports or when we play baseball or when he kicks the ball, I always want to try to instruct him on how to do it and what to do. This is how you do it, Son. You do it this way. Well, it hit me. Where Jackson doesn’t want to be with me to receive instruction necessarily. He just wants to be in my presence. And that was the amazing thing. He goes, “You know, Dad, don’t—I don’t need your instructions. I don’t need this. Dad, I’m just happy just being with you.” You know? And that was the thing for me. And that just, you know, made me understand my relationship with Christ. It’s not about me speaking or saying, Lord, this is what I want. He goes, “Jerry, just spend time with Me.”

Richard Foster:

Contemplative prayer can be experienced everywhere, in small groups of people, when you’re alone, when you’re at work, in all kinds of situations. You take a passage of Scripture, a very simple passage, and you simply lean into the passage and you allow the Lord to teach you.

Narrator:

Churches, small groups and individuals around the world have structured a spiritual life around the practice of Christian contemplation.

“Historical Overview”

Dallas Willard:

Very interesting that even Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, thought the highest human good was contemplation. But he thought it was contemplation of truth, not contemplation of God. Still, he was onto something big. And it was later on the Christians came along because Aristotelian contemplation turned out not really to do a lot for people. But Augustine, for example, corrected Aristotle and taught that it was God that we contemplate, because He is the only final good and we lift our minds and hearts to Him through Christ, and that gives us the kind of life-giving joy and sufficiency that Aristotle understood to be true happiness.

Beth Moore:

One of the lives that has affected me deeply is Saint Augustine, that after wrestling with God for such a long time, and God just chasing him and hunting him down, I remember thinking to myself, I want to be that way about God. When God’s hunting me down, I wanna slow down and be caught by Him. If He’s chasing me, I want Him to catch me. And that’s what God did with Saint Augustine. And he knew the fiery passion of God’s love, not just a God of the law, but a God of the heart, a God that chases the heart of man, to pick up all its pieces and make it whole.

Peter Kreeft, PhD, Professor of Philosophy, Boston College:

[The mystic] Kierkegaard, probably the greatest Protestant Christian mind of all time, said many times something like this—This is almost the last page of his journal shortly before he died. He said, “If I could prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. Because even if the word of God were proclaimed in its fullness, it would not be heard. There is too much noise. So begin with silence.”

Narrator:

The stresses we live with are so invasive, we begin to believe we’re nothing but these things. We believe they have the power to define who we are and how we live. We must learn to desire a oneness with God that transcends all these things.

“The Need for Contemplative Prayer”

Max Lucado, Pastor, Author, “Cure for the Common Life”:

You know, people are in such a hurry all the time. I talked to a man recently who had completed 60 ironman triathlons. And the guy’s in his 60s. I said, What’s the secret? He said, “Start slow and taper down.” That’s my new motto in life. He said, “Everybody gets out on these races, and they start running as hard as they can, and they wear out. They can’t finish.” He said, “The secret’s to start slow and taper down.” I thought, you know, that’s right. Cause really in life, we start slow. And Jesus said, “Anybody who would know the kingdom of God needs to come like a child.” Children start slow, in our parent’s lap, at our mother’s breast, sleeping a lot, thinking a lot, learning a lot, but then somewhere along the line we think we gotta ratchet up. And so, yeah, I think it’s time to slow it all down a little bit.

Priscilla Shirer:

I’m reminded of Matthew, chapter 17, during the Transfiguration, Jesus was there with Peter, James and John and it says that God called out from the heavens, God the Father, called out from the heavens. And here’s Jesus standing in front of them with His face shining. And I mean, they are just amazed at what they are seeing and God the Father calls out and says, “This is My Son whom I love, and I am well pleased.” And this is the command that God the Father gives. He says, “Listen to Him.” Here’s Jesus in all of His glory, and the one thing the Father says that He’s, we’re supposed to do is listen to Him. And so, if that’s the one command that God the Father would give at this point, at this incredible point in biblical history, that we listen to Him, then I think we oughta be making some time to come aside from our busyness and listen to what it is that our Father has to say to us.

Calvin Miller, Professor, Author, “Into the Depths of God”: [Miller is a proponent of Marcus Borg who openly denied many tenets of the Christian faith.]

One of the great things that silence does, it gives us a new concept of God. God is not just somebody there to hear us, a doting grandfather who puts his arms around us and says, “Honey, I’ll see what I can do for you.” God is an activist. That’s why I believe in praying the Scriptures. When you open up the Bible and you pray the Scriptures back to God, you’re experiencing something really wonderful, and what you’re experiencing is, you’re reading back to the Author of the Word of God His own words. Now I’m not, I’m not a great writer. But when somebody says to me, “I read your book,” that’s a great gift to give me.

Beth Moore:

God’s Word is so clear that if we are not still before Him, we will never truly know, to the depths of the marrow in our bones, that He is God. There has got to be a stillness. We’ve got to have a time to sit before Him and just know that He is. We live in such an attention-deficit culture, and we’re so entirely over stimulated, so much coming at us at once, one image after another, that if we are not careful, we are going to lose the art of meditation, to just sit before God and know His peace, that He really is in control, and that nothing is happening that’s not being sifted through His fingers, and He is God upon the throne.

Richard Foster:

The wonderful thing about contemplative prayer is that it can be found everywhere, anywhere, any time for anyone. [Foster believes that contemplative prayer is for anyone, not just believers in Christ.] We become a portable sanctuary, so that we are living our life, wherever it is, aware of the goodness of God, the presence of God.

Tim Lundy:

If there ever was an age that the church—and a time period when the church needed the practice of solitude and silence, it’s now. We live in the information age. And I love it. I love the technology. I love the opportunities it gives us. But I also recognize that every day there’s hundreds of emails. We’re connected to a world wide web. We have cell phones. We, whether we’re in a car, or on an airplane or at our home, somebody can be in contact with us. And all those are great resources, but if in the middle of it we don’t stop, if we don’t get silent and practice that and be alone with God, all that becomes just a drain on us. And so the very people you’re trying to connect with and minister to, you have no energy for.

Dallas Willard:

Now because silence is such a radical thing, and it does mean that you give up control of your situation, you can see what a tremendous impact that would have on the American church, in their services, in their meetings of various kinds. Suppose they practice silence in some of their meetings. That would actually give a place for God to break in. And who knows, He might have something to say even to a committee meeting, if they would be silent long enough. It would mean that, for example, the pastors and the leaders in the services would not feel like they have to control everything, that again, God is in control. And that’s the way God is. He more or less waits for us to get tired of running things and then He’s glad to help.

Katherine A. Brown-Satzman, [promotes guided imagery] Executive Director, UCLA, Healthcare Ethics Center:

And in the process of that, physiologically, everything begins to shift. Blood pressure comes down. Breathing changes. Our mind quiets. And we can actually get to this state of where our body can heal in a much better way, because it’s not fighting all of this, right? It’s not amped up.

“Fear of Silence”

Dallas Willard:

If silence is a condition of this experience, a lot of people really are not going to undertake it. It’s very difficult to get anyone to be silent. And I think it’s because in silence they really do surrender their control over how they appear. One of the things we do in talking is to adjust our appearance. And to abandon that as a project is really major. So we keep jabbering. You go to the ordinary church service, you can hardly find 15 minutes of silence. But silence is one of the great spiritual disciplines. And in fact you’re not going to get very far in contemplative prayer unless you know how to be silent. And by that I mean that you really are comfortable with it and you’re practiced in it.

Narrator:

Christian meditation is the practice of being in the presence of God. Its ultimate goal is to seek only God and receive His guidance and grace.

Richard Foster:

Let me give just a little example of contemplative prayer for an individual. I was using Scripture—one of the Psalms, a brief Psalm, like recently I used Psalm 9. And first I would read it through, just out loud to myself, and just become aware of the texture of the Psalm. And then I’d do a second reading. And there I would highlight whatever passage  seemed to strike me in any way—a phrase or a sentence. And then I would do a third reading, and there I’m coming—I’m reading only the highlighted passages, and I look for any phrase, any sentence that speaks particularly to my condition. And that particular day, Psalm 9, the passage was, Be gracious to me, O Lord. Isn’t that wonderful? And I was going through some difficult time, and it was so helpful then, for the entire day, to utilize that particular passage. Be gracious to me, O Lord. Whatever I’m doing, whatever work it is, whatever situation with the children or with my wife or whatever—Be gracious to me, O Lord. See? That’s contemplative prayer.

LT: [Richard Foster is describing lectio divina here; but while he’s trying to make contemplative prayer sound very innocent here, we know from years of studying his writings, that he believes contemplative prayer to be much more than just picking out a passage of Scripture and thinking about it throughout the day. He and other contemplative figures teach that in order to go into the contemplative stillness, that special word or phrase needs to be repeated over and over to help eliminate thoughts and distractions.]

“The Difference Between Eastern and Christian Meditation”

Tim Lundy:

What I see in Christian meditation—it’s not escape from the world. It’s an escape to something and to someone. And so it’s an opportunity to stop, and you’re getting away from the world, but you’re moving toward God and connecting with Him.

Dallas Willard:

The loss of self that is meant in the Eastern traditions, really does mean that the individual dissolves. And that solves the problems of desire and passion, which is the curse of human life on that view of things. See, the Christian and Jewish teaching, and for that matter the Islamic teaching, is that the distinctness of the individual is a good thing. And that God has intended that and means to preserve it. So the response to the human condition is not the disappearance of desire but the dominance of love.

Beth Moore:

That’s the difference with meditation. We’re not just speaking to our inner selves. We’re not just speaking to a more positive thought process that day. We pray to the God of the universe, the king of all creation, is my Abba, Father. That’s who I’m talking to. And when I have that kind of attitude—that I’m talking to somebody that really can change my circumstances, that really can change my heart, that really can empower me to be different than I’d be, to do what I cannot do, to know what I cannot possibly know—I’m gonna tell you something—My approach is gonna be transformed. I’m not just talking, I’m not just trying to get my head together, I’m talking to someone. And I happen to be talking to the God of the universe.

LT: [What Beth Moore and Dallas Willard are saying here is that the method is the same but the intent is different; but we say that if the method is the same, you are going to get the same results. As Ray Yungen has said, two people can jump out of a ten story building with one saying “fly, fly,” and the other saying “fall, fall,” but the results will be the same.]

Narrator:

There’s a peace that surpasses understanding. We know that stress will always be there, but we ground our hearts in such oneness with God that His power can transform our lives.

“How God Speaks Through Scripture”

Richard Foster:

Learning to distinguish the voice of God from just human voices within us comes in much the same way that we learn any other voice. You know, there’s a tone to a voice. Satan pushes and condemns. God draws and encourages. And we can know the difference. And then there’s a spirit in a voice, isn’t there? Remember it was said of Messiah that He would not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick. You see, Jesus would never snuff out the smallest hope, never crush the needy. And that’s  the spirit that we look for in the voice of God. And then, third,  there’s the content of the voice. And in the final analysis, that is the most clear evidence. You see, the voice of God, the Davar Yahweh, is always consistent with the way God has spoken in the past. And so Scripture, then, becomes a primary means by which we understand God speaking to us today. It will always be consistent with the way He has spoken in the past.

LT: [Satan comes as an angel of light and his ministers as ministers of righteousness. This “test” by Richard Foster is very flawed.]

Mark Brewer:

Sometimes the longest distance in our spiritual journey is that 18 inches from our head getting it down into our heart. And the power of this contemplative prayer, this inner life, is it takes the knowledge which is all the facts and figures, and it makes it wisdom by applying it.

LT: [What contemplatives mean when they say from the head to the heart is what contemplative Henri Nouwen meant when he said: “Through the discipline of contemplative prayer, Christian leaders have to learn to listen to the voice of love … For Christian leadership to be truly fruitful in the future, a movement from the moral [doctrine] to the mystical is required.” (from Nouwen’s book, In the Name of Jesus)]

Calvin Miller:

Can you think about how God must feel when a Christian comes into His presence reading the 23rd Psalm? Lord, You are my shepherd. You make me lie down in green pastures. You lead me beside still waters, all for Your name’s sake. I think when we say those things back to God, as the author of those words, He’s delighted. And the silence confirms that we are people, and we’re talking and God’s listening. But the best times are when God starts talking and we’re quiet enough to hear Him.

Beth Moore:

Second Timothy 3 tells us that all Scripture is God-breathed, and that means that every single word on that paper has come fresh out of the mouth of God. What I try to remember every single time I read Scripture is that it still has the warmth of God’s breath on it. You can’t separate the words of God from the mouth of God, or you’ve just got sterile words sitting on a page. God’s Word is different than that. It’s the very word out of His mouth. Therefore it comes with fresh breath. Because it’s eternal, that means time is not attached to it. So it’s as fresh today to me as it was the day it came out of His mouth and onto the paper. That’s the way I look at it.

LT: [According to this statement by Beth Moore, without the contemplative aspect, the Word of God is “sterile.” We are not taking what she said out of context. This is totally typical of the contemplative mindset. Remember what she said above, without the stillness, you can’t really know God. She also says that “you can’t separate the word of God from the mouth of God,” but the Bible says in Psalm 138:2 that God’s Word is magnified above His name, so surely His Word is magnified above His “breath.” If you stop and really think about what she is saying here, you will see how distorted this thinking is.

Narrator:
The practice of contemplative prayer can be a vital part of our everyday lives. But we must make time for it.

“The Fruit of Contemplative Prayer”

Beth Moore:

A true lover of God once spoke about practicing God’s presence. To me, that’s such a part of contemplative prayer. That we are able to absorb the reality, that as we commune with God through prayer, that He is with us, that His Spirit, for those of us who are in Christ, fills us, that we are drawn near to Him, that our souls find rest in Him, that we’ll realize that it’s not just words on a page, but it’s the presence of God, the voice out of His mouth, that calms us, or perhaps stirs us, gives us peace or perhaps brings us into a holy passion, that we respond to His presence.

Calvin Miller:

But if we don’t do it, all we are is an inner wrangling that never ceases. We move from hassle to hassle to hassle. One may stick a little Jesus in here or there, but without the silence, there’s no healing. There’s no healing.

From the segment called “Cloud of Witnesses: Contemplative Figures Throughout History”

Beth Moore, Author “A Heart Like His”:

You know one of the things that time gives us is that it erases the lines between so many different sections of the people of God. Because many years later it doesn’t matter any longer that this person was of this practice in the Christian faith and this person of another. Time somehow blurs those lines, and we are profoundly moved by the historical narratives of all of their lives of so great a cloud of witnesses that we can look back on and see what kept them running the race, what kept them running toward the face of Christ at the end of that finish line.

Dr. Mark Brewer, Pastor, Bel Air Presbyterian Church, Los Angeles:

Through the ages a lot of us as Christians think that the Holy Spirit’s been on sabbatical since the first century and now He just showed up. But He’s been very active in the lives of all of His people. I think of some of the desert fathers—they called themselves God’s athletes in the third and fourth century. They left this corrupt Roman Empire to go and to seek God and they made what they called this holy place for God. That’s why they fasted and why they lived such simple lives, was so the Lord could encounter them.

Richard Foster, Author, “Prayer”:

[The mystic] Madame Guyon was a French lady of the 17th century. She had children. She had an ordinary life experience. But she learned, you see, how, in that, to live with God. Her book, “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ,” is one of the sweetest little books on contemplative prayer. And she wrote it for people who couldn’t read themselves. Her book was meant to be read to them.

Richard Foster:

[Mystic] Teresa of Avila was a Spanish lady in the 16th century, a contemporary with [panentheist] Saint John of the Cross. An incredible leader, administrator. A woman of immense skill and ability and a woman of deep prayer.

Jerry Root, PhD, Professor, Wheaton College:

One of my favorite stories relates to the medieval contemplative Julian of Norwich. She was from England. And she claimed to have had revelation from God and she wrote about it shortly after she had these experiences. She was in her early 20s. Twenty-five years later she wrote about it again. She hadn’t had a new experience with God, revealing Himself to her, but she wrote about it 25 years later, having allowed 25 years of contemplation to inform what this meant to her. There’s one story that occurs in both accounts. She said that God spoke to her and told her to pick up a chestnut. She picked it up and God spoke to her and said, “All the great truths can be found even in a chestnut. God made it. God sustains it. God loves it.”

And I think all of the great contemplative writers have present application, if we’ll look for it.

[The mystic] Evelyn Underhill would be a relatively modern contemplative. She died in the early 1940s. At Oxford University you had to be a male to teach, until Evelyn Underhill came along. She was the first woman given lecture-wide status throughout the university. She was towering intellect. She wrote 39 books on Christian spirituality [i.e., contemplative spirituality] and philosophy of religion. And Evelyn Underhill tells a great story about a friend of hers who had been to Scotland, to the island of Iona. Iona is an island that’s sacred for the Scots because it’s where Columba first brought Christianity to Scotland. Every Scot needs to make the pilgrimage to Iona sometime in their life because the roots of Scottish Christianity are there. Well, Underhill’s friend had been to Scotland and had been to Iona, and when she returned her Scottish gardener said to her, “Where did you go for your vacation?” And Underhill’s friend said, “I’ve been to Iona.” And he says, “Oh, Iona’s a thin place.” She said, “What do you mean?” He said, “It’s a thin place because there’s not much between God and Iona.”

And all of life, properly looked at, in some senses, is a thin place. Everywhere we look, in a world made by God, a world inhabited by God, God is calling us to worship Him. . . . There’s another medieval contemplative named Brother Lawrence. He was responsible for the book “Practicing the Presence of God.” Many people don’t realize that Brother Lawrence was a pot scrubber in a monastery. He wasn’t a full-fledged monk. He was a brother who would come in and scrub pots for the monks so that they could spend their time in prayer. And it was while he was washing pots at a kitchen scullery that he practiced the presence of God. In essence, Brother Lawrence would tell us the kitchen’s a thin place. Scrubbing pots is a thin place. All of life—especially the struggle of life—is a thin place. God wants to meet us in those places.

Dallas Willard:

Brother Lawrence’s experiences were rather different. They involve some things that are quite like this type of prayer. But for example, a major experience for him was viewing a tree that had lost its leaves in the winter and was all stripped bare, and the realization that this tree still had life in it, and that this life would flourish again in the spring. His sense of that seemed to bring him into a kind of unity with that life that he began to practice. And of course, he had a very lowly, menial position, caring for the kitchen and the needs of the monastery. So he learned then to see God in all things.

Richard Foster:

Brother Lawrence, in his wonderful book, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” said, “Those who have the gale…” He means the wind. “…of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep.” Isn’t that wonderful, that we can move forward in our spiritual life even when we’re sleeping? I often try, as I am entering sleep, to just give my life to God—my heart, my mind, my thinking, my dreams, whatever they might be. And then you wake up in the morning and you’ve advanced in the Spirit. You see, that’s part of contemplative prayer as well.

From the segment, Alone With God:

Woman:

Find a simple and quiet place where you can be comfortable for about 20 minutes. But you don’t want to get so comfortable that you miss your intimate time with God because you’ve fallen asleep. If I’m in bed, I prop up on a pillow and try to sit up as straight as possible, not in the counting sheep position.

Take a few deep breaths. Begin to relax and slow yourself down. As you inhale, think of the Holy Spirit breathing life and peace into your body. And as you exhale, remember the verse that says to cast all your cares upon Him.

 

 

 

 

 

Silence—The Language of God? (And Some Folks Promoting it)

By Ray Yungen

For many years during my research, I would come across the term contemplative prayer. Immediately I would dismiss any thought that it had a New Age connotation because I thought it meant to ponder while praying—which would be the logical association with that term. But in the New Age disciplines, things are not always what they seem to be to untrained ears.

What contemplative prayer actually entails is described very clearly by the following writer:

When one enters the deeper layers of contemplative prayer one sooner or later experiences the void, the emptiness, the nothingness . . . the profound mystical silence . . . an absence of thought.1

To my dismay, I discovered this “mystical silence” is accomplished by the same methods used by New Agers to achieve their silence—the mantra and the breath! Contemplative prayer is the repetition of what is referred to as a prayer word or sacred word until one reaches a state where the soul, rather than the mind, contemplates God. Contemplative prayer teacher and Zen master Willigis Jager brought this out when he postulated:

Do not reflect on the meaning of the word; thinking and reflecting must cease, as all mystical writers insist. Simply “sound” the word silently, letting go of all feelings and thoughts.2

Those with some theological training may recognize this teaching as the historical stream going back centuries to such figures as Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Julian of Norwich.
One of the most well-known writings on the subject is the classic 14th century treatise, The Cloud of Unknowing, written by an anonymous author. It is essentially a manual on contemplative prayer inviting a beginner to:

Take just a little word, of one syllable rather than of two . . . With this word you are to strike down every kind of thought under the cloud of forgetting.3

The premise here is that in order to really know God, mysticism must be practiced—the mind has to be shut down or turned off so that the cloud of unknowing where the presence of God awaits can be experienced. Practitioners of this method believe that if the sacred words are Christian, you will get Christ—it is simply a matter of intent even though the method is identical to occult and Eastern practices.

So the question we as Christians must ask ourselves is, “Why not? Why shouldn’t we incorporate this mystical prayer practice into our lives?” The answer to this is actually found in Scripture.

While certain instances in the Bible describe mystical experiences, I see no evidence anywhere of God sanctioning man-initiated mysticism. Legitimate mystical [supernatural] experiences were always initiated by God to certain individuals for certain revelations and was never based on a method for the altering of consciousness. In Acts 11:5, Peter fell into a trance while in prayer. But it was God, not Peter, who initiated the trance and facilitated it.

By definition, a mystic, on the other hand, is someone who uses rote methods in an attempt to tap into their inner divinity. Those who use these methods put themselves into a trance state outside of God’s sanction or protection and thus engage in an extremely dangerous approach. Besides, nowhere in the Bible are such mystical practices prescribed. For instance, the Lord, for the purpose of teaching people a respect for His holiness and His plans, instated certain ceremonies for His people (especially in the Old Testament). Nonetheless, Scripture contains no reference in which God promoted mystical practices. The gifts of the Spirit spoken of in the New Testament were supernatural in nature but did not fall within the confines of mysticism. God bestowed spiritual gifts without the Christian practicing a method beforehand to get God’s response.

Proponents of contemplative prayer would respond with, What about Psalms 46:10? “Be still, and know that I am God.” This verse is often used by those promoting contemplative prayer. On the surface, this argument can seem valid, but once the meaning of “still” is examined, any contemplative connection is expelled. The Hebrew meaning of the word is to slacken, cease, or abate. In other words, the context is to slow down and trust God rather than get in a dither over things. Relax and watch God work. Reading the two verses just before Psalms 46:10 puts it in an entirely different light from that proposed by mystics:

Come, behold the works of the LORD, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.

This isn’t talking about going into some altered state of consciousness!

It should also be pointed out that being born again, in and of itself, is mystical. But it is a direct act of God, initiated by Him—the Holy Spirit has regenerated the once-dead spirit of man into a living spirit through Christ. Yet, we notice that even in this most significant of experiences when one is “passed from death unto life” (John 5:24), God accomplishes this without placing the individual in an altered state of consciousness.

We can take this a step further by looking at the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts, chapter 2 where those present were “all filled with the Holy Ghost” (vs. 4). Notice that they were “all with one accord in one place” (vs. 1) when the Holy Spirit descended on them. From the context of the chapter, it is safe to assume this was a lively gathering of believers engaged in intelligent conversation. Then, when those present began to speak in other tongues, it was not an episode of mindless babbling or vain repetition as in a mantra. Rather it was an event of coherent speech significant enough to draw a crowd who exclaimed, “we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (vs. 11). Other observers who suspected they were in an altered state of consciousness said, “These men are full of new wine” (vs. 13). Notice that Peter was quick to correct this group in asserting that they were all fully conscious. Would it not then stand to reason that their minds were not in any kind of altered state? Next, Peter delivered one of the most carefully articulated speeches recorded in Scripture. This was certainly not a group of men in a trance.

So, through the lens of perhaps the two most meaningful mystical experiences recorded in the New Testament (i.e., being born again and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost), an altered state of consciousness was never sought after nor was it achieved. In fact, a complete search of both Old and New Testaments reveals there were only two types of experiences sanctioned by God where the recipient is not fully awake—namely dreams and visions—and in each case the experience is initiated by God. Conversely, every instance of a self-induced trance recorded in Scripture is adamantly condemned by God as we see summarized in the following verses:

When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. (Deuteronomy 18:9-11)

An examination of the Hebrew meanings of the terms used in the above verses shows that much of what is being spoken of is the invoking of spells. And a spell, used in this context, refers to a trance. In other words, when God induces a trance it is in the form of a dream or a vision. When man induces a trance, it is in the form of a spell or hypnosis.

And remember, nowhere in the Bible is the silence equated with the “power of God,” but the “preaching of the cross” (I Corinthians 1:18) most certainly is!

Endnotes:

1. William Johnston, Letters to Contemplatives, p. 13.
2. Willigis Jager, Contemplation: A Christian Path, p. 31.
3. Ken Kaisch, Finding God, cited from The Cloud of Unknowing, p. 223.

Some People Who Are Promoting the “Silence”

“What you need is stillness and silence so that the sediment can settle and the water can become clear.”–Ruth Haley Barton, “Beyond Words”

“I do not believe anyone can ever become a deep person [intimate with God] without stillness and silence.”–Charles Swindoll, So You Want To Be Like Christ? Eight Essential Disciplines to Get You There, p. 65“The basic method promoted in The Cloud is to move beyond thinking into a place of utter stillness with the Lord … the believer must first achieve a state of silence and contemplation, and then God works in the believer’s heart.”–Tony Jones, The Sacred Way, p. 15

“Progress in intimacy with God means progress toward silence…. It is this recreating silence to which we are called in Contemplative Prayer.–Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 155

“It is through silence that you find your inner being.”–Vijay Eswaran, In the Sphere of Silence, excerpt from website.

“This book [In the Sphere of Silence] is a wonderful guide on how to enter the realm of silence and draw closer to God.”–New Age sympathizer, Ken Blanchard

“[G]o into the silence for guidance”–New Ager, Wayne Dyer, ATOD p. 18 (from interview with Wayne Dyer, Portland, OR., 3/27/97)

“While we are all equally precious in the eyes of God, we are not all equally ready to listen to ‘God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all embracing silence.’”–Richard Foster, Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home, p. 156.

“When one enters the deeper layers of contemplative prayer one sooner or later experiences the void, the emptiness, the nothingness … the profound mystical silence … an absence of thought.” –Thomas Merton biographer, William Johnston, Letters to Contemplatives, p. 13.

“In the silence is a dynamic presence. And that’s God, and we become attuned to that.”–Interspiritualist, Wayne Teasdale, Michael Tobias, “A Parliament of Souls in Search of a Global Spirituality” (KQED Inc., San Francisco, CA, 1995), p. 148.

“One of the great things silence does, it gives us a new concept of God.” – Calvin Miller, from Be Still DVD

“God’s Word is so clear that if we are not still before Him, we will never truly know, to the depths of the marrow in our bones, that He is God. There has got to be a stillness. We’ve got to have a time to sit before Him and just know that He is. We live in such an attention-deficit culture, and we’re so entirely over stimulated, so much coming at us at once, one image after another, that if we are not careful, we are going to lose the art of meditation.” Beth Moore, from Be Still DVD

“Kierkegaard, probably the greatest Protestant Christian mind of all time, said … “If I could prescribe only one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence.”–Peter Kreeft, from Be Still DVD

“To be still means not only that you make a time to sit with God, but a time for your mind and your heart to be still also. Then God can meet you and fill you with His presence and His Word.”–Henry Cloud (CCN) from Be Still DVD, “Being Still: Helpful Hints with Dr. Henry Cloud”

“What does stillness really mean? Is stillness just something physical? Or is it mental? Is it spiritual? Is it emotional? There’s so many levels of stillness that we need to practice. And know. Be still and know. Know what? You know, there’s something that comes with the assurance of being still. You’re no longer practicing or exerting effort.” Michelle McKinney Hammond, from Be Still DVD, “Contemplative Prayer: The Divine Romance Between God and Man”

“[S]ilence is one of the great spiritual disciplines. And in fact you’re not going to get very far in contemplative prayer unless you know how to be silent. And by that I mean that you really are comfortable with it and you’re practiced in it.” Dallas Willard, Be Still DVD, “Fear of Silence”

“First, you must remember that when you go into solitude and silence, your basic goal is to do nothing. Yes, nothing!”–J.P. Moreland, “How Spiritual Disciplines Work: Solitude and Silence as Spiritual Disciplines”

“It is to this silence [contemplative prayer] that we all are called.”–Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, p. 66.

“God’s first language is silence.”–panentheist monk Thomas Keating, Intimacy with God, p. 153.

ANTHONY DEMELLO EXPLAINS HOW TO GO INTO THIS SILENCE THAT SO MANY TALK ABOUT–WITH THE MANTRA:

To silence the mind is an extremely difficult task. How hard it is to keep the mind from thinking, thinking, thinking, forever thinking, forever producing thoughts in a never ending stream. Our Hindu masters in India have a saying: one thorn is removed by another. By this they mean that you will be wise to use one thought to rid yourself of all the other thoughts that crowd into your mind. One thought, one image, one phrase or sentence or word that your mind can be made to fasten on. Anthony de Mello, Sadhana: A Way to God (St. Louis, the Institute of Jesuit Resources, 1978), p. 28.

The Spirituality of Teresa of Avila – A Mystic to Whom Contemplatives Turn

Castles in the Sand by Carolyn A. Greene is a story based on true facts and addresses the fast growing contemplative prayer movement within the evangelical/Protestant church. The story is about a 21st century Christian college girl who is introduced to the writings of a 15th century mystic girl, Teresa of Avila in her Spiritual Formation class.  Teresa of Avila is one of the ancient mystics to whom modern day contemplatives turn. For example, Richard Foster includes her in Devotional Classics, Sanctuary of the Soul, and Longing for God.  We think when you read this chapter of Castles in the Sand, you will see how the spiritual practices of Teresa of Avila line up with the occult but not with biblical Christianity. If you didn’t get a chance to read chapter one  when we posted it, here it is again: (chapter one). Below is an excerpt to chapter two with a link to the entire chapter. Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

Castles in the Sand
Chapter Two
“Another Teresa”

Spain, circa 1533

The pale, shivering girl was vaguely aware of being lifted onto a clean sheet and covered with a dry blanket. When she opened her eyes, a blurry face hovered above her. The girl’s head was pounding, and nausea swept over her in waves. Slowly, she pulled herself upright on the narrow straw mattress. Suddenly, she cried out with alarm as her big brown eyes continued to stare vacantly.

“Run, Rodrigo! He’s found us! Run!”
“Sister Juana, she’s burning up with the malaria,” Teresa heard a young nun say as she was gently laid back down. Someone was dabbing her forehead with a cool, wet cloth. As if from afar, she recognized the voices of the two nuns who stood at the foot of her bed, praying their rosaries.

Her pulse faint, her breath shallow, the feverish girl closed her eyes, as her memory drifted back to her past, beginning with when she was just seven years old . . .

Holding her little brother’s hand, she ran with him as fast as their little legs could carry them, and they made it past the city gate. Suddenly, she felt a large, strong hand grabbing her by the shoulder, abruptly ending their flight. Her uncle had caught up with them.
“Come now, little Teresa, it’s time to go home. Your mother is anxious!” he said gently, as he dragged her and Rodrigo back home to their worried parents.

Safely home and tucked into her bed later that evening, she overheard the family members and servants talk late into the night.

“Whoever heard of a noble family having to send a search party into the streets for two precocious children–because of their vivid imaginations!”

“Who would put these foolish ideas into Teresa’s head?”
“What could possibly have inspired a seven-year-old girl to run away with her little brother, and to Morocco of all places?!”

“And to face certain martyrdom by beheading at the hands of the Moors!” blustered her irate uncle loudly.

“That is what she desired,” sighed another family member. “What do you expect of a child who reads too much?”

As Teresa grew older, only her father understood her love for books and the effect they had on her active imagination. She had inherited her passion for literature from her mother, who had spent many hours of the day in bed reading romance stories. She is so like her mother, her father frequently thought, smiling to himself. He often found Teresa alone on the roof of the villa, reading books rather than watching over her younger sisters and brothers in the courtyard below. How she loved those fascinating stories of saints and martyrs.

Twelve-year-old Teresa was profoundly impacted by her mother’s tragic death. Her passing had left the young girl feeling emotionally raw and empty. Finally, in quiet desperation one evening, Teresa threw herself on the floor before an image of the Virgin Mary and pleaded with her, “Be my new mother.”

Her father kept a watchful eye on his daughter as her extreme devotion to the Mother Mary and her good intentions to live a devoted life eventually gave way to an interest in fashion, perfumes, and hairstyles. Before long, her passion for reading and writing romances was rekindled as her imagination and beauty blossomed. Concerned that Teresa had no mother to guard her virtue, Father sent her away to boarding school at the Augustinian convent. After all, his lovely daughter was attracting the attention of far too many young men.
The first week at the convent was most dreadful for a girl accustomed to the fineries of life. But she soon decided that the harsh conditions served some practical use. At least she was being provided with an education, which was certainly preferable to looking after siblings, she reasoned. Click here to read the rest of chapter 2.

Click here for more information about Castles in the Sand.

Castles In The Sand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First ever Catholic speaker at IHOP-KC Onething conference was asked to speak on wisdom of Teresa of Avila, contemplative prayer

“I recently had the extraordinary privilege of being the first ever Catholic speaker at a very large Evangelical conference. [IHOP-KC Onething 2015] You might be surprised to know that they asked me to speak on the wisdom of St. Teresa of Avila regarding the progress of prayer from those just beginning to pray to those who know the sublime reality of contemplative prayer.” [1] –Dan Burke, President of the Avila Foundation

The “sublime reality of contemplative prayer”?

Mike Bickle, Director of International House of Prayer has been practicing and promoting contemplative prayer for a long time. This is the primary reason IHOP-KC is defying the Bible about Catholicism. Theology has been altered and addled via the sweet deceptions of this practice.

As Lighthouse Trails noted, “As we have often reported, when someone begins to practice contemplative prayer, their spiritual propensities begin to change, and they become more interspiritual and ecumenical. In 2011, we reported “Mike Bickle of IHOP-KC instructs followers on contemplative prayer.” Now in 2016, we can see how Bickle (and IHOP) has well entered his interspiritual, ecumenical downfall.” click here to read and/or watch video

Source Notes: 1. Dan Burke Teresa of Avila Society email campaign 2/23/2016

Mark This Book -Mansions of the Heart- As Deceptive! (A Book Review)

By L. Putnam

Filled with monks, monasteries, mystics, mentors, meditations, methods, and imaginations Mansions of the Heart  by R. Thomas Ashbrook is a dangerously deceptive work; for while its author mentions and discusses salvation, many scriptures, and maturing spiritual growth he mixes in mega doses of Catholic mystical prayer practices centered round the Teresian mansions and John’s dark night making this book a virtual gold mine of contemplative resources.
Mark the Foreword: Meet the Two Mystic Masters of Spiritual Life

From the get go the foreword endorser, author of the famed Message “Bible” Eugene Peterson, says we’ll be immersed in the idea that “that good thing” the Bible was just not enough and that we need something more . . .

And who can give us that something more?  Why it is two master mystics, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, who will introduce us, according to Peterson, to “matters of the soul,” and to the “sweet mysteries of prayer.”  So, says Peterson, just as I was introduced to Teresa and John by a long ago friend, so likewise today Thomas Ashbrook will immerse you in the holy wisdom that you too can learn from these mystics!

Mark the Preface: More in the Mansions

Frustrated and confused Ashbrook claims there has got to be something more!  And the place to go for this something more is through the many doors of the Teresian mansions which will lead you into a new and wonderful life with our Lord.  So, come explore!

Mark the Acknowledgments: Ashbrook Meets a Monk

It is in his “Acknowledgments” that Ashbrook mentions “Brother Bon” not only as the one who taught him to “be still and know God,” then simply to “be still,” and finally to just “be;” but “Monk Bon” as the one who had also introduced him to Teresa showing him what the seventh mansion looked like.  And says Ashbrook, “I will be eternally grateful to him for calling out the monk within me.”

Mark Chapter One: “Is This All There Is?”

Chapter One, “Is This All There Is?” is the crux of Ashrook’s theme tracing Ashbook’s mission to find more.  And where did Ashbrook find his answers.  Ashbrook found them in a monk, in the monastery, in the Renovare movement, in spiritual direction, in spiritual formation, in the Spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, and in various contemplative practices.  Still this was not enough, until he
discovered that “ancient yet timeless roadmap” –Teresa of Avila’s “Seven Mansions!”

Mark Ashbrook’s Monastery Story

Ashbrook began his monastery getaways with visits to the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity* in Utah just to find a quiet place to work.  And, as Ashbrook described in his story, almost immediately he was worshipping with the monks in their two-story Quonset church.

*Note Ashbrook identifies the monastery this way “The Holy Trinity Abbey” rather than using its full name with “Our Lady” in it.   Click here to read this entire book review.


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