About This Blog

Monday, November 16, 2015

"The St Teresa of Avila Prayer Book" (Vinita Hampton Wright)

TITLE: The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book
AUTHOR: Vinita Hampton Wright
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, (176 pages).

Who is St Teresa of Avila? Why should we know about her and her works? What has a Sixteenth Century Carmelite nun to do with prayer? Who are the people who have influenced her spirituality? In uncovering the story of this amazing saint, award winning novelist and school teacher Vinita Hampton Wright has put together a min-biography of St Teresa of Avila to help us appreciate her early life; her decision to choose the religious vocation instead of marriage; and how her own life led to the classic writings on prayer. At the same time, there are difficult physical circumstances that plague Teresa. When she was a teenager, she had severe anxiety attacks, malignant malaria, and a serious bout of illness that even paralyzed her for three years. With sufferings of health, she plunged herself into deep prayer and meditation. In particular, she gravitated toward the teaching of Peter Alcantara's Treatise on Prayer and Meditation. Soon, she developed her own sense of abandonment to God and started her work on The Interior Castle and The Way of Perfection.

Part One is a primer of St Teresa. After a mini-biography to show us the person behind the famous works, it is hoped that readers would then find Teresa a bit more familiar with so as to pray alongside. In Part Two, we follow after Teresa's rhythm of morning and evening prayers. This rhythm was developed as Teresa was reflecting on the Letters of St Jerome and later, St Augustine's Confessions. From this pattern, Wright distills it for modern readers through a liturgy as follows:

  1. Begin with a Quote from St Teresa
  2. A prayer of Preparation
  3. A powerful Gospel Sentence
  4. One Minute of Silence
  5. Confession (Penitential Psalm in morning; Standard Confession Prayer in evening)
  6. First Reading from the Prophets or NT Epistles
  7. Read a Psalm
  8. Read a portion from the Gospels 
  9. Silence
  10. Say a Prayer from the Saints of old
  11. A Prayer for the Day or Night from Teresa's writings
Each day contains a particular theme that we can learn from Teresa's spiritual journey. Wright arranges the Daily Office as follows:
  • Sunday = God the Majestic and Merciful
  • Monday = Saved from sin and the evil one
  • Tuesday = What the Soul Needs
  • Wednesday = God is With Us
  • Thursday = Always Humility
  • Friday = Patience with our Prayers
  • Saturday =  In Union with God
Part Three of the book offers a full liturgy for readers to be able to use directly. It is hoped that with more frequent use and practice, we can learn to come up with our own liturgies that we can use personally as well as for the community we belong to. Part Four gives us additional information about how St Teresa's life and works have contributed to our understanding of prayer.

One of the main problems with modern readers is how we manage our expectations. Are we expected to tune our prayer lives to become more like St Teresa's? Without Teresa's foundation of learning from the Church fathers, are we able to pray like her? Is this book more about theology or technique? In our modern lifestyles, due to the many distractions like technology and busy schedules, we are not able to be as attentive as the saints of old. Prayer is spiritual warfare, which is where we all need to take note. Teresa notes that we need to begin honestly and humbly:

"The devil can do us great harm by making us believe we possess virtues that we do not possess. When we receive God's grace, we feel we are doing nothing and have a greater obligation to serve. When the devil deceives us, though, we think we are giving and serv- ing and that the Lord should reward us. Our humility is weakened and we neglect to cultivate it since we think we already have it."

How do we use books like this? Let me put forth 3Hs. First, be Honest with where we are. Some of us might be apprehensive of using a human book like St Teresa's works to pray. We may even claim that our only Prayer Guide is the holy Spirit. Our only Prayer method is the one taught by Jesus. Well, if that is the case, confess it and proceed from there. Second, be Happy about the method to be used. This means recognizing that the prayer method Teresa adopts is essentially about following hard after Jesus Christ. What we seek is also what she sought after earnestly. The methods should not be minimized simply because a human being had written it. Are we belittling the ways of God? If God can even use a donkey to speak with Balaam, surely He can use any human being, including St Teresa. Finally, be humble for humility is the key to the heart of God. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.

The disciplines in the book is core to cultivating an intentional prayer life. This is the single biggest reason to read this book. Use it well and we can be more intentional in our prayer life. Perhaps, the more we establish a prayer routine in our lives, the more we learn to see beyond techniques, beyond people's needs, and beyond our everyday concerns. We begin to see more theological truths, God's purposes, and why there is more hope in God, even when the world around us is spinning away in utter oblivion.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Paraclete Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment