Today is the feast day of Christian Church which honors Saint Teresa of Avila. She was a 16th-century mystic and Carmelite nun who traveled around teaching and writing mystical treatises on the interior life of maturing Christian spirituality and contemplative practices. (Here’s a great intro on her life.)
For me, reading her writings and about her life is one of the most powerful testimonies to a woman’s place in the Christian church. She constantly challenged the male power structures of the day and in many of her writings one can see how she goes to great lengths to address their concerns about a powerful woman, trying to demonstrate how a woman can teach and lead while also living in accordance to the doctrines of the scriptures.
And yet, more than any intellectual argument, it is her grace, maturity, and powerful insight into the Bible, the Christian Life, and the human soul that are some of the greatest apologetics for a woman’s full right to teach and preach and lead in the Church. In her magnum opus, The Interior Castle (which is breathtaking), she offers this lament, and I offer it to you on her feast day.
No matter how hard she [the Soul] tries, she cannot conjure up the desire for anything else but to abandon herself into [God’s] loving embrace…. She has come to believe that the only remedy against deception lies in obedience to her teachers and reverence for God. Knowing that she cannot help committing occasional transgressions distresses her terribly; she would rather be crushed to pieces than knowingly miss the mark.
God gives the soul the most intense desire not to dishonor him in any way and to avoid even the most petty imperfections. If for no other reason, this is why the soul wants to flee from people. She envies those who live in the wilderness. On the other hand, she would like to plunge right into the heart of the world in the hopes of getting even one person to praise God more.
For a woman, this work is generally thwarted. Who will listen to her? She is envious of a man’s freedom to go around the world openly spreading the word about who this great God of the multitudes is.
Oh, poor little butterfly, bound by so many chains that keep you from flying wherever you want to go! Have mercy on her, my God. Let her do something toward fulfilling her desires for your honor and glory. Pay no attention to how little she deserves Your Grace or how undeveloped her nature maybe. You are all-powerful, Lord….
Extend your mighty arm, Lord, so that this Soul does not have to waste her life in unholy ways. Manifest your greatness in this simple, feminine creature, so that all may see that this greatness is not hers but yours and be moved to give you praise. This is all she wants. She would gladly give a thousand lives, if she had them, so that one single soul my praise you a little more through her. She would consider such lives to be well spent.
Would you not be honored to have this woman as your faithful Pastor, teacher, and preacher at your church? I know I would be. Happy Feast Day!