Official author bio from the book jacket: Claudia Mair Burney is the author of seven novels, including the Amanda Bell Brown mysteries, and Zora and Nicky, a Christy Award finalist in 2009. Readers familiar with her style will enjoy this rollicking journey through their own interior castles. She lives in Kentucky, where she also authors the popular blog "Ragamuffin Diva".
After giving a down-to-earth bio of St. Theresa of Avila in the beginning of the book, Mair focuses in on St. Theresa's advice on how to cultivate a life of prayer. Needless to say, my ears perk up at such a topic. I am, after all, the consumate prayer warrior. Not! (The armor doesn't fit right and I struggle to stand under the weight of it. And...and...and...)
Theresa uses an analogy of a garden. The garden is our soul and Christ is the gardener. He roots and weeds and HE plants the good plants there (the virtues). Our job is to water and tend what Christ has planted. Prayer is the watering and the tending.
So, at first prayer is difficult, like a person lugging water from a well to water a garden. This is beginning prayer and it involves much self-reflection on one's past and one's sins. And humility.
And now we get to the chapter I am to review: Look for New Growth.
I like that. Immediately I think of somewhere where it is written that the Lord brings the growth. And I get to play "I spy" in my own soul for the good that the Lord has done. In this chapter, the author discusses sitting with Christ, and being present with Him as we deliberately pray the Lord's prayer. But mostly the emphasis is on being present with God.
There is a certain gentleness that permeates this book. It is very approachable and makes St. Theresa of Avila very approachable as well. Like she's the kind of spiritual mother one would want to share a cup of tea or coffee with and have a nice long chat about life, the universe, and how to pray. The kind of person whom one could be a wide-eye-Jesus-freak together with. This bit at the end of the chapter I particularly loved:
"Pay no attention," Theresa says, "to that feeling you get of wanting to leave off in the middle of your prayer, but praise the Lord that you desire to pray; you can be assured it comes from your will, which loves to be with God...On occasion, when you find yourself oppressed in that way, try to go someplace where you can see the sky, and walk up and down a little: that won't interfere with your prayer. After all, you're only human. Don't strain yourself too much."p. 65
And Oh, crap! I just realized I as supposed to blog about Chapter SIX instead of Chapter five!!!! Well, instead of erasing this, I'll just write more. He he. That's what sleep deprivation gets you, folks.
OK, Chapter six: Cranking it Up
"I've explained how the gardener waters his garden through hard work, using his own strength to draw water from a well. Now let's speak of the second method, turning the crank of a waterwheel and drawing the water through an aqueduct. The gardener gets more water for less work and can rest more without having to work constantly. Here the soul begins to be recollected. It happens supernaturally. The soul cannot make this happen by it's own efforts. Grace reveals itself."p. 67
And So chapter six begins.
In this chapter, we are introduced to a new level of prayer: the prayer of examen (as taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola). As St. Theresa of Avila describes it, this is the prayer of quiet. This is the prayer of sitting at Jesus' feet after the house as been readied for his presence. And then we wait. And grace comes.
"We should not travel too slowly. We need to consider the ways we can get accustomed to these good habits. Souls who do so are more protected from many occasions of sin, and the fire of divine love is readily ignited in them. They are so near the flames that, however little the understanding has fanned the fire, any small spark that flies out at them will cause them to combust. When it is not hindered from the outside, the soul remains alone with its God and is thoroughly prepared to ignite." p. 76
And that, my friends, sounds like a challenge to take one's prayer life to the next level.