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    Garden on Lake Thun by August Macke, 1913

    Watering the Soul’s Garden

    Prayer waters what God has planted in us.

    By Teresa of Ávila

    November 6, 2022

    Teresa began to write The Book of Her Life in 1562 and completed it in 1565. The centerpiece of the book (Chapters 11–22) is a treatise on prayer. Teresa speaks of different kinds of prayer as different ways of drawing water for the garden of the soul, where virtues grow.

    The beginner must realize that in order to give delight to the Lord he is starting to cultivate a garden on very barren soil, full of abominable weeds. His Majesty pulls up the weeds and plants good seed. Now let us keep in mind that all of this is already done by the time a soul is determined to practice prayer and has begun to make use of it. And with the help of God we must strive like good gardeners to get these plants to grow and take pains to water them so that they don’t wither but come to bud and flower and give forth a most pleasant fragrance to provide refreshment for this Lord of ours. Then He will often come to take delight in this garden and find His joy among these virtues.

    But let us see now how it must be watered so that we may understand what we have to do, the labor this will cost us, whether the labor is greater than the gain, and for how long it must last. It seems to me the garden can be watered in four ways. You may draw water from a well (which is for us a lot of work). Or you may get it by means of a water wheel and aqueducts in such a way that it is obtained by turning the crank of the water wheel. (I have drawn it this way sometimes – the method involves less work than the other, and you get more water.) Or it may flow from a river or a stream. (The garden is watered much better by this means because the ground is more fully soaked, and there is no need to water so frequently – and much less work for the gardener.) Or the water may be provided by a great deal of rain. (For the Lord waters the garden without any work on our part – and this way is incomparably better than all the others mentioned.)

    Garden on Lake Thun by August Macke, 1913

    August Macke, Garden on Lake Thun, 1913

    Now, then, these four ways of drawing water in order to maintain this garden – because without water it will die – are what are important to me and have seemed applicable in explaining the four degrees of prayer in which the Lord in His goodness has sometimes placed my soul.

    Beginners in prayer, we can say, are those who draw water from the well. This involves a lot of work on their own part, as I have said.  They must tire themselves in trying to recollect their senses. Since they are accustomed to being distracted, this recollection requires much effort. They need to get accustomed to caring nothing at all about seeing or hearing, to practicing the hours of prayer, and thus to solitude and withdrawal – and to thinking on their past life. Although these beginners and the other as well must often reflect upon their past, the extent to which they must do so varies. In the beginning such reflection is even painful, for they do not fully understand whether they are repentant of their sins. If they are, they are then determined to serve God earnestly. They must strive to consider the life of Christ – and the intellect grows weary in doing this.

    Then He will often come to take delight in this garden and find His joy among these virtues.

    These are the things we can do of ourselves, with the understanding that we do so by the help of God, for without this help as is already known we cannot have so much as a good thought. These things make up the beginning of fetching water from the well, and please God that it may be found. At least we are doing our part, for we are already drawing it out and doing what we can to water these flowers. God is so good that when for reasons His Majesty knows – perhaps for our greater benefit – the well is dry and we, like good gardeners, do what lies in our power, He sustains the garden without water and makes the virtues grow. Here by “water” I am referring to tears and when there are no tears to interior tenderness and feelings of devotion.

    But what will he do here who sees that after many days there is nothing but dryness, distaste, vapidness, and very little desire to come to draw water? So little is the desire to do this that if he doesn’t recall that doing so serves and gives pleasure to the Lord of the garden, he will abandon everything. It will frequently happen to him that he will even be unable to lift his arms for this work and unable to get a good thought. This discursive work with the intellect is what is meant by fetching water from the well.

    But, as I am saying, what will the gardener do here? He will rejoice and be consoled and consider it the greatest favor to be able to work in the garden of so great an Emperor! Since he knows that this pleases the Lord and his intention must be not to please himself but to please the Lord, he gives the Lord much praise. He doesn’t fear that the labor is being wasted. He is serving a good Master whose eyes are upon him. He doesn’t pay any attention to bad thoughts.

    These labors take their toll. Being myself one who endured them for many years, I know that they are extraordinary. It seems to me more courage is necessary for them than for many other labors of this world. But I have seen clearly that God does not leave one, even in this life, without a large reward; because it is certainly true that one of those hours in which the Lord afterward bestowed on me a taste of Himself repaid, it seems to me, all the anguish I suffered in persevering for a long time in prayer.

    From The Soul’s Passion for God: Selected Writings of Teresa of Ávila (Nashville, TN: Upper Room Spiritual Classics, 1997), 13–16.

    Contributed By Teresa Of Avila Teresa of Ávila

    Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) was a Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic.

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