The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus

Chapter XVII -The Third State of Prayer. The Effects Thereof. The Hindrance Caused by the Imagination and the Memory.

1. Enough has been said of this manner of prayer, and of what the soul has to do, or rather, to speak more correctly, of what God is doing within it; for it is He who now takes upon Himself the gardener's work, and who will have the soul take its ease; except that the will is consenting to the graces, the fruition of which it has, and that it must resign itself to all that the True Wisdom would accomplish in it−−for which it is certain it has need of courage; because the joy is so great, that the soul seems now and then to be on the very point of going forth out of the body: and what a blessed death that would be! Now, I think it is for the soul's good−−as you, my father, have been told−−to abandon itself into the arms of God altogether; if He will take it to heaven, let it go; if to hell, no matter, as it is going thither with its sovereign Good. If life is to come to an end for ever, so it wills; if it is to last a thousand years, it wills that also: His Majesty may do with it as with His own property,−−the soul no longer belongs to itself, it has been given wholly to our Lord; let it cast all care utterly away.

2. My meaning is that, in a state of prayer, so high as this, the soul understands that God is doing His work without any fatiguing of the understanding, except that, as it seems to me, it is as if amazed in beholding our Lord taking upon Himself the work of the good gardener, refusing to let the soul undergo any labour whatever, but that of taking its pleasure in the flowers beginning to send forth their fragrance; for when God raises a soul up to this state, it can do all this, and much more,−−for these are the effects of it.

3. In one of these visits, how brief soever it may be, the Gardener, being who He is,−−in a word, the Creator of the water,−−pours the water without stint; and what the poor soul, with the labour, perhaps, of twenty years in fatiguing the understanding, could not bring about, that the heavenly Gardener accomplishes in an instant, causing the fruit both to grow and ripen; so that the soul, such being the will of our Lord, may derive its sustenance from its garden. But He allows it not to divide the fruit with others, until by eating thereof, it is strong enough not to waste it in the mere tasting of it,−−giving to Him none of the produce, nor making any compensation for it to Him who supplies it,−−lest it should be maintaining others, feeding them at its own cost, and itself perhaps dying of hunger. [1] The meaning of this is perfectly clear for those who have understanding enough to apply it−−much more clear than I can make it; and I am tired.

4. Finally, the virtues are now stronger than they were during the preceding prayer of quiet; for the soul sees itself to be other than it was, and it knows not how it is beginning to do great things in the odour which the flowers send forth; it being our Lord's will that the flowers should open, in order that the soul may believe itself to be in possession of virtue; though it sees most clearly that it cannot, and never could, acquire them in many years, and that the heavenly Gardener has given them to it in that instant. Now, too, the humility of the soul is much greater and deeper than it was before; because it sees more clearly that it did neither much nor little, beyond giving its consent that our Lord might work those graces in it, and then accepting them willingly.

5. This state of prayer seems to me to be a most distinct union of the whole soul with God, but for this, that His Majesty appears to give the faculties leave to be intent upon, and have the fruition of, the great work He is doing then. It happens at times, and indeed very often, that, the will being in union, the soul should be aware of it, and see that the will is a captive and in joy, that the will alone is abiding in great peace,−−while, on the other hand, the understanding and the memory are so free, that they can be employed in affairs and be occupied in works of charity. I say this, that you, my father, may see it is so, and understand the matter when it shall happen to yourself; at least, it carried me out of myself, and that is the reason why I speak of it here.

6. It differs from the prayer of quiet, of which I have spoken, [2] though it does seem as if it were all one with it. In that prayer, the soul, which would willingly neither stir nor move, is delighting in the holy repose of Mary; but in this prayer it can be like Martha also. [3] Accordingly, the soul is, as it were, living the active and contemplative life at once, and is able to apply itself to works of charity and the affairs of its state, and to spiritual reading. Still, those who arrive at this state, are not wholly masters of themselves, and are well aware that the better part of the soul is elsewhere. It is as if we were speaking to one person, and another speaking to us at the same time, while we ourselves are not perfectly attentive either to the one or the other. It is a state that is most easily ascertained, and one, when attained to, that ministers great joy and contentment, and that prepares the soul in the highest degree, by observing times of solitude, or of freedom from business, for the attainment of the most tranquil quietude. It is like the life of a man who is full, requiring no food, with his appetite satisfied, so that he will not eat of everything set before him, yet not so full either as to refuse to eat if he saw any desirable food. So the soul has no satisfaction in the world, and seeks no pleasure in it then; because it has in itself that which gives it a greater satisfaction, greater joys in God, longings for the satisfaction of its longing to have a deeper joy in being with Him−−this is what the soul seeks.

7. There is another kind of union, which, though not a perfect union, is yet more so than the one of which I have just spoken; but not so much so as this spoken of as the third water. You, my father, will be delighted greatly if our Lord should bestow them all upon you, if you have them not already, to find an account of the matter in writing, and to understand it; for it is one grace that our Lord gives grace; and it is another grace to understand what grace and what gift it is; and it is another and further grace to have the power to describe and explain it to others. Though it does not seem that more than the first of these−−the giving of the grace−−is necessary to enable the soul to advance without confusion and fear, and to walk with the greater courage in the way of our Lord, trampling under foot all the things of this world, it is a great advantage and a great grace to understand it; for every one who has it has great reason to praise our Lord; and so, also, has he who has it not: because His Majesty has bestowed it upon some person living who is to make us profit by it.

8. This union, of which I would now speak, frequently occurs, particularly to myself. God has very often bestowed such a grace upon me, whereby He constrains the will, and even the understanding, as it seems to me, seeing that it makes no reflections, but is occupied in the fruition of God: like a person who looks on, and sees so many things, that he knows not where to look−−one object puts another out of sight, and none of them leaves any impression behind.

9. The memory remains free, and it must be so, together with the imagination; and so, when it finds itself alone, it is marvellous to behold what war it makes on the soul, and how it labours to throw everything into disorder. As for me, I am wearied by it, and I hate it; and very often do I implore our Lord to deprive me of it on these occasions, if I am to be so much troubled by it. Now and then, I say to Him: O my God, when shall my soul praise Thee without distraction, not dissipated in this way, unable to control itself! I understand now the mischief that sin has done, in that it has rendered us unable to do what we desire−−to be always occupied in God. [4]

10. I say that it happens to me from time to time,−−it has done so this very day, and so I remember it well,−−to see my soul tear itself, in order to find itself there where the greater part of it is, and to see, at the same time, that it is impossible: because the memory and the imagination assail it with such force, that it cannot prevail against them; yet, as the other faculties give them no assistance, they are not able to do it any harm−−none whatever; they do enough when they trouble its rest. When I say they do no harm, my meaning is, that they cannot really hurt it, because they have not strength enough, and because they are too discursive. As the understanding gives no help, neither much nor little, in the matters put before the soul, they never rest anywhere, but hurry to and fro, like nothing else but gnats at night, troublesome and unquiet: and so they go about from one subject to another.

11. This comparison seems to me to be singularly to the purpose; for the memory and the imagination, though they have no power to do any harm, are very troublesome. I know of no remedy for it; and, hitherto, God has told me of none. If He had, most gladly would I make use of it; for I am, as I say, tormented very often. This shows our wretchedness and brings out most distinctly the great power of God, seeing that the faculty which is free hurts and wearies us so much; while the others, occupied with His Majesty, give us rest.

12. The only remedy I have found, after many years of weariness, is that I spoke of when I was describing the prayer of quiet: [5] to make no more account of it than of a madman, but let it go with its subject; for God alone can take it from it,−−in short, it is a slave here. We must bear patiently with it, as Jacob bore with Lia; for our Lord showeth us mercy enough when we are allowed to have Rachel with us.

13. I say that it remains a slave; for, after all, let it do what it will, it cannot drag the other faculties in its train; on the contrary, they, without taking any trouble, compel it to follow after them. Sometimes God is pleased to take pity on it, when He sees it so lost and so unquiet, through the longing it has to be united with the other faculties, and His Majesty consents to its burning itself in the flame of that divine candle by which the others are already reduced to ashes, and their nature lost, being, as it were, supernaturally in the fruition of blessings so great.

14. In all these states of prayer of which I have spoken, while explaining this last method of drawing the water out of the well, so great is the bliss and repose of the soul, that even the body most distinctly shares in its joy and delight,−−and this is most plain; and the virtues continue to grow, as I said before. [6] It seems to have been the good pleasure of our Lord to explain these states of prayer, wherein the soul finds itself, with the utmost clearness possible, I think, here on earth.

15. Do you, my father, discuss it with any spiritual person who has arrived at this state, and is learned. If he says of it, it is well, you may believe that God has spoken it, and you will give thanks to His Majesty; for, as I said just now, [7] in the course of time you will rejoice greatly in that you have understood it. Meanwhile, if He does not allow you to understand what it is, though He does give you the possession of it, yet, with your intellect and learning, seeing that His Majesty has given you the first, you will know what it is, by the help of what I have written here. Unto Him be praise for ever and ever! Amen.

1. See ch. xix. § 4.

2. Ch. xv. § 1.

3. See Relation, viii. § 6; and Way of Perfection, ch. liii., but ch xxxi. of former editions. See also Concept. of the Love of God, ch. vii.

4. See Relation, viii. § 17.

5. Ch. xiv. § 4. See also Way of Perfection, ch. liii., but ch. xxxi. of the old editions.

6. Ch. xiv. § 6.

7. § 7.

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