TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Smile

At the beginning of the week just past, I attended the funeral of Lauranne Byrne, a wonderful parishioner of the Foster Tuncurry Parish as well as an amazing lady, wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend. 

Greg, her husband and Pastoral Associate in this parish, wrote about “The Parish as Family” in the August edition of Aurora. And what a big family a parish can be! There would have been about one thousand people, of all ages, at her funeral with much love and affection expressed about Lauranne. She, Greg and their seven children, had immersed themselves in this community for the past 37 years and her passing, while anticipated, brought people together to pray for her and her family, to support each other and to say farewell. She will be missed by many people.

Before the Requiem Mass, the tune ‘Smile’ by Jimmy Durante was played. The lyrics provided us with a lovely reflection of Lauranne, and were also inviting those who gathered to smile. If Lauranne had a motto, it would have been ‘smile’ because her face was the smiley kind, chosen by her to light up the life of those around her.

Light up your face with gladness
  Hide, every trace of sadness
  Although a tear
  May be ever so near

That's the time, you must keep on tryin'
  Smile, what's the use of cryin'
  You'll find that life is still worthwhile
  If you just smile

And then on Friday I was sent an email with an attached talk given by one of our Pastoral Placement Program participants. She had chosen to give a talk to some high school students about RUOK. The following words made up part of this talk:

Just because a person smiles all the time doesn’t mean their life is perfect.

That smile you see is a symbol of their own hope, optimism and personal strength.

That smile is a powerful gift to others, so I would encourage everyone here to always be ready to offer a smile to a friend.  

I share some of my story with you today because I want to tell you that building on our sense of wellbeing, especially when we are not ok, is possible. It is made so much easier when we have friends and loved ones to connect with and support us through the times when we are finding things difficult.

So, for me the week was bookended by the invitation for each of us to smile. I recall growing up, and in that simple lifestyle, one of my tasks was to go to the shops, almost daily, to buy the provisions for the evening meal. Of course this was the reality of the times, fridges were small and our family was large. People in our neighbourhood knew who we were, and therefore we were greeted, or we greeted those who passed us on the street or behind their front fences. One of the compliments my mother passed onto me, and compliments were not given excessively, was from our neighbours who said that they always knew I would greet them because of my smile, which they could see from a long way off. I hope it lit up their day with gladness. What a simple invitation for us to adopt.

Also through this past week, on 15 October we celebrated the feast day of St Teresa of Avila as well as the 500th anniversary of her birth. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a very active contemplative. It seems that “St Teresa modelled the living balance between action and contemplation, serving others and developing an interior life, engaging in passionate human relationships and surrendering to the divine mystery. She was an ecstatic mystic and a skilful administrator, a fool of God and an insightful psychotherapist, a penitent when she needed to be and an epicurean when she could be….Teresa of Avila was fully, deeply, unapologetically herself.” (Mirabai Starr, Saint Teresa of Ávila: Passionate Mystic (Sounds True: 2013), xvii-xviii).

In July this year Richard Rohr, in his Daily Meditations, wrote about Teresa of Avila while exploring mystics and non-dual thinkers, and so I include here for you some of what he wrote. He uses quotes from the writings and insights of Mirabai Starr.

Her mystical masterpiece, The Interior Castle, written in only two months' time when she was sixty-two, describes the stages of spiritual growth with amazing insight. Teresa believed that God is ever alluring and inviting us home and that our longing for God is the core motivation of our beings. Through contemplative prayer, the soul moves through seven mansions or dwellings of the interior castle, ever drawing closer to the centre:

     
  1. In the first dwelling, the soul becomes aware that there is a castle to be explored and discovers her own longing for God. Monstrous creatures distract and tempt. Teresa saw that the soul's only hope, as Starr says, "is to cultivate a discipline of humility and self-knowledge . . . to recognize her own limitations and praise the greatness of God" through the practice of prayer.  The soul moves beyond rote prayer to intimate conversation with God.
  2.  
  3. In the second dwelling, the soul learns to recognize God's quiet voice amid the noise of the world. God's voice comes through the words of teachers, friends, and sacred texts.
  4.  
  5. Prayer begins to feel dry and empty, a test of humility. Starr explains: "If the soul can quit trying to figure God out with her mind and concentrate on feeling him with her heart, if she can learn to surrender her personal will to the inscrutable will of the Beloved, she will progress to the fourth dwelling."  
  6.  
  7. Here the senses and mind are stilled in what Teresa names the Prayer of Quiet. Up until now, the soul has been striving through conscious effort, but in the fourth dwelling, the soul begins to experience someone else as the Doer as God takes over.
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  9. In the fifth dwelling, the soul and God become engaged to marry in what Teresa calls the Prayer of Union. Starr writes: "Here, the faculties are totally suspended. When the soul emerges from this state, she [knows] that 'she was in God and God was in her.” Teresa uses the metaphor of a silkworm, spinning a cocoon in which to die, to illustrate how it is only by dying to our False Self that we can be transformed and fly to God.
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  11. God and soul fall more deeply in love and come to know each other through time together in solitude. This love is felt as a deep wound, an unbearable longing, physical ache, and even betrayal. Yet there is also joy and ecstasy, for the wounding comes from God.
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  13. At the centre of the castle, the innermost dwelling, the soul finds union with the Beloved. Starr beautifully describes this experience: "Like rain falling into an infinite sea, all boundaries between the soul and God melt. Union, by definition, transcends the subject-object distinction. There is no longer any lover left to enjoy her Beloved. There is only love."

Before death and ultimate union, the soul must let ego bring it back to the ordinary world, to the seeming separateness of individual life. But there is a lasting transformation: "The soul who has dissolved into God re-emerges with a vibrant wakefulness."  There is now a permanent place of peace from which the soul can approach day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. The soul knows the Beloved lives inside and will never leave.

St Teresa came to the realisation that God alone is enough.

I will finish this message with the following words on two bookmarks that have been given to me titled ‘St Teresa’s Bookmark’:

As Karl Rahner says:


 

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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