Monday, November 30, 2009

The Four Waters

The Life
In her first work St. Teresa explains the grades of prayer by using the symbol of the "four waters," or more precisely, the four methods of watering a garden. The first method is by drawing water from a well by means of a bucket attached to a rope. This is the first stage of prayer and it includes vocal prayer and discursive meditation. The individual is active, exercising the faculties and reaping what benefit it can through one's own efforts. But lest the beginners think too much and turn their discursive meditation into an intellectual exercise, St. Teresa advises them "not to spend all their time in doing so. Their method of prayer is most meritorious, but since they enjoy it so much, they sometimes fail to realize that they should have some kind of a sabbath, that is, a period of rest from their labors. . . . Let them imagine themselves, as I have suggested, in the presence of Christ, and let them continue conversing with him and delighting in him, without wearying their minds or exhausting themselves by composing speeches to him" (The Life, chap. 13).

The second method of watering a garden is by means of a waterwheel to which dippers are attached. As the wheel is turned, the water is poured into a trough that carries the water to the garden. St. Teresa explains that this stage, in which "the soul begins to recollect itself, borders on the supernatural. . . . This state is a recollecting of the faculties within the soul, so that its enjoyment of that contentment may provide greater delight" (The Life, chap. 13).

The third type of watering a garden is by irrigation by means of a running stream. It doesn't call for human effort as in the two previous methods. Prayer at this stage is mystical; that is, all the faculties are centered on God. "This kind of prayer," says St. Teresa, "is quite definitely a union of the entire soul with God" (The Life, chap. 17). She calls it a "sleep of the faculties" because they are totally occupied with God. "Not one of them, it seems, ventures to stir, nor can we cause any of them to be active except by striving to fix our attention very carefully on something else, and even then I don't think we could succeed entirely in doing so" (The Life, chap. 16).

The fourth and final method for watering a garden is by means of falling rain. This stage of prayer is totally mystical, meaning that it is infused by God and is not attained by human effort. It is called the prayer of union, and it admits of varying degrees.

The grades of prayer described by St. Teresa in The Life do not correspond to the division of prayer that is usually given in manuals of spiritual theology. There are several reasons for this, and the first one is possibly the fact of the discrepancy of 15 years between her first and the last major work. Secondly, the precise terminology to describe some the transitional grades of prayer between discursive mental prayer and the prayer of the transforming union did not come into common use until the seventeenth century. Thirdly, since she was writing from her own experience, it is possible that St. Teresa had passed immediately from discursive meditation to a high degree of infused, mystical prayer.

The Way of Perfection.

When we turn to The Way of Perfection, which St. Teresa began in 1565, we notice that there are some adjustments in her division. Since the first nuns of the Teresian reform had asked her to teach them about mental prayer, it is logical that she would be more precise and detailed, especially when speaking of the earlier stages of mental prayer. One of the most obvious differences in The Way of Perfection is that St. Teresa tries to distinguish between the prayer of active recollection and the prayer of infused recollection.

In Chapters 28 and 29 she discusses the prayer of active recollection. After recalling that St. Augustine had said that he had looked for God in many places and finally found God within himself, St. Teresa asserts that one need not go to heaven to speak to God, nor is it necessary to speak in a loud voice. "However quietly we speak, he is so near that he will hear us. We need no wings to go in search of him, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon him present within us" (chap. 28).

If one prays in this way, conversing with God who dwells in the soul through sanctifying grace, even if the prayer is vocal, the mind will be recollected. It is called prayer of recollection because "the soul gathers together all its faculties and enters within itself to be with its God" (loc. cit.). This may prove to be something of a struggle in the beginning, says St. Teresa, but if a person cultivates the habit of recollection, the soul and the will gain such power over the senses that "they will only have to make a sign to show that they wish to enter into recollection and the senses will obey and let themselves be recollected" (ibid.).

When St. Teresa spoke of the prayer of recollection in Chapter 15 of The Life, she said that "this quiet and recollection. . .is not something that can be acquired." But in Chapter 29 of The Way of Perfection she says: "You must understand that this is not a supernatural state, but depends on our will, and that, by God's favor, we can enter it of our own accord. . . . For this is not a silence of the faculties; it is an enclosing of the faculties within itself by the soul." In other words, it is an ascetical, acquired grade of prayer, and not a mystical, infused grade.

What St. Teresa calls the prayer of quiet in Chapter 31, on the other hand, is definitely the prayer of infused recollection, a type of mystical, infused contemplation. Later on, she will further refine her terminology, but for the moment we should read her description of this "prayer of quiet."

I still want to describe this prayer of quiet to you in the way that I have heard it explained and as the Lord has been pleased to teach it to me. . . . This is a supernatural state and however hard we try, we cannot acquire it by ourselves. . . . The faculties are stilled and have no wish to move, for any movement they make seems to hinder the soul from loving God. They are not completely lost, however, since two of them are free and they can realize in whose presence they are. It is the will that is captive now. . . . The intellect tries to occupy itself with only one thing, and the memory has no desire to busy itself with more. They both see that this is the one thing necessary; anything else will cause them to be disturbed (chap. 31).

The predominant characteristics of the prayer of quiet are peace and joy, for the will is totally captivated by divine love. The faculties of intellect and memory are still free and may wander, but the soul should pay no attention to the operations of these faculties. To do so would cause distraction and anxiety. Later on, in the prayer of union, it will be impossible for the intellect and memory to operate independently, because all the faculties will be centered on God.