A recent report by the C.D. Howe Institute on protecting Canada’s groundwater reserves calls them ‘the invisible but vital resource’. That phrase perfectly describes the theme of today’s Wonder of Water post about a fiery Spanish nun.
Theresa of Avila (1515-1585) was bored with prayer and luke-warm towards God. Yet she longed to be spiritually alive and to know God in the core of her soul - and eventually came to a place of passionate love for God.
In her autobiography, The Book of My Life, she tells how she grew in her experience of prayer, how God’s love became for her ‘an invisible but vital resource’. Using the imagery of water, she illustrates four stages of this journey.
Our natural hearts are like a barren garden full of weeds. God helps us pull the weeds and plant good seeds. We can nourish the soil by focusing our thoughts on God, reciting psalms and other scriptures and meeting others for worship. These exercises water our interior garden so it doesn’t wither. Theresa speaks of tears of repentance as another form of water, cleansing and refreshing our hearts in prayer.
At first it takes a lot of effort to do all this. But the struggle yields reward; we taste God’s love and are motivated for more. And the more we persevere the less laborious it becomes.
Unlike the effort required to hoist a bucket up the well-shaft, Theresa’s second level is like turning a crank or a water wheel. Being faithful in daily prayer, the bucket sometimes almost seems to fill itself. Lectio divina is the Latin term for slow prayerful reading of scripture. Here our hearts drink in the water of truth into our souls.
And beyond the reading of Scripture, prayer opens our eyes to God’s presence in nature, in our bodies and in our interaction with other people. We begin to notice the divine in the ordinary around us. Our hearts are irrigated by a continuing awareness of God that permeates our lives.
Another thirst arises in our hearts that motivates us still further as we begin to realize how much others around us need this heavenly water that cleanses the soul and so deeply refreshes our hearts. This drives us to the prayer of intercession for them.
The third water is like a bubbling spring or stream of love that cannot remain in the earth but flows into the hearts of those who draw near to God, erupting in praise to the One we adore.
4. Monsoon rains
The fourth water is pure grace, falling like rain from heaven, causing the whole garden to burst into bloom.
At first I thought of these four stages as steps I could try to master, but in fact, there is only one step – bringing my empty bucket to the well of God, 'the invisible but vital resource,’ that generous abundance that sustains the human soul. Theresa found it to be so. And so did Jesus - John 6:57.
Oh God, grant me this grace. Keep me persevering in the school of prayer, watering my inner garden. Spring up, O Well! Amen.
Theresa ... Water-by-hand ... Pump ... Stream