by Mary Gossy
About five hundred years ago, in a medium-sized city in Spain, there was a woman who was desperate, if sometimes afraid, to be alone with her Beloved. In her case, which is, admittedly, somewhat unusual, her Beloved was what she called God. But nobody would let her have any time alone with her Beloved.
The nun in question, who wanted to be alone with her Beloved, is Teresa of Avila.
… she found a way to start a new kind of monastic life, one in which the nuns would live together and apart at the same time. They would earn their own living by spinning wool, they would not accept endowments so they would not owe anybody anything, they would stay in their enclosure, and they would do everything they could to stay focused on the one thing they all had in common. There were only a few of them, but every one wanted to be alone with her Beloved.
Teresa founded this order, called the Discalced (or “barefoot”) Carmelites, with a young priest who was to become her close collaborator, and who is known as Spain’s greatest lyric poet. His name is John of the Cross. It is he who invented and theorized the oft-mentioned phrase, “the dark night of the soul.” Like Teresa, John was completely in love with God.
Unoccupied prayer is the straight route John of the Cross drew up the middle of his map of spiritual ascent (Collected Works, 110). This way is paved with the word, “nada,” (nothing,) and nothing else. There is no room on the trail for anything except whatever breath of grace there is that moves the foot to take a step into empty air. Gimmicks? Nothing doing. Nothing is not for the faint of heart.
PHOTO © MARCELA TABOADA