Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Prayer of a "Doctor of the Church"

St. Teresa of Avila was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in 1622. For her writings and teaching on prayer, Teresa was given the title "Doctor of the Church" in 1970, one of two women given this honor. During her lifetime, Teresa did not have widespread acceptance, but often labored against misunderstanding and misogyny from her male superiors. Many Protestant women find in her inspiration as a woman, spiritual leader in an often hostile context. The following is one of her prayers.

I live, yet no true life I know,
And, living thus expectantly,
I die because I do not die.

Since this new death in life
Estranged from self my life has been,
For now I live a life unseen:
The Lord has claimed me as His own.
My heart I gave Him for His throne,
Whereon He wrote indelibly:
"I die because I do not die."

Within this prison house divine,
Prison of love whereby I live,
My God Himself to me doth give,
And liberate this heart of mine,
And, as with love I yearn and pine,
With God my prisoner I sigh:
"I die because I do not die."

How tedious is this life below,
This exile with its grief and pains.
This dungeon and these cruel chains
In which the soul is forced to go!
Straining to leave this life of woe,
With anguish sharp and deep I cry:
"I die because I do not die."

How bitter our existence ere
We come at last the Lord to meet!
For, though the soul finds loving sweet,
The waiting time is hard to bear.
Oh, from this leaden weight of care,
My God relieve me speedily,
Who die because I do not die.

I only live because I know
That death and hope is all the more secure
Since death and life together go.
death, thou life-creator, lo!
I wait upon thee, come thou nigh:
I die because I do not die.

Consider, life, love's potency
And cease to cause me grief and pain.
Reflect, I beg, that, thee to gain,
I first must lose thee utterly.
Then, death, come pleasantly to me.
Come softly: undismayed am I
Who die because I do not die.

That life, with life beyond recall,
Is truly life for evermore:
Until this present life be over
We cannot savor life at all.
So, death, retreat not at my call,
For life through death I can descry
Who die because I do not die.

O life, what service can I pay
Unto my God who lives in me
Save if I first abandon thee
That I may merit thee for aye?
Such yearning for my Spouse have I,
Dying because I do not die.

(The above photo is of the famed work of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, The Ecstacy of St. Teresa, which is based upon the account of her interaction with an angel when she was awakened to a fiery, consuming love for God.)


UnderMidnight said...

I honestly think that patriarchy developed partly out of a fear of women and their ability to relate to God in more profound ways than men ever could. Rather than admire this quality we fear it because it is a blow to our infantile and fragile egos. When you can't beat, repress it, denigrate it.
We're men. Let us pee on trees in peace without your holiness mucking things up.

Emily Hunter McGowin said...


:) I love the way you say things.

I'm not sure I'm comfortable saying dogmatically that women have an "ability to relate to God in more profound ways than men ever could." That implies that there is something inherently spiritually defective in men.

I would rather suggest that it is possible that men (in the West) have been culturally conditioned to reject some aspects of spirituality and have missed out as a result. It is for this reason that very often they are threatened by the mystical spiritual experiences of Teresa and others.

For whatever its worth...