in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Happy Anniversary Teresa of Avila! Teresa of Avila - Doctor for our Troubled Times. Article in the 'The Tablet'

Dear All

I just heard that the Tablet will be publishing an article I submitted to announce the beginning of the Teresian year. It should be hitting the newsstands tomorrow but in the meantime here is an extract as a sneak preview...

Happy Anniversary Teresa!



Teresa of Avila: Doctor for our Troubled Times


A day of reflection based on the texts of Teresa of Avila organised by Oxford University earlier this year attracted an astonishing array of people of all ages, class and perspective – Christian and non-Christian, atheist and believer. As we opened up the fascinating treasures of her writing to this mixed group one woman confided to me: ‘Teresa’s time has come!’ I think she was right. There is something in Teresa’s language, style and approach that seems peculiarly right for our own times. October 15th marks the beginning of the ‘Teresian year’ in celebration of the Spanish saint’s birth in Avila in March 1515 which will be celebrated across the whole world and especially within the Carmelite family. This anniversary gives us a chance to look back at 500 years of her influence and assess the gifts this remarkable woman has given the church.

Teresa has always been held in special esteem by the British. Some of the first translations of her works were made into English and she very quickly found a place in the heart of British Catholics. After the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in the 19th Century, and the re-translation of her works, she once again found an appreciative audience beyond the Catholic community, most famously when George Eliot referenced her in the Preface to Middlemarch. Since then other writers (especially women), ranging from Vita Sackville-West to Julia Kristeva, have admired and written commentaries on her works. So what is it about this woman who has inspired Christians and non-Christians alike for half a millennium? Well, first there is the woman herself. From her own memorable accounts of her life and reform of the Carmelite order in ‘the Book of the Life’ and ‘the Book of the Foundations’ to the written testimonies of friends, foes and co-workers, the picture that emerges of Teresa is of a witty, engaging, infuriating and indomitable force of nature. Born and bred on the wild windswept Castilian mountains she grew up to take on kings and prelates alike in the pursuit of her one abiding aim – to provide space (her ‘little dovecotes’) within which her sisters could seek God in contemplation whilst the storms and upheavals of the Reformation swept over Europe. Indeed, she is one of those rare religious figures who seem to transcend the categories of their time and space and become semi-mythical, universal figures for all peoples and all times. A recent survey suggested that half the memorable sayings attributed to her (including the one beloved by the British: ‘I have no hands and feet now only yours’) are in fact apocryphal...
...As I said at the beginning, the British have always held Teresa close to their hearts and this quincentenary year will be marked by extensive celebrations of the life, work and influence of the remarkable Castilian. The party begins on 15th October with mass at the Carmelite Church, Kensington, attended by the Spanish Ambassador to the Court of St James and ends a year later on 17th October at the British cradle of Carmel – Aylesford in Kent. In between there will be pilgrimages, colloquia, retreats and academic conferences – details of which can be found on the Teresa 500 Website on Most importantly, though, I hope you will take this time to re-read the wise words of this great Mother of Carmel  – one of the greatest gifts of the Church to the world and an inspiration and hope to us all in a world once again in flames. Such an encounter with Teresa has changed the lives of innumerable souls over the past 500 years and I have no doubt that this year of birthday celebrations will see more people whose lives will be transformed by this ‘crazy, wild woman of Avila’. Happy Birthday Teresa!


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