in soul pursuit

in soul pursuit

Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Womb of God

The angel said to him, ‘Zechariah, do not be afraid, your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you must name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink. Even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before him to turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the disobedient back to the wisdom that the virtuous have, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him.’...

 When his time of service came to an end he returned home. Some time later his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept to herself. ‘The Lord has done this for me’ she said ‘now that it has pleased him to take away the humiliation I suffered among men.’ Luke 1:5-25

Today's readings in our Christmas preparation take us to the womb of God, or as St Teresa of Avila calls it, las entrañas – the entrails or bowels, or, if you prefer, the root chakras. We are taken to the bowels or entrails of our being where God is born. Living in our modern 'world of the head' we forget our connection with the earth, the womb and the mother. Both readings chosen by the Church today (the second of which I give above) emphasise this connection with the earth, fecundity and birthing, as did Leonardo da Vinci in the 'Madonna of the Rocks' above - the Madonna is as old as the earth, she is the earth. The motto of my university, St Mary's in Twickenham, is taken from the ancient prayer to Mary as 'Star of the Sea' (Stella Maris): Monstra te esse Matrem - 'show thyself to be a mother' - which amuses generations of our rugby-playing undergraduates. But this is exactly the theme of today's readings and meditations. As Meister Eckhart says, at every moment, every hour, every minute, God is born in the womb of our being. And, as he goes on to say, 'only the virgin can give birth to Our Lord Jesus Christ' - the virgin being 'the one without pictures'. So, in these dark nights before the birth of God in the soul we reflect on our ability to be mothers of God, to allow the mysterious birth in the root of our souls that will bring salvation to the world.

I finish with Teresa's descriptions of the 'birth of God in the soul' - first as a young woman in 'The Book of LIfe' and later as an old 'crone' (her words) in 'The Interior Castle'. As both a young woman and a crone Teresa experiences the birth of God in the soul as a powerful force penetrating her to her entrails (the root chakra being of course so close to the sexual/erotic chakra - thus leading to so much silly interpretation by amateur Freudians), from this will come her joy and desire to reform the Carmelite order and 'the world in flames'. With joy let us run to meet the Christ child waiting to be born in our womb:

(From 'Teresa of Avila: Doctor of the Soul')

'We have returned to the ecstastic libidinal scene in Chapter 29 of The Life where Teresa encountered the cherub with the wounding spear:


Sometimes (when I was at this place) the Lord wanted me to see this vision: I saw an angel close to me on my left side in corporal form, something I only see occasionally. Although angels are represented to me many times I don’t see them, at least not in the sense of ‘vision’ of which I spoke at first. It pleased the Lord that I should see this vision in the following manner: he was not large but small, very beautiful, the face so enflamed that he appeared to be one of the very high angels that appear to be totally aflame (I believe they are called Cherubim although they don’t tell me their names, but I see clearly that there is a great difference between certain types of angels and others, and between these and others still, of a kind that I could not possibly explain). I saw in his hands a long golden spear (un dardo de oro largo), and at the end of the iron tip there appeared a little flame, this he seemed to put into my heart several times so that it reached my entrails (y que me llegava a las entrañas).[1] As he removed it, they seemed to be drawn with it so that I was left totally on fire with a great love of God. The pain I felt was so great that I uttered several moans, and so excessive was the sweetness (suavidad) caused by this pain that one would never want to lose it, nor would the soul be content with anything less than God. It is not a bodily pain, but spiritual, although the body has a share in it – considerably so. It is such a sweet love-exchange (un requiebro) which passes between the soul and God that I beg Him out of His goodness to give this gusto to anyone who thinks I am lying. (V: 29.13)


This striking and justly celebrated passage is now recalled in the Sixth Mansion:


          So powerful is the effect of this on the soul that it dissolves with desire      and doesn’t know what to ask for, for clearly it seems that it is with its      God. You will ask me: Well, if it knows this, what does it desire or what      pains it? What greater good does it want? I don’t know. I do know that     it seems that this pain reaches to the soul’s entrails (entrañas)[2] and           that when He who wounds it draws out the arrow, it indeed seems, in      accord with the deep love the soul feels, that God is drawing these         very entrails after Him. I was thinking now that it is as though, from this fire enkindled in the brazier that is my God, a spark (un centella)       jumped out and so touched the soul that the flaming fire was felt by it        and since it was not enough to set the soul on fire, and it is so      delightful, the soul is left with that pain; and this produced by it just      touching the soul. (M: 6.2.4)


When the two passages are juxtaposed like this it is possible to interpret the passage according to Teresa’s mystical theology. Bernini’s statue at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome is, of course, a magnificent artefact of Baroque statuary, however the effect has been to take the passage from Chapter Twenty Nine of The Life entirely out of its mystical context so distorting its significance within her text. When the text is placed alongside that from the Sixth Mansion what is remarkable is the consistency of the language of the two passages written over ten years apart. The only word that does not reappear in The Castle is gustar. Following her development and clarification of the role of the gustos this is unsurprising and to be expected that it would be dropped in the later passage. The flame of the cherubim remains (so essential for the Victorine tradition, see, for example the ‘dart of flaming love’ mentioned in The Cloud of Unknowing). However Teresa introduces the all important word centella in the later passage. A clear reference to the synderesis of the medieval mystical tradition (literally; ‘the little spark’): the place, according to Gerson, Bonaventure and Hugh of Balma, where the divine touches the human in the soul. This little spark gently ‘touches’ the heart and causes the ecstasy of fire. It does not ‘penetrate’ as some translators suggest and although sexual connotations are present in the passage this sexualised interpretation cannot detract from the fact that these passages are referring to the workings of the heart rather than anything specifically sexual. The other phrase that remains constant in the two passages is las entrañas – entrails or bowels. Teresa, as always, is circumspect in her descriptions of the nature of the ‘centre of the soul’ and this is another instant where she carefully uses language to indicate a source without clearly delineating the nature of the source. A theme we shall return to in Chapter Eight below. In their balance of Dionysian unknowing with libinal energisation these passages are rightly celebrated as masterpieces of Teresa’s mystical theology.'

 Happy Advent!

[1] Allison Peers uses the more provocative ‘penetrate’ here, whilst Kavanaugh uses ‘reach’.
[2] Matthew  and Allison Peers give ‘bowels’ for entrañas which seems very appropriate.


No comments:

Post a Comment