Monday, 23 March 2015

Saint Teresa of Ávila: The Our Father

Words on the Lord’s Prayer from ‘The Way of Perfection’ by Saint Teresa of Ávila

“As we repeat the Our Father so many times … let us delight in it.” -- Saint Teresa of Ávila


What son is there in the world who would not try to learn who his father was if he had one as good and of as great majesty and dominion, as ours?

Were God not all this, it would not surprise me if we had no desire to be known as His children; for the world is such that, if the father is of lower rank than his son, the son feels no honour in recognizing him as his father.

Being our Father, God must bear with us however great our offences. If we return to Him He must pardon us, must comfort us in our trials, and must sustain us, as such a Father is bound to do, for He must needs be better than any earthly father.

We must talk to Him very humbly as we should to our father, ask Him for things as we should ask a father, tell Him our troubles, beg Him to put them right, and yet realize that we are not worthy to be called His children.


Do you suppose it matters little what Heaven is and where you must seek your most holy Father?

Wherever God is, there is Heaven … and GOD IS WITHIN US. Remember how important it is to understand this truth – that the Lord is within us. I assure you that for minds which wander it is of great importance not only to have a right belief about this but to try to learn it by experience … I knew perfectly well that I had a soul, but I did not understand then, as I do now, how this great King really dwells within this little palace of my soul, I should not have left Him alone so often. 

How wonderful it is that He whose greatness could fill a thousand worlds, and very much more, should confine Himself within so small a space, just as He was pleased to dwell within the womb of His most holy Mother.


Realize that you are doing much more by occasionally repeating a single petition of the Our Father than by repeating the whole of it many times in a hurry and not thinking what you are saying. He to Whom you are praying is very near you and will not fail to hear you; and you may be sure that you are truly praising Him and hallowing His name …


Let us understand this thing that we are asking for, and how important it is that we should pray for it without ceasing and do all we can to please Him Who will give it to us.

We, exiles, are making a sea-voyage and are still on the journey. But there are times when we are wearied with travelling and the Lord grants our faculties tranquillity and our soul quiet. The body experiences the greatest delight and the soul is conscious of a deep satisfaction. Persons in this state will spend a whole hour on a single repetition of Our Father … They are close to God … They are in the palace, near to the King, and they see that He is already beginning to give them His Kingdom on earth.

It looks as though I were saying that we must be angels to make this petition – ‘Thy Kingdom come.’ This would indeed be our Divine master’s wish, since He bids us make so sublime a petition. You must be quite sure that he never tells us to ask for impossibilities, so it must be possible, with God’s help, for a soul living in this state of exile to reach such a point …


Thy Will be done – Do people say this because everyone else says it and not because they want it to be done? That would not be right. The more we show Him by our actions that the words we use to Him are not word of mere politeness, the more and more does Our Lord draw us to Himself and raise us above all petty earthly things.

They Will be done  - that is, may the Lord fulfil His Will in me, in every way and manner which Thou, my Lord, desirest. If Thou wilt do this by means of trials, give me strength and let them come … The Lord knows what each of us can bear … When He sees a soul who loves Him greatly, He knows that soul can suffer much for Him …

Dispose of me as of that which is Thine own, in accordance with Thy Will – What power this prayer has. If it be made with due resolution, it cannot fail to draw the Almighty to become one with our lowliness …

(Holy Communion)

For the love of God let us realize the meaning of our good Master’s petition.

We know that until the accidents of bread have been consumed by our natural heat, the good Jesus is with us. If, while He went about in the world, the sick were healed by merely touching His clothes, how can we doubt that He will work miracles when he is within us, if we have faith? Or how can we doubt that he will give us what we ask of Him since He is in our house? His Majesty is not wont to offer us too little payment for His lodging if we treat Him well.


Notice that Our Lord does not say: “as we shall forgive.” The good Jesus might have said: “Forgive us, Lord, because we are doing a great deal of penance, or because we are praying often, and fasting.” But He has never said any of these other things He might have said. He simply says: “Because we forgive.”

It is such a serious and important matter that God should pardon us our sins, which have merited eternal fire, that we must pardon all …


Let us always beseech God that temptation may not be strong enough for us to offend Him.

From any sin, however small, committed with full knowledge, may God deliver us, especially since we are sinning against so great a Sovereign and realizing that He is watching us! Take this advice, which comes, not from me, but from your Master – Strive to walk with love and fear, and I guarantee your safety. Love will make you quicken your steps. Fear will make you look where you are setting your feet so that you may not fall.

It will be a great thing at the hour of death, when we are going we know not whither, to realize that we shall be judged by One Whom we have loved above all things. Remember the greatness of the gain which comes from this love, and of our loss if we do not possess it, for in that case we shall be delivered into the hands of the tempter … What will become of the poor soul when it falls into these hands after emerging from all the pains and trials of death? How it will be torn as it goes down to hell! A pampered person (and most of those who go to hell are that) can hardly bear to spend a single night in a bad inn. What, then, will be the feeling of that wretched soul when it is condemned to such an inn as this and has to spend eternity there?

What, then, Eternal Father, can we do but flee to Thee and beg Thee not to allow these enemies of ours to lead us into temptation?


If we try to banish bodily ills and trials is it not right that we should ask to be delivered from sin?

O my God and Lord, deliver me from all evil and be pleased to lead me to that place where all good things are to be found.

God’s will is for us to desire truth, whereas we desire falsehood; His will is for us to desire the eternal, whereas we prefer that which passes away; His will is for us to desire great and sublime things, whereas we desire the base things of earth; He would have us desire only what is certain, whereas here on earth we love what is doubtful.

What a mockery it all is, unless we beseech God to deliver us from all these perils forever and to keep us from evil!


By the word “Amen”, as it comes at the end of every prayer, I understand that the Lord is begging that we may be delivered from all evil for ever.

[Copied from a pamphlet published by the Carmelite Monastery, Newry, Co. Down, N. Ireland]

Monday, 2 March 2015

I spend weekends leafing the sea inside Gaudí

Philip Harvey

Balcony iron twisted black kelp.
Forests of porphyry their palm canopies bursting.
The sure foundation a stone quarry from stone ages.
Streets thereabouts away and towards the source.
Surf city of the west end pitched to glory.
New scaffolding stacks to ceilings of marble stars.
Tremulous leaves of tiles take to the light,
Thunder handled as it approaches.
Computed entrances have witnesses guessing.
Ribs of the crucified downward unbroken.
All in his head, he never left a sketch.

I spend weekends leafing the sea inside Gaudí,
The sun inside, which colour to choose, size and shape.
He believed, and then someone believed in him.
If he was a savant guard how I judge
His singular exertions combining geometries,
A life best understood after completion.
His hours of hope with the transforms of life
Could be the hour of his death, alone.
For it’s never completed, his one client God,
Where every day is the practice of load-bearing
Be it beatific temple or beaten-up cross.

A poem about Antoni Gaudí written after attending Spiritual Reading Group in the Carmelite Library on Tuesday the 27th of February

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Librarians as Spiritual Directors

Philip Harvey
First published in the March 2015 issue of
 'The Melbourne Anglican'

As soon as I could, I could read. As soon as I could, I could pray. My conscious spiritual life has more or less evolved from those moments, and I regard myself as blessed.

Growing up in a vicarage there were prayers and home libraries. At seven I could hear Cranmer’s Collects after breakfast, then spend the morning reading ‘The Magic Pudding’ or Beatrix Potter. That’s my idea of bliss. Maybe it’s why I became a theological librarian.

At first, that had less to do with management than love of learning for its own sake. I read whatever I liked and it served me, spiritually, even if the word ‘spiritual’ was an adult word.

Librarians are keepers of the culture. They are dangerous people with the power to provide literature that upsets, provokes, subverts, inspires, and changes how we see things. The Bible, for example. Or Julian of Norwich or Thomas Merton or Dorothy Day. We quietly shelve returned books, ready for the next surprised reader.

The online revolution has not changed the main purpose of libraries, only how the library works. We live in a world today where digital and print exist together, each bouncing off the other. The real question remains: what is the best spiritual reading? What do I have to read next in order to have God “in my head, and in my understanding”?

No-one at library school taught me to become a spiritual director. Yet in every area of my work over many years, that has been a main ministry, growing with the job. I only found it was a vocation after I got into it. I order those books, new and old titles, that people seriously need. I am constantly providing reference services where I find out the user’s spiritual needs, as much by accident as design, and thereby act to meet those needs. And I offer guidance in spiritual reading for those who seek it.

What do we read, and why? Students have reading lists and some scrape through on the minimum. Other students are searchers. My job is to put the book they really want next to the one they are told to read. It’s called calculated serendipity. The internet cannot do this with keywords, or at least not as well. Even downloads fluke it: nice when they do. Books in the library reveal to students things they never dreamt about in their online coursework. It’s librarians who make that happen.

Reading is for a lifetime. I attend to lifetime readers, because I am an uncertified spiritual director. Not everyone plans their reading. They discover favourites, then go out alone in hope of something new, transformative. My job is to make sure they find at the end of the road less travelled goldmines rather than mine shafts. Where people do need structure, I advise them as follows.

First, identify your favourite spiritual writers. That is where your heart is. Go deeper, read more. Ask questions of these writers. Ask where they are sending you next. I think, for example, of C.S. Lewis, a remarkable communicator and model, who all the time in his works directs his readers elsewhere, to the riches of Christianity, and beyond.

Second, I invite them to recall favourite writers of their childhood and youth. These are all worth revisiting. Why did I so enjoy their words? What have I outgrown, and why? What remains that continues to puzzle, bemuse, challenge, feed my sense of self, world, and (possibly) God?

Third, I put before them, after consideration of their testimony, books they may not have known about before. A spiritual director will always want to push the envelope, as well as encourage what is nourishing in the present. Sometimes the best place to go to learn of God and neighbour is the Book of Isaiah, sometimes Saint Thomas Aquinas, sometimes it’s Michael Leunig. And the list goes on.

Some library users ask if it’s worth cataloguing their own spiritual library. My answer is, not really. Imagine the inordinate time spent cataloguing that could be spent reading. My advice is to arrange any private library, inside or outside a vicarage, according to preferred personal reading: counselling here, Scripture there, poetry on the top shelf. Everything findable.

By saying all of these things I say something of my own spiritual journey. What is the use of all this knowledge if you cannot share it with someone else? Why hide from the truth, when it is the truth that will set you free? This is not just a reality we learn the hard way by experience, or through the lovely rituals of the church, but by words of the quick and the dead found in books, whether e or other. Much of the best spirituality is still only found in ‘other’.

May you find what you seek!