Practicing the Prayer of Quiet

Note: Let truth guide you, not us. Our humble disclaimer.

By Saint Teresa of Avila

For minds that wander it is of great importance not only to have a right belief but to try to learn it by experience, for this is one of the very best ways of concentrating your thoughts.

You know that God is everywhere. This is a great truth, for wherever God is, there is Heaven. You can believe that in any place where our Lord resides, there is fullness of glory.

Recall that Saint Augustine tells us about his seeking God in many places and eventually finding him within himself. A soul that is often distracted needs to understand this truth, for in order to speak to its Eternal Father and to take its delight in Him, it has no need to go to Heaven or to speak in a loud voice. No matter how quietly we speak, He is so near that He will hear us. We do not need wings to search for Him. We only need to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.

We don’t need to feel strange in the presence of such a kind Guest. We must talk very humbly to Him, as we should to our father—ask Him for things as we should as a father, tell Him our troubles, beg Him to correct them, and realize that we are not worthy to be called His children.

Do not confuse modesty with God as humility. You would not be humble if God were to do you a favor and you refused to accept it. You would be showing humility by accepting it, being pleased with it, yet realizing how far you are from deserving it. A fine humility it would be if I had the Emperor of Heaven and earth in my house, coming to it to do me a favor, and I were so humble that I would not answer His questions, sit with Him or accept what He gave me, but left Him alone.

Rather than having that kind of humility, speak to Him as with a Father, a Brother, a Lord, and a Spouse. He will teach you what you need to do to speak to Him. Do not be foolish. Ask Him to let you speak to Him. Remember how important it is to understand that the Lord is within us and that we should be there with Him.

If you pray in this way, the prayer may be only vocal, but the mind will enter into the prayer much sooner. This is a prayer that brings a thousand blessings with it. It is called recollection because the soul collects all the faculties together and enters within itself to be with its God. Its Divine Master comes more speedily to teach it and to grant it the Prayer of Quiet. Hidden there within itself, it can think about the Passion and picture the Son without tiring the mind by going to seek Him on Calvary, or in the Garden, or on the Cross.

Saint Teresa of Avila

Those who are able to shut themselves up in this little Heaven of the soul, wherein the Maker of Heaven and earth dwells, and who have formed the habit of looking at nothing and staying in no place that distracts the senses, may be sure that they are walking on an excellent road. They will not fail to drink of the water of the fountain, for they will travel a long way in a short time. They are like travelers on a ship who, with a little good wind, reach the end of their voyage in a few days while those who travel by land take much longer to arrive.

These souls have already put out to sea. Although they are not yet out of sight of land, they do what they can to get away from it by recollecting their senses. If their recollection is genuine, it produces certain effects which I cannot explain, but which anyone will recognize from their experience of them.

It is as if the soul were rising from play, for it sees that worldly things are nothing but toys. In time, then, the soul rises above them, like a person entering a castle, so that it has nothing more to fear from its enemies. It withdraws the senses from all outward things and rejects them so completely that its eyes close and it cannot see them. Thus, the soul’s spiritual sight becomes clear.

Those who walk along this path almost always close their eyes when they say their prayers. This is an admirable custom, since it means they are trying not to look at the things of the world. The soul seems to gather up its strength and to master itself at the body’s expense, which it leaves weakened and alone. In this way, the soul becomes stronger for the fight against it.

This may not be evident at first, if the recollection is not very profound. At first it may cause a good deal of trouble, for the body insists on its rights. It doesn’t understand that if it refuses to admit defeat it is cutting off its own head. If we cultivate the habit, make the necessary effort, and practice the exercises for several days, we will see the benefits. When we begin to pray we will realize that the bees are coming to the hive and entering it to make honey, all without any effort of ours.

It is the Lord’s will that the soul and the will should be given power over the senses. They will only have to make a sign to show that they wish to enter into recollection and the senses will obey and allow themselves to be recollected. They may come out at some later time. However, it is a great thing for them to have surrendered, for if they come out as captives and slaves they will not do as much harm as they might have done before. When the will calls them, they respond more quickly. After they have entered the soul many times, the Lord is pleased that they should remain there in perfect contemplation.

Although all this seems obscure, anyone who wants to put it into practice can understand it. The sea voyage can be made. We should not travel too slowly. We need to consider the ways we can get accustomed to these good habits. Souls who do so are more protected from many occasions of sin, and the fire of Divine love is more readily ignited in them. They are so near the fire that, however little the understanding has fanned the flames, any small spark that flies out at them will cause them to burst into flame. When it is not hindered from the outside, the soul remains alone with its God and is thoroughly prepared to be ignited.

Let us imagine that we have within us a palace built of gold and precious stones fit for so great a Lord. Imagine that you are partially responsible for the beauty of the palace. There is no building so beautiful as a soul that is pure and full of virtues; the greater these virtues are, the more brilliantly the stones shine. Imagine that within the palace dwells this great King Who has come down to be your Father and Who sits upon a throne of supreme price—your heart.

This point may seem irrelevant, but it may eventually prove useful. We need all these things to help us realize that we actually have something within us that is incomparably more precious than anything we see outside. Don’t think that the interior of the soul is empty. If we were careful always to remember what a Guest we have within us, I think it would be impossible for us to abandon ourselves to vanities and things of this world. We would see how worthless they are compared with those which we have inside us. When an animal seizes whatever attracts him when he sees it, isn’t he merely satisfying his hunger? There should surely be a difference between the brute beasts and us since we have such a Father.

You will probably laugh at me and say how obvious such things are. But, until I closed my eyes to the vanities of this world, I did not see or understand Who lived within my soul or what my soul deserved. If I had understood then, as I now do, how this great King lives within this palace of my soul, I would not have left Him alone so much. I would have stayed with Him and not let His house get so dirty. It is wonderful that He Whose greatness could fill a thousand worlds should confine Himself to so small a space, just as He was pleased to inhabit His most holy Mother’s womb. As our Lord, He has perfect freedom. And because He loves us, He fashions Himself to our measure.

When a soul sets out on this path, he does not reveal Himself to it. If the Lord did so, the soul might be daunted by seeing that its littleness can contain such greatness. Gradually He enlarges it to the extent needed for what He has to set within it. Thus, He has perfect freedom, for He had the power to make the entire palace great.

We should be determined to give the palace to Him for His own and should empty it so that He may take out and put in whatever He likes. Our Lord is right in demanding this; let us not deny it to Him. He refuses to force our will. He takes what we give Him but does not give Himself wholly until He sees that we are giving ourselves entirely to Him. He likes everything to be done in order.

If we fill the palace with vulgar people and all kinds of junk, how can the Lord and His Court occupy it? When such a crowd fills the palace, it would be a great thing if He were to remain even for a short time.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was a Spanish Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun and writer of the Counter Reformation. She played a prominent role in the reform of the Carmelite Order and has been an inspiration to many for her advice on how to commune directly with God.

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