TERESA OF ÁVILA: Prayer Leads to Purpose

A meditation from the Center for Action and Contemplation (March 12, 2023). Author and interspiritual teacher Megan Don introduces the Spanish mystic Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) as an exemplar of action and contemplation: 

Teresa’s life provides us with an exceptional example of bringing the contemplative and active life together; it displays both a profound internal depth and an exceptionally productive outcome.…  

At the age of twenty, after much deliberation, she chose to enter the Carmelite Monastery in Ávila. She did not make this choice because of a vocational “calling” but because Teresa understood it to be a favorable alternative to marriage….  

Her fascination with the world continued while she lived in the monastery, since it was not an enclosed order, and a stream of visitors occupied much of her time…. Prayers were ordered and recited by rote, which left her soul dry and uninspired. She attempted to enter her own “prayer of quiet,” but finding the thoughts in her head far too noisy and disturbing, she gave up any attempt to develop a more meaningful way to pray. Her relationship with the Beloved [God] at this time was fairly superficial.  

For twenty years she lived a divided life. On the one hand her ego desired worldly attachments, while on the other her spirit was calling her to a deeper communion with the divine. At the age of forty, Teresa finally surrendered completely to her Beloved. Her real life and work had begun. She returned to her prayer of quiet, allowing the Beloved to lead her, no longer relying on her own techniques. Meditation became essential to Teresa in establishing a clear and firm foundation with the divine, and as she walked further on her spiritual pathway, she came to understand that this external Beloved also “rests within.” It was to this place that she would constantly return to receive guidance, love, and a feeling of deep peace that she could not find elsewhere. [1] 

From that place of peace and inner authority, Teresa worked to return the Carmelite order to its original emphasis on prayer, poverty, and simplicity, going on to found seventeen new convents and monasteries. Don continues: 

Contrary to popular belief, the pinnacle of the mystical life is often lived in the world, even though it is not of the world. Having come into a full consciousness of the reality of existence, the mystic is now returned to society, displaying an extraordinary energy for the work required. This energy is none other than the divine force working in and through this willing worker of the Beloved, and it far surpasses anything we human beings can do alone. Teresa’s life is one such example of a person in and through whom the Beloved worked, and throughout her life she reiterated that the ultimate purpose of the sacred marriage [or union with God] is to give birth to good works in the world. [2]  


[1] Megan Don, Meditations with Teresa of Ávila: A Journey into the Sacred (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2011), 1, 2–3. 

[2] Don, Meditations with Teresa of Ávila, 218. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Les Argonauts, Camino de SantiagoUnsplash. Jenna Keiper, Winter Bird. Jenna Keiper, Mystic. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Perched in solitude, in communion with the Beloved. 

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