St. Teresa of Jesus (Avila) is well known for her writings on prayer. She recognized our real need for freedom in our prayer lives. This freedom is one of her greatest gifts to us, and at the same time, it can be a real challenge.
The general way of praying recommended by St. Teresa is known as the Prayer of Recollection. In this prayer, we gather our faculties within ourselves so we can be alone with God, who dwells in the center of our souls. It’s an act of will and an act of detachment from the world. We practice this prayer everyday for a specific period of time to grow in our relationship with God.
As we begin to practice the Prayer of Recollection, we quickly discover that distractions are unavoidable. As self-conscious human beings, our minds are normally active. Trying to repress our thoughts and emotions during prayer is unhealthy. It’s important that we don’t fight with ourselves during prayer because fighting keeps our attention focused on ourselves. Every time we notice our thoughts wandering away from God or our emotions interrupting, we simply turn our attention back to God without self-recrimination or frustration.
Saint Teresa understood that there are times when we are so distracted that the Prayer of Recollection seems impossible. At those times, she recommends three aids to help us recollect ourselves: 1) We can return to our favorite vocal prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer or the Rosary, and pray them interiorly, thoughtfully and lovingly. 2) We can ponder spiritual writings, especially Scripture, and pray our inspirations from the readings. 3) We can simply gaze on an image of Jesus and rest our troubled heads in his love and beauty.
Practiced over time, the Prayer of Recollection generally leads to the Prayer of Quiet. In this prayer, we gradually become content to remain with the Lord without speaking or thinking, and with no expectations of consolations or extraordinary experiences. The Prayer of Quiet is the beginning of supernatural prayer, although it doesn’t feel supernatural. It’s considered supernatural because we are not really capable of silencing our minds and emotions without help. The Prayer of Quiet is a gift from God.
Sometimes people believe they have failed in prayer when they begin to experience the Prayer of Quiet, because they aren’t doing anything useful, or because they are so attached to their formal prayers and devotions that they can’t let go of them when God begins to give them this grace. That’s why it’s so important that we accept the gift of freedom in prayer. It’s only when we are free from rigid prayer routines and favorite devotions that we are available to enter into a deeper, more intimate relationship with God. We can always return to our favorite formal prayers at another time.
When the Prayer of Quiet passes, as it eventually does, we simply finish our prayer time by gathering our faculties within ourselves again with the help of vocal prayers, Scripture, or a beautiful image of the Lord.
The Prayer of Recollection and the Prayer of Quiet are nourished and completed by regular participation in the Sacraments and the Liturgy of the Hours.
This brief article not intended as a summary of St. Teresa’s teachings on prayer. Dear Reader, there is much more to discover!