That person to whom I referred just now said that the favor which God had granted her had taught her two things: first, she learned to have the greatest fear of offending Him, for which reason she continually begged Him not to allow her to fall, when she saw what legible consequences a fall could bring; secondly, she had found it a mirror of humility, for it had made her realize that any good thing we do has its source, not in ourselves but rather in that spring where this tree, which is the soul, is planted, and in that sun which sheds its radiance on our works.
[W]e continue to hear what a good thing prayer is . . . yet they tell us nothing beyond what we ourselves have to do and say very little about the work done by the Lord in the soul — I mean supernatural work. (Teresa of Avila: First Mansions, Chapter Two)
Teresa and her Carmelite companions continued to hear what a good thing prayer is, but most teaching on prayer, she says, is about what we can do (ascetic prayer) with very little teaching about God’s supernatural work in our souls (mystical prayer).
Teresa says God granted her a divine favor and taught her two things. She learned to have a great fear in offending Him. This was a divine favor because God let her foresee the consequences if she went off track spiritually and begged Him not to let her fall. This prescience came through mystical prayer. She also learned humility. Humility is a divine favor because we learn God’s power works in us and through us (we are a tree of life but God is the life-giving spring and the sun shining on our works). When we take credit or responsibility for results we impose limitations on our life and works. Teresa says, without humility “everything goes wrong”.
There are a couple parts to our Christian experience. There is Christian character and ethics resulting in good works and valuable contributions to society. There is also revelation. Through mystical prayer God gives guidance and insight beyond the physical realm and beyond our powers of observation, calculation, and learning.
Some are afraid of Christian mysticism. They’ve heard of abuse by individuals and faith communities who have “heard God” followed by twisted, absurd, or tragic behavior. But God speaks and people have listened, authenticated his words through spiritual guides, and gained insight not available from human sources. By listening they have altered the course of history.
Sometimes we do not listen to God. I know someone who, many years ago, received a divine favor with unmistakable insight into the spiritual realm. He heard the Spirit about seemingly trivial matters but somehow knew they were extremely important. Meanwhile his faith community rejected any truth outside the Bible and promoted spiritual competition through Bible studies, prayer meetings, and evangelism. Unfortunately he traded the insights about “ordinary life” for the “big prize” of spiritual achievement. He is disappointed to this day.
I don’t tell you this story to focus on your attention on what you may have missed but to encourage you to explore the Interior Castle where the “most secret things pass between God and the soul.” Jesus said: “When the Spirit of truth comes . . . he will declare to you the things that are to come.” But don’t try to “make things happen”. God will be unmistakable when the time is right. And if nothing happens don’t worry about it – be humble, love your neighbor and enjoy life.