Teresa was born into an aristocratic Spanish family in 1515. Following her mother’s death, she was educated by Augustinian nuns and then ran away from home to enter a Carmelite convent when she was twenty. After initial difficulties in prayer, her intense mystical experiences attracted many disciples. She was inspired to reform the Carmelite rule and, assisted by St John of the Cross, she travelled throughout Spain founding many new religious houses for men as well as women. Her writings about her own spiritual life and progress in prayer towards union with God include The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle, which are still acclaimed. She knew great physical suffering and died of exhaustion in October 1582.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
At various points in our lives we can experience a deep sense of yearning, of unease and dissatisfaction. It feels like there is something missing yet we can’t quite put our finger on it. Our very self is groaning not simply for something, but to be something more.However, in our culture of consumerism and instant gratification there is a great tendency during these times to ‘consume’, and to consume only ‘stuff’, rather than anything of lasting worth.
Now, at this point I feel the need to pause, or rather to come to a shuddering halt as a great klaxon goes off in my head. I do not want this reflection to lead us down the often trod self-righteous path of ‘the world’ being a place of self-indulgent consumers finding short-lived pleasure in food, drink, shopping, or sex; whilst we in the Church obviously do not require such stimuli as we have the answer to these cravings, which is obviously Jesus! Not least because in this section of Paul’s letter to the Romans he is at pains to find common connections between ‘Jews’ and ‘Greeks’, not pious examples of difference. ‘For all have sinned …’ Rom. 3:23
Rather than creating a mental list of hollow pleasures, let’s look at the main motifs in today’s text; hope, patience, weakness, Spirit, and give a few moments to concentrate on these four themes.
Be aware of any unfulfilled yearning deep within you and in God’s presence seek that which you truly hope for, as opposed to the ‘things’ you may want or feel you need.Acknowledge in yourself that you may not yet know what it is you are hoping for, and that regardless of this, reaching any goal of worth will require enormous amounts of patience.
Admit your weakness and discomfort at this state of unknowing, and wait.
Accept you may not have the words and appreciate the Spirit interceding in that space.
In a world increasingly concerned with targets and goals, allow yourself this kind of time regularly, as a counter-cultural act. Hoping for that which we do not yet see, and waiting on God, with patience.
The Rev’d Mike Walsh is a pioneer minister in Chorlton, South Manchester.