Posts Tagged ‘St. Theresa of Avila’

Pilgrimage prayers

March 5, 2010

I have never talked about this before, and I have some trepidation about doing so. I can’t quite believe that I haven’t, but I haven’t. It is maybe too sacred, too scary, yet here I am in strange blogosphere world ready to tell this story for the first time.

When my ex-husband and I were in our 30’s we were moved to travel on pilgrimages over the course of a few years. I was at the time an avid reader of the writings of mystics and longed to visit the places where my favorites had lived. At the top of my list was to go to Lisieux in France to where St. Therese of Lisieux had lived. For years I read passages from her writing every day and I still remember those readings as though I were nibbling the sweetest possible fruit. I also wanted to go to Lourdes, having read a 900 page biography of St. Bernadette two times in a row. I thirsted for something it offered to me. These two sites were visited in France, along with those of other saints and mystics that I loved. Afterward we went to numerous pilgrimage sites in Italy and then to Medjugorje, in Yugoslavia, where apparitions of Mary to some young visionaries were still taking place. On another trip we went to Spain to visit sites for St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, to Santiago de Compostella and the Black Madonna at Montseratt.  We visited Fatima in Portugal. A year later we visited Nazareth, Jerusalem, the River Jordan, the Sea of Galilee.

Today I teach regularly at retreats and in group work, but I never mention any of this. Most people who know me now don’t know about this period of my life. I do not know the reason, it just is so. And it seems strange because I treasure every morsel of memory and experience from these pilgrimages. I must hide them in my heart like the most priceless of jewels, never wanting them to be stolen. But maybe they should be seen now and then.

All of that was the set up to tell the following story. I have experienced that special prayers, spoken at special spots on pilgrimage have a special potency. The prayer I have been thinking of a lot lately and want to tell about occurred in Rome in front of Bernini’s exquisite sculpture of St. Teresa in Ecstasy at the cathedral of Santa Maria della Vittoria. Teresa of Avila writes in her autobiography of an experience she had that changed her forever – a vision of an angel who pierced her heart with a sword of fire. That was the moment when she felt God truly entered her heart, and she referenced this experience for the rest of her life. It was both agony and ecstasy for her. There I was, a young pilgrim having read and cherished this story for years, kneeling before a gorgeous marble statue of the angel piercing Theresa’s heart while she swooned. I thought as I stared at it, “I want my heart to be pierced like that,” but I also was very, very aware that a person has to be extremely careful of what she prays for. So I said my prayer of desire, while also asking please for mercy, please not to give me something tragic or unendurable if at all possible. But I wanted God to enter my heart like that.

There is a Sufi prayer that I have loved and have framed in calligraphy on my wall, “Shatter my heart to make room for an infinite love.” This framed piece was a gift from a friend who knew I loved the prayer. Both the gift and the pilgrimage prayer in Avila came in a time of relative innocence, before the outbreak of the destruction of life as I had known it. My heart was not just broken, not just pierced, but it was shattered. And all of these many years since the shattering I have remembered what I prayed for. And I have not regretted those prayers for one moment. And I feel humbled and grateful for the grace of answered prayers.