“I was very glad, since I thought He meant I was to die soon, and the mere thought of this delighted me.”
“The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila” by Herself.
Perhaps we can blame my Catholic upbringing, perhaps we can blame the course I took in college that landed this book in my hand, or perhaps we can just accept it, but I’m a little fascinated by the stories of saints of the old Medieval and Reformation times, especially when we start getting into concepts of damnation and visions and the devil and what have you. There’s a reason there’s a story about Martin Luther and the devil in Bowlful of Bunnies based on a historical footnote. I’m enthralled about this sort of thing, and, after rereading the account of Saint Teresa of Avila and her wild visions and prayers and the founding of her poverty-based convent, I can feel a story about her itching its way to my fingers, too.
Whatever the reason, Saint Teresa of Avila is a fascinating and compelling voice, an interesting look at a woman who might either be in deep commune with God or suffering from what would now be considered a severe mental delusion. She was asked to put her experiences and thoughts down for her superiors, and it opens up the world to a woman who has an incredible amount of faith and determination. I’m utterly intrigued by her, and I admire her, and I pity her. It’s a complicated journey, going through her life and considering all the historical context and meaning in these heartfelt (and often heartbreaking) words. They have so much impact, especially when you consider that this was an actual living person, who had all these thoughts and experiences, whether they were spiritual or the result of something else entirely.
J.M. Cohen’s translation is a solid one, making the language incredibly accessible to a modern sensibility. There are some truly wonderful, insightful, or just plain mesmerizing observations from Saint Teresa. I was particularly intrigued by the self-flagellation and the utter belief she had that she was a horrible, sinful person, despite her constant attempts to be pious. One wonders what sort of trouble Teresa got herself into before she took up the habit, or if she is exaggerating to great lengths to make her story more incredible. Just as one wonders if her visions of God and the Holy Mother and Jesus are real or some other side-effect of something beyond comprehension in the late 14th century. What also struck me was how some of her observations and visions felt incredibly Buddhist to me, but that might just be projection on my part.
I find it hard to do a real “review” of this book; I feel I can only express how fascinated I was by it, how inspired, how baffled, and how intrigued. It’s definitely not something for everyone, but I do recommend it if you’re open to what boils down the the religious ramblings of a woman who experienced a great deal of physical and mental duress that captures some of the severity of religious belief and doctrine back in the 1500s. Some of it is brilliant, most of it is insane, but all of it is presumed to have been scribbled down by a woman who experienced it all, nearly 500 years ago, and that is what I find truly fantastic about this book.
Books read: 009/100.