I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Sonia Frontera’s reflection, “Communing with God in the face of illness inspired by Teresa of Avila.”
Santa Teresa de Avila opened the door to the magical world of contemplation and, with it, offered me friendship with a God who is as loving as God is accessible.
Regrettably, I didn’t go through that door until mid-life.
I was barely 16 years old when Teresa’s path crossed mine and planted a seed in my soul that blossomed like a perennial flower, nudging me to bring her along as a companion on various stages of my spiritual journey.
Teresa was in and out of my life for more than 30 years
The life and works of the mystics Saint Teresa of Avila and Saint John of the Cross were part of the curriculum of my high school Spanish Literature class, not for their sainthood but for their literary accomplishments.
Once I met her, I found it impossible not to fall in love with Teresa. This 16th-century woman was light years ahead of her time.
She was a powerful woman in a world of men—a reformer, founder of convents, author and contemplative. She embodied contradiction, a petite woman who was larger than life, who possessed a zest for life and laughter that made her invincible in the face of adversity.
Yet, what most impressed me about Teresa was her love of Jesus and her intimate relationship with him.
Teresa experienced mystical visions and communed with Jesus in ways I could only dream of.
I was blown away by the picture in my textbook of Bernini’s sculpture, “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” Bernini depicted Teresa’s vision of an angel who pierced her heart with a golden spear, setting her on fire with a great love of God.
How I wished to get so close to God, to become one with him like Teresa! But I was no saint, no nun, no mystic. I felt disappointed that these experiences were reserved for the holy ones. I was, after all, just a Catholic-school girl, unworthy of such an honor.
But my feelings of unworthiness didn’t vanish my fascination with Teresa.
I visited her convent in Avila and devoured her masterpiece “The Interior Castle.”
Teresa’s writing in old Spanish was hard to understand and to process, but one thing stood out.
Teresa warned her nuns, who like me, longed to experience the ecstasy of union with Jesus, that if they aspired communion with Jesus, they had to share in his passion as well.
That thought terrified me. Was I brave enough to endure the pain of a spear through my heart to commune with Jesus?
That seemed like an extraordinary feat for an ordinary girl.
But Jesus had a surprise for me. He wanted to commune with me.
Many years later, I was diagnosed with chronic daily migraines and suffered unspeakable pain.
I then remembered that Teresa, too, suffered from excruciating headaches and learned that she was the patron saint of headache sufferers.
Encouraged by Teresa’s suffering, I wondered if this affliction could bring me closer to God and began a contemplative practice.
By serendipity, I also found an old copy of Anthony de Mello’s book “Sadhana, a Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form.”
This book fired up my spiritual evolution and taught me that there are unlimited ways to experience God.
De Mello revealed Teresa as someone who “scaled the heights of mystical union with God” and who lived grateful for a scattered mind that forced her to take prayer from the realm of thought into the realm of affection and fantasy through the use of imagery.
I accepted the invitation to pray like Teresa, in fantasy. In my heart, I comforted Jesus at the garden of Gethsemane. I became the woman of who touched Jesus’ cloak knowing He would heal me.
I delighted in countless hours in silence, meditating on the love I felt for this God who led me through an unexpected path to unwavering faith and spiritual healing.
While I lost my health, my career and many things I held dear, I realized that I was offered a unique opportunity to partake in the passion of Jesus.
I understood that I did not have to be a saint to experience a delicious communion with God.
It dawned on me that when you sincerely seek God, God will meet you wherever you are. That God wants a relationship with you as much as you want a relationship with Him.
That you don’t have to be a nun or a saint to be one with God.
God offers all of us an invitation to join him in the silence. No magic words are needed. No VIP status required. Just a sincere desire to meet.
My illness was a gift. It was a portal to a deep connection with God. A connection I would not trade for the health I previously enjoyed.
Seven years have passed since the onset of my illness.
I no longer have headaches every day. But I get occasional bouts of migraines that can last for months at a time.
Instead of living with fear of a relapse, I have learned to feel peaceful in the midst of uncertainty and loss.
One thing I know for sure… I can access God in sickness and in health. In the world and out of it.
I have no doubt that God and I are in this together–for the rest of my life.
And I am grateful for the gift of illness, my portal to spirituality.
Sonia Frontera is a contemplative, empowerment trainer and author. Her writing invites readers to discover paths to spirituality in everyday situations and personal adversity. Visit Sonia’s internet home at SoniaFrontera.com. Follow Sonia on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sistersguides/.