Teresa’s Bookmark

My gym has a line of large TVs which are suspended from the ceiling over the cardio workout area. They are all usually kept on mute, but I find my eye scanning back and forth across them while I do my cardio. Yesterday evening while working out, I found myself fixated on the coverage of the just-released body camera footage from the Chicago police officer who fatally shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo. The news was looping the footage over and over again and, even though I could not hear the reporting, and even though I do not know all the details surrounding the incident I felt a deep frustration and sadness welling up inside me. It seems that we are confronted with death everywhere we look some days, and in many cases… death that feels pointless… death that can leave us feeling helpless.

In my Community, we are given a patron saint when we take our first vows. Mine is Teresa of Avila, whose writings are regarded as among the most remarkable of the church’s mystic literature, and one of only four Doctors of the Church who were women. She was known for many wonderful prayers and reflections, but one of Teresa’s most famous teachings is a poem known as “Teresa’s Bookmark” that was found in her own prayer book after her death:

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing upset you.
Everything changes.
God alone is unchanging.
With patience all things are possible.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.

Wow– There is so much to unpack in this brief prayer, and while just reciting it plucks my soul like a harp string causing it to reverberate within me, I can’t help feeling as though Teresa is asking the impossible. Let nothing disturb you? Let nothing upset you? How on earth is that state of mind possible? Well, I feel what she is inviting us into is a state of soul not a state of mind. The mind will fret. The mind will fear. The mind will evade and compartmentalize, but the soul is always calling us back to the reality of God. The soul is grounded in the truth that “God alone is unchanging.”

The real powerful statement in this prayer for me is that “with patience all things are possible.” Because to have true and deep patience is to rest your hope in God alone and when we can do that, everything is open to us and we realize that our true self cannot be disturbed or upset even while our mind may still be reeling. The Psalmist knew this too. “Ye, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4)

I’m not saying reaching this “state of soul” is not challenging at first. But I truly believe that the more we practice this deeply rooted trust in God, the easier it becomes, until at last we truly understand that God alone is enough in every moment and in every breath.

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