This picture is a detail from François Gérard’s painting of St Teresa of Ávila, a Spanish Carmelite nun, contemplative, and mystic who was born in 1515 and died in 1582. She wrote several spiritual classics considered to be masterpieces of the spiritual life, and was the first woman to be made a doctor of the church with three other females who were also designated doctors (St Catherine of Siena, St Thérèse of Lisieux, and St Hildegard von Bingen).
I adore St Teresa of Avila. It is because of her (and St Ignatius of Loyola, and so many other brilliant Spanish saints), that I took up learning Spanish (I don’t think she would be thrilled with my slow progress however, but I digress…).
The title of this post, ‘Nada te turbe’ translates from the Spanish as ‘(let) nothing disturb you’. It is part of her famous prayer which is included at the end of this post.
I have had this little prayer affixed to my bed and used in books as bookmarks for many years. While I have looked at it often, along with my half-read books written by St Teresa, only recently have I returned to her writings as a great source of comfort and reality for me, and I suspect for many others at this time.
Being a person – and especially a Catholic – who has felt great inner turmoil in recent months, the simple theology, humility, and wisdom of St Teresa of Avila has been refreshingly punchy and raw. This saint, who died over four hundred years ago, just gets it. She tells it as it is and was an ardent reader (“…I got fresh life from my continued fondness for good books.”), especially encouraging the use of books and prayer for those who may be struggling to find guidance from others, or who find themselves struggling spiritually and wandering this world alone. She is candid and real. I would strongly recommend that you to find and read her book The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself.
I have been struggling with depression and anxiety for years, and this has intensified over the past few months due to separation from the community during the lockdown, but also now because of the question of how does one re-emerge a better person than before. There is the pressure one places on oneself to make better use of the life and time given, because so many have died and no longer have this opportunity. The anger I have felt and expressed has not helped either.
All of this is not easy to admit to oneself or anyone else. Being a Catholic in this state is particularly challenging, as often one feels that we must always be smiling and joyful. Of course God wants us to be courageous as we carry our crosses, as He suffered so much for our sake. Our small minds cannot begin to comprehend the tortures He underwent for love of us. Every Christian must embrace the Cross and cannot escape it. I am very grateful for the blessings that God has given me. I love nature, the stars, the food and comforts I have every day and so on, but this all-pervasive sadness and loneliness persists. Am I, or any of us, truly happy at all times? No.
I used to be happier when I had dreams and hopes about how life could turn out for me. I had high expectations for myself about the future and achieving certain life milestones. But none of it happened for me. Not yet anyway, but one feels that time is running out. Life throws a curveball or two along the way, we fall into a hole, we sin, we are affected by the behaviour of others, and we then find the years passing by more quickly than we expected. We find ourselves left in a heap realising that we have actually achieved very little at all, and that we have wasted so much time doing things that never mattered to our hearts. We need forgiveness (for ourselves and others).
So, after these challenging months what if you are or have become the depressed Catholic?
The maudlin Catholic?
The Catholic with the sullen face and sunken eyes?
The Catholic who is angry at God right now?
The Catholic who is out of work, single, alone, scared, or even wounded?
No one hears about this type of Catholic because we are good at hiding how we truly feel, aren’t we? We are supposed to detach and flick off negativity like water off a duck’s back. We repress, suppress, and force ourselves to go on singing like a jukebox that never runs out of coins.
We feel evil if we dare to reveal this side of ourselves and admit that we may be struggling, even a little bit.
We feel ashamed because we ought to be different and be shining examples of heaven on earth.
Catholics – I don’t think God wants us to hide like that. I think He would want us to get real like St Teresa of Avila and the many other wonderful saints like her. I refuse to believe that God isn’t big enough to already know that sometimes, or copious times, we are a complete mess and totally stuff things up. I think He would want us to have it out with Him, like St Teresa says in my retreat book today: “Avoid being bashful with God…Do not be foolish; ask Him to let you speak to Him…” from Let Nothing Disturb You (30 Days With a Great Spiritual Teacher) – Teresa of Avila.
Did you know that there were saints who suffered from depression, but they never gave up?
Did you know that there is a patron saint for depression?
If you study Scripture (please do, even for just ten minutes a day), did you know that God makes plenty of room there to hear the pleas of those who are depressed and despairing? He graciously makes allowances for this, with one caveat, that we must turn to Him and know that He hears us:
Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear my prayer, O Lord; let my cry come to you.
Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress…
Do you want some more examples?
Friends, please read this prayer several times over by the wonderful St Teresa of Avila, and allow it to sink deep, deep into your heart. We are loved by a God who has not forgotten us.
Nada te turbe,
nada te espante,
todo se pasa,
Dios no se muda.
La paciencia todo lo alcanza
quien a Dios tiene
nada le falta:
sólo Dios basta
(See this prayer in St Teresa’s own handwriting)
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things pass away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
Nada Te Turbe – A Virtual Choir of Carmelites
Composed by Claire Sokol, OCD.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons