The Way of Perfection
Publisher: Dover Publications
This classic of the interior life and Christian mysticism remains as fresh and inspiring today as it was 400 years ago. Written by a prominent sixteenth-century Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, it forms a practical guide to prayer that embraces readers with its warmth and accessibility.
St. Teresa of Avila's detailed directions on the achievement of spiritual perfection designate three essentials — fraternal love, detachment from material things, and true humility. She discusses a variety of maxims related to the practice of prayer and concludes with a thought-provoking commentary on the Lord's Prayer. A work of sublime mystical beauty, The Way of Perfection is above all a treatise of utter simplicity that offers lucid instruction to all seekers of a more meaningful way of life.
St. Teresa of Avila was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun and author during the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer. She was a reformer in the Carmelite Order of her time and the movement she initiated, later joined by Saint John of the Cross, eventually led to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites, though neither she nor Saint John were alive when the two orders separated.
I delved into this book because I really wanted to know how to pray better; so who better to turn to than one of the great stalwart contemplatives of Carmelite spirituality?
As St. Teresa will tell you, praying well isn’t just about effort and focusing on the right thoughts. First and foremost, it’s about developing various virtues in yourself. The more you work at developing your interior life, on focusing on things like charity, humility, and detachment of worldly things, the better you’ll be able to pray, and the more pleasing your prayers will be to God. St. Teresa starts off by explaining in detail how to develop these three virtues.
One of the other themes St. Teresa talks about is discerning whether to engage in mental prayer like a contemplative, or vocal prayer. This is very important, because people pray differently. For some people, vocal prayer is the ideal way to go. St. Teresa will help you make a decision on this matter.
When it comes to prayer itself, the entire focus is on the Lord’s Prayer – the Our Father. She walks you through a meditation of sorts on each step of the prayer. She has special insights into the depth of the meaning of each line, such as what is meant by “Give us this day our daily bread.” Are we talking about our daily needs, or the Eucharist, or God’s Grace, or all of these things combined?
Also, I highly recommend reading this book with a pen and writing down notes.
For modern people, St. Teresa poses one of the toughest reads there is because her writing style is old-fashioned, and the concepts she expresses are deep and elongated. I had to reread many of her paragraphs to fully grasp what she was communicating. I don’t recommend this book if you’re just dipping your toes into spiritual reading. But I heartily recommend it if you are one of those avid spiritual readers who just can’t get enough of the saints.
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