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St. Teresa of Avila

Earlier today, I went out and rode my bicycle around my neighborhood. In the northwestern parts of the country, January is usually the time of year when we are under a blanket of snow and the temperatures outside are freezing. This year, however, we have been blessed with gentle rains and rather temperate, spring-like temperatures. It is good to be out in the sun and enjoying one’s time.

For the last year or so, I have been riding my bicycle around town whenever I have an opportunity. I find that it is an enjoyable way to exercise. One sees the neighborhood in slow motion and meets one’s neighbors in a way that one cannot when riding a bicycle. There are also other things that happen on a bicycle. For instance, one can smell the smoke coming out of a chimney or the sound of a child crying. In a car, we are sound proof in the sense that we do not hear what is going on around us.  Instead, we are focused on our own little world in which we live.

A few months ago, I went on a 34 mile ride around town. It was a glorious autumn day and I was out of the house for something like four hours. Almost the entire ride was spent in a state of ecstasy. Not in the religious sense, of course, but in amazement at what my body could do. I had never anticipated that I would be able to ride so far in a couple of hours or that my “weak” legs would be able to support me. But there it was, I made one of the longest trips on a bicycle and was intensely proud of myself.

I think that there are moments in the spiritual life when we are enthralled by God. Around this time last year, I was sitting on a bench and waiting for the bus to come. The sunset was one of the most glorious that I had seen in a while. But what made that particular moment even more special was the way everything was integrated into one. The psalms in the breviary were talking about the importance of brotherhood and how wonderful it is for us to go to the house of the Lord.

For an instant, I felt a sort of union that I cannot described. I felt so happy interiorly that I wanted to burst out of my own skin. As wonderful as that experience was, it faded in the next moment. Yet I have continued to treasure it because God clearly showed me the synchronicity of his works and how all things can work together for our salvation.

In our daily life, we often don’t get glimpses like the one that I have described. But what we do receive are insights into the journey. Just like the man who is climbing a high mountain, there are moments during the ascent when he looks back on the landscape around him. He sees far below him the verdant valley where he was only hours before and, towering high above him, the majestic peak that he is yet to reach.

We receive these insights as well. Sometimes, it is a peace that fills us during prayer or a moment when things come together. The spiritual writers call these little insights “consolations” because God uses them to comfort us on our long journey.

St. Teresa of Avila writes in one of her books that the more she prayed and practiced her Rule, the more consolations she received. It is this way also for us. The more we pray and sacrifice, the more we will be given by God to use for our salvation.  The higher we rise, the more graces and merits we will acquire.

Yet God does not give us these insights and consolations every single day. Sometimes, they come every couple of months or years. We do not really know the time, but when they do come we feel that we are there on the seventeenth and final mile of our bike ride thrilled, exhausted, and refreshed at the same time.