In 1515, 300 years before Emily Dickinson, Teresa of Avila was born in Spain to Catholic parents, two years before the Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther rocked the Christian world. As a Mother Superior of the contemplative Carmelite order, she was the first woman to be named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI, in 1970.
Speaking to the nuns in her keeping she wrote, “For humility is the principle virtue which must be practiced by those who pray, and…it is very fitting that you should try to learn how to practice it often…it should be known by all those who practice prayer” (Avila 50).
In his first letter to the churches in what is now Turkey, Peter wrote, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (ESV 1 Peter 5:7).
Saint Teresa in writing to the women in her care, and Saint Paul in writing to the churches in his care, encouraged the men and women for whom they were a spiritual mother and father to walk in humility towards one another, and towards God, by casting all their cares on him. Why is this important? Because this humility, this casting all our cares onto Christ - not in lifting ourselves above another, not in indulging in worry or blame, not by living in fear - but allowing the mighty hand of God to lift us up above the cares of the world and resting in the shelter of his wings, is a demonstration of trust.
We cannot have hope without trust, and we cannot have trust without faith. Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the substance and the assurance of what we hope for, and the evidence of things that we don’t yet see. Romans 8:24-25 says, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (ESV).
“’Hope’ is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all – “
This winged hope that makes its home in our souls is as invincible as it is invisible. We cannot see the hand of God in action, but we do see and feel and live in the working out of his will in our lives.
Jesus did not promise that our time in this world would be carefree, but he did instruct us to cast all our cares onto him so that he can exchange our burden – which is much too heavy for us to bear – for his burden, which is light and easy, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
King David, the sweet Psalmist, who was also a poet, wrote that we who “…dwell in the shelter of the Most High will abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (ESV Psalm 91:1). Almighty God is the same One under whose wings we find refuge from every storm, because we can have absolute trust in his faithfulness toward us. This sure and steadfast hope is the anchor for our souls (Hebrews 6:19).
Avila, Teresa. The Way of Perfection. 1st ed. Ed. & Trans. E. Allison Peers. Ignacio Hills Press, 29 July 2009. Ebook. Kindle.
Dickinson, Emily. The Seagull Book of Poems. 4th ed. Ed. Joseph Kelly. 79 - 83. New York: Norton, 2018. Print.
“St. Teresa of Avila: Spanish Mystic”. Encyclopaedia Britannica. n.d. Web. britannica.com/biography/Saint-Teresa-of-Avila. 10 March 2019.