Draw your gaze inward, we were instructed in a yoga class yesterday morning. Draw your gaze inward. Such a kind invitation.
Teresa of Avila, 16th century Carmelite nun, mystic, and author is celebrated on the liturgical calendar today. Teresa’s interior life was richly colored, sometimes tormented, by visions of God and deeper understandings of sin. She believed in the importance of what she called oratio mentalis, and said that “mental prayer” in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.
What she called “mental prayer” might be more gently described as interior prayer. It is a form of prayer requiring contemplation of God’s words and presence in our lives. It is a time of silence that frees our minds to focus on God, to be in conversation with God, an idea perhaps known to many of you as “contemplative prayer.” A time to draw your gaze inward. But what will you experience there?
Choirs at St. Alban’s this coming Sunday will sing a brief motet, which takes its text from a Sarum antiphon used in the early English church, by British composer William Harris. In it we are reminded that we ourselves are tabernacles for God, and as such we are holy. The word tabernacle has different, though related, meanings for Jews and for Christians, but it might be simply defined as a dwelling place. A place where God dwells and where God might be experienced, if you draw your gaze inward.
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with you,
and the Spirit God dwelleth within you.
For the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
For the love of whom ye do this day celebrate the joys of the temple
with a season of festivity. Alleluia.