Who Art in Heaven
from St. Teresa of Avila
Do you suppose it is of little consequence whether or not you know what this heaven is, and where you must seek your most holy Father? I assure you that it is most important for restless minds not only to know this but to realize it by experience, for it is a most efficient means of concentrating the thoughts, and of recollecting the soul. You know that God is everywhere, which is most true. Now, the place in which the king dwells is called his court: so, wherever God dwells, there is heaven, and you may feel sure that all which is glorious is near His Majesty.
Remember what St. Augustine tells us — I think it comes in his Meditations (Soliloquia of St. Augustine); how he sought God in many places and at last found the Almighty within himself. It is of no slight importance for a soul given to wandering thoughts to realize this truth and see that it has no need to go to heaven in order to speak to the eternal Father or enjoy His company: nor is it requisite to raise the voice to address Him, for He hears every whisper however low. We are not forced to take wings to find Him, but have only to seek solitude and to look within ourselves. You need not be overwhelmed with confusion before so kind a Guest, but, with utter humility, talk to Him as to your Father: ask for what you want as from a father: tell Him your sorrows and beg Him for relief, realizing at the same time that you are unworthy to be called His daughter.
Those who are able thus to enclose themselves within the little heaven of their souls where dwells the Creator of both heaven and earth, and who can accustom themselves not to look at anything nor to remain in any place which would preoccupy their exterior senses, may feel sure that they are traveling by an excellent way, and that they will certainly attain to drink of the water from the fountain, for they will journey far in a short time. They resemble a man who goes by sea, and who, if the weather is favourable, gets in a few days to the end of a voyage which would have taken far longer by land. These souls may be said to have already put out to sea, and though they have not quite lost sight of terra firma, still they do their est to get away from it by collecting their faculties.
I wish you to understand this prayer thoroughly: as I told you, it is called the prayer of recollection. Let us realize that we have within us a most splendid palace built entirely of gold and precious stones — in short, one that is fit for so great a Lord — and that we are partly responsible for the condition of this building, because there is no structure so beautiful as a soul filled with virtues, and the more perfect these virtues are the more brilliantly do the jewels shine. Within this palace dwells the mighty King Who has deigned to become your Father, and Who is seated on a throne of priceless value — by which I mean your heart.
How wonderful it is that He Who by His immensity could fill a thousand worlds should enclose Himself within so narrow a compass! Thus was He pleased to be contained within the bosom of His most holy Mother. He is Lord, therefore He is free to act, and loving us as He does, He accommodates Himself to our measure. At first, lest the soul should feel dismayed at seeing that a thing so pretty as itself can contain One Who is infinite, He does not manifest Himself until, by degrees, He has dilated it as far as is requisite it. I say that ‘He is free to act’, because He is able to enlarge this palace.
The chief point is that we should resolutely give Him our heart for His own and should empty it of everything else, that He may take out or put in whatever He pleases as if it were His own property. This is the condition He makes, and He is right in doing so: do not let us refuse it Him. Even in this life we find visitors very troublesome at times, when we cannot tell them to go away. As Christ does not force our will, He only takes what we give Him, but He does not give Himself entirely until He sees that we yield ourselves entirely to Him. This is an undoubted truth which I insist upon so often because of its great importance. Nor does He work within the soul to the same extent when it is not wholly given to Him — indeed, I cannot see how He could, for He likes all things to be done suitably. But, if this palace is crowded with common people and rubbish, how can it receive our Lord with all His court? It would be a great condescension on His part to stay even for a very short time amid such disorder. Do you think, daughters, that He is alone when He comes to us? Does not His Son say, ‘Who art in heaven‘? The courtiers of such a King do not leave Him in solitude: they throng round Him and pray for our welfare, for they are full of charity. Do not imagine that heaven is like this world, where, if a prince or prelate shows partiality for any one for some special reason or out of friendship, other people at once feel jealous and abuse the poor man who has never injured them, so that the favours he receives cost him dear.