måndag 8 mars 2010

Teresa - en kvinna för vår tid

På internationella kvinnodagen (som firar 100 år i år) kanske det kan passa bra att lyfta fram en kvinna ur kyrkohistorien... Inte okontroversiell. Varken då eller nu. Men spännande.

Läste just en artikel om Teresa av Ávila. Läs den gärna i sin helhet. Nedan några utdrag.


"At the time Teresa began to experience raptures, the church was highly suspicious of mystics, particularly if they were women. Most of Teresa’s spiritual directors dismissed her experiences as inauthentic or even demonic. In reaction to the Protestant Reformation, the church took a strong stand against the notion of personal, unmediated religious experience. Mystical enlightenment as described by Teresa seemed dangerously similar to certain ideas that were considered heretical.

In fact, by adopting a meditative-contemplative approach to spirituality, Teresa was reaching back to primitive Christian prayer practices. By Teresa’s time, Catholic prayer had become mechanical and often perfunctory. Devotional practices were largely dictated by letrados, male intellectuals or “lettered men” suspicious of the affective spirituality often practiced by less educated people, including women. They insisted that common people should limit their religious activities to vocal prayer and established rituals such as processions and ceremonial exercises. Although Teresa accepted the value of vocal prayer, she saw mental prayer as a means of seeking a more direct, personal, and authentic relationship with God.


Teresa’s situation was aggravated by the church’s attitude toward women, widely believed to be hysterical by nature (hysterikós means “related to the uterus” in Greek). Religious ecstasy was often seen as a manifestation of the natural mental instability of women. Teresa’s confessors hounded her to the point that she began to doubt the authenticity of her own experiences. However, with the help of other priests, among them supportive Jesuits, she found the self-confidence she needed to forge ahead.


There are certainly justifications for viewing Teresa as a proto-feminist. At a time when letrados devalued women’s spiritual experience, Teresa provided women with a space to pursue the perfection of the soul. She gave women an active role in combating Protestantism through prayer and gave them career opportunities (administrator, chronicler, accountant, pharmacist, teacher) not available to them outside the convent. She promoted women’s literacy by stipulating that all Discalced Carmelite nuns learn to read. Still, too much emphasis on Teresa’s defiance of sixteenth-century gender limitations can distort or obscure the spiritual wisdom she developed as a woman of her times.

The tendency to reconstruct Teresa is not a new phenomenon. Seventeenth-century Carmelite friars, embarrassed that their order had been founded by a strong, opinionated woman, invented an image of Teresa more in keeping with their requirements. Teresa wrote many business letters that show her to be a smart, savvy, strong-willed woman, but when Friar Juan de la Presentación undertook the compilation of her epistolary writing in 1654, he included only those letters that might have doctrinal or inspirational value. Furthermore, the collection, which was published by Juan de Palafox in 1658, contains apocryphal letters meant to portray Teresa as obedient and submissive. The visual image of Teresa evolved during this period as well. Christopher Wilson has demonstrated that early images of Teresa and John of the Cross depict Teresa as an imposing figure, sometimes towering over her friend. However, by the eighteenth century, John has become the dominant figure, and Teresa his diffident admirer.

In popularizing and politicizing Teresa today, some admirers likewise pick and choose segments of her teachings that reinforce their own beliefs, overlooking those elements they find inconvenient: her strong Catholic identity, her intolerance of other faiths, her respect for the sacraments, her misogynist rhetoric. But reconstructing Teresa as a New Age guru of spiritual love, unconcerned with the material world and the nitty-gritty of everyday living, devalues more than her Catholic faith and historical context. It also detracts from her humanity. Teresa was not an ethereal character who spent her life in a state of rapture. She was a flesh-and-blood woman, intelligent, shrewd, warm, funny, and sometimes temperamental. A story has it that an admirer once remarked on her voracious appetite: “For such a holy woman, you certainly pack it in.” “Listen,” Teresa retorted, “when I pray, I pray, and when I eat, I eat!”"

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