In her book, The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila offers advice and counsel to her nuns. She is writing with them in mind, but indeed for anyone who finds themselves desiring to follow Christ and live an authentic life of prayer.
From chapter 27 onwards she offers us her commentary on The Our Father.
This prayer, Teresa tells us contains; ‘many deep secrets, indeed the entire spiritual life is contained in it, from the beginning stages until God engulfs the soul and gives it to drink abundantly from the fount of living water. (WP 42:5)
At this fount of living water, we are told, the thirst for earthy things is taken away and the person grows in the service of God, in the service of love. This is a person who ‘loves easily’.
The first words of the prayer take us straight to the heart of it…
‘Our Father who art in heaven’…here the Son, according to Teresa is eager for us to understand the nature of the place where the Father dwells, until reading Teresa I had always imagined the Father, distant, in a place called heaven, somewhere out there. Instead, we are offered an image of heaven which is not out there, but in here, that is within the person, within each of us.
‘This little heaven of the soul, where the maker of heaven and earth is present.’ Teresa’s teaching on prayer is an invitation to enter within, to enclose ourselves within this little heaven. (WP 28:5) She quotes St. Augustine who sought God in many places but ultimately found him within himself.
- She is eager for us to understand that God is everywhere and wherever God is there is heaven. (WP 28:2) So, far from being some distant place, unattainable to most people, we discover heaven is everywhere and most beautifully, is a place deep within each and every one of us, a place where we can be with and communicate with our Father at any time. Already this sets a very different atmosphere as we begin this prayer, something which is both intimate and inclusive, uniting us with God and indeed the whole of his creation, of humanity. John of the Cross affirms this when he tells us that; ‘God dwells secretly in all souls.’ The emphasis is on all, not just some, not just those chosen, but all!
Therefore, for Teresa it follows that when we pray ‘thy Kingdom come’, we are praying for God’s Kingdom to come within each and every one of us, within every human soul.