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Faith Matters: Seeking simplicity in sandals

Walking in the Footsteps of Teresa of Ávila

  • Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy, Wednesday in Historic Deerfield, Oct. 9, 2018. Staff/Dan Little

  • Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy, Wednesday in Historic Deerfield, Oct. 9, 2018. Staff/Dan Little

  • Jan Flaska, dean of spiritual and ethical life at Deerfield Academy, in Old Deerfield. Staff/Dan Little

  • Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy, Wednesday in Historic Deerfield, Oct. 9, 2018. Staff/Dan Little

  • Avila in central Spain Contributed photo



Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy
Friday, October 12, 2018

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com)

Born in the early 16th century into nobility, whose devoutly Catholic family had lived for generations within the walls surrounding the city of Ávila, centrally located in Spain, Teresa — in her teenage years — encountered after-effects of war through Crusades, the wanton devastation of the European Plague, the rapid advance of the Reformation, and the sudden death of her mother.

In her early adulthood and in recovering from an unexplainable bout of paralysis, she discovered comfort in silent attentiveness through prayer. Her devotion drew followers, and the order she helped to found came to be known as the Order of Discalced Carmelites — a Christian religious order “without shoes.” Symbolically, in a response to what appeared to be a divergence from the simple and clear truth of the Gospels as it was being presented in secular and religious communities, she removed her shoes and replaced them with sandals.

Through tumultuous times, Teresa turned inward to prayer and looked for guidance in spiritual literature. In her, one can recognize the virtue of contemplative practices and the worth of pursuing the figurative “simple pleasures” in life.

In March, students at Deerfield Academy will walk in the footsteps of Saint Teresa, recognizing abundant evidence of her past presence. This path, trodden in the Castile and León region, will search to identify how Teresa’s simple and daily lived life — her cotidianidad, to appropriate a Spanish word — might resonate with their own.

Centuries after Teresa’s life, a visit to Ávila inspires one’s soul through the remaining aesthetics that so purely remind one of what it was like to live in a time and place far removed from what is familiar to us now. The fortified wall that encircles the old town center is more like a ruin to be admired for its historic worth, yet its presence invites a virtual empathetic portrait of the feeling one likely felt living in a place that so clearly delineates an “outside” society and an “inside” existence. One can easily surmise that such a setting contributed heavily to the inspiration that would lead to her reflective canon, “The Interior Castle.” Prior to that seminal book, though, came “Way of Perfection,” also comparably suited to instruct.

In “Way of Perfection,” Saint Teresa references familiar concerns that she has for the sisters she leads in the Convent of Saint Joseph in Ávila, knowing that the lures of societal living — at that time — were amplified through unregulated internal “temptations which come from the devil, and which, because they are so slight, are apt to pass unnoticed.” She continues, “(for this reason) I am lacking neither in love nor in desire to do all I can to help the souls of my sisters.”

Teresa, in her time, sought “radical solutions to [the most] agonizing problems,” and those solutions inevitably led her and the sisters under her care to be guided to seek perfect solitude through contemplative practices. For her, God was a necessary partner toward internal freedom even if the cloistered walls of the convent presented an external barrier; one that lives in the presence of God understands that the Holy Spirit finds no material barriers to personal contact with the pious and those that are seeking some degree of that enlightened spiritual life. The way toward that perfect freedom was through the “mystical path of prayer.”

Though times have changed, the idiomatic effort to walk in the sandals of another can yield a great bounty. Teresa’s “way” — one of simplicity and union with the common human experience — continues to be a worthy way to follow.

About Deerfield Academy

Deerfield Academy is an independent boarding and day school located in Deerfield, educating students in grades 9-12. Founded in 1797, the Academy prepares students for leadership in a rapidly changing world that requires global understanding, environmental stewardship, and dedication to service. Acknowledging that the spiritual formation of adolescents is a priority among others, students at Deerfield Academy embrace their various pursuits in a spirit of humility, empathy and responsibility.