This is my review of Cathleen Medwick's  TERESAOF AVILA: The Progress of a Soul 
My psychic or mystical experiences frankly scare me. Am I a witch? Am I crazy? What is going on. But the more I read about others, even saints, who've had these type of experiences, the more confident I am that God guides us in many ways. This is wonderful book that simply presents the known facts and first-person testimony about the famous mystic and Catholic saint Teresa of Avila's life, as well as her own interpretation of what happened to her.
People are often skeptical when someone writes of their own mystical experiences. Was Paul really struck down on the road to Damascus? It seems to me that Paul's writings prove him to be so intelligent and sophisticated that it validates the truth of what he says happened to him. The same is true of Teresa of Avila. 
Bernini's statue the Ecstasy of Teresa of Avila
Teresa of Avila was an earthy woman with an astonishing sensibility and capacity for religious ecstasy. God wounded her with his arrows the way Eros or Cupid wounds the rest of us with mortal love. Does that make her a saint or a canny sinner? Well, the great thing about this book is you get the fascinating story of this fascinating woman, as well as plenty of engagingly presented historical fact, so that you feel you have met Teresa, walked a few miles in her company, have a clearer idea of who she was as a real person and can make up your own mind. This is a brilliant and delightful book, well worth reading, no matter what you believe about Teresa of Avila. 
I discovered Teresa and John of the Cross because they kept me alive after the death of my husband. When I realized my husband was going to die, and that it would be soon, I began to experience what I immediately knew was a 'dark night of the soul.' Not being Catholic, I had no real idea of what those words meant or where they came from, but felt their truth instinctively. They do not refer to depression, they are about your soul being lost in the dark; everything you've ever known is obscured by the dark. With my husband's passing, everything we'd worked for together was to be lost completely and forever, without ever coming to fruition. If I had never been sure I'd had a soul, I knew I had one then, because it was like my mainspring stopped functioning. 
First, I read Gerald G. May's book, The Dark Night ofthe Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and SpiritualGrowth. I had never heard of Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross, so this was all new to me. But I had lost everything, every belief, every dream and the greatest love of my life. These two mystics helped me understand the darkness that enlightens, the wounds of love that open our souls to God. 
This biography of Teresa, Teresa of Avila: The Progress of a Soul is the first book I have read on this saint. I found it to be a perfect introduction to Teresa for me. It is a lively book, engagingly written. I could not put it down. The author gives us an understanding of the historical context of Teresa's life and choices, without ever being condescending or polemical. 
And the role of EROS in Teresa's life is neither exploited nor ignored. These were live men and women working out their faith together in the confines of a monastic life. Eros, love, is the ancient God of all creation. I do not think that Christ was advocating or preaching that the world was created to be without eros or sexuality. And if Teresa's 'raptures' were erotic passions, I believe, like the Church, that they were the pure love of God. 
Teresa is so wise and at the same time, so practical about her experiences, that her words have all the homey veracity of women chatting at a quilting bee. And, in the face of obstacles which are truly insurmountable, her life and accomplishments are so astonishing that they, by themselves, are proof that she had divine guidance and help. 
The author doesn't sneer at or make fun of Teresa's mystical experiences. She states them and leaves the reader to make up their own mind, as their own experiences and ideas dictate. I, for one, firmly believe that God spoke to Teresa, often and clearly. And I believe that Teresa was fully human. And when I read what Teresa and John struggled against in the Catholic Church in their lives in the Spain of that era, I'm sure that both MUST have had God's help or they would not have survived, much less done all that they did. Neither of them, as you get to know them in the book, are fanatics or even mildly nutty. 
Sadly, murder and torture were common practices of the Catholic/Christian religious leaders in this era in Spain. Teresa is constantly imploring her friends to eat boiled eggs in the shell for fear of their being poisoned by priestly enemies. John of the Cross is imprisoned and flogged by fellow priests. And then, of course, there was the Spanish Inquisition. 
There is mention that she attributes certain actions to the devil misleading people. It's shocking to me that such things were accepted, but the past is often shocking to my modern sensibility, so I am reserving judgement. 
I loved this book. It is a great biography because Teresa comes alive as a real person. I felt I knew her very well and that she was well worth knowing and knowing better. This is a fascinating book about a fascinating woman, a woman who changed the history of her country and her faith, a woman who became a saint. Does it get better than that?

This is the strangest afterlife story you will ever read. A man with a divided soul, one in hell and one in heaven, came back to confess the truth and expose how the devil ruined his life. A must read for anyone struggling to reconcile sin and mental illness.


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