Saturday, 31 December 2011

Last day of 2011: Cor Iesu, desiderium collium aeternorum.

This year has been one which I  have devoted to exploring  - or searching for -  the Sacred Heart. In truth I had no idea what this was to mean, or where it would take me.  But looking back over the past 12 months it has been perhaps the most transformative period of my life.  And I don’t think this blog is the place to document this.  However, it is enough to say that I have experienced how very powerful the devotion is as a way of providing a focus for ones daily spiritual life: and having started I realize that my journey has only just begun!  The Sacred Heart is indeed the summary of our Catholic faith, and the rediscovery of its role in the life of the Church seems to me absolutely necessary for the Church in the 21st century.  I cannot imagine how I would have undertaken this journey without the icon as a focus and a map. So I am very much in debt to Ian for undertaking the commission.   A year on I know that I have barely scratched the surface.  Reading the icon has been like climbing up a mountain and feeling exhilarated by looking down on how far I have come, only to appreciate that I am merely on the foothills looking up at the mountain peak towering above.  Or  it is like I have just entered my interior castle and heard the sound of the divine milieu calling me to find the centre? 

A while ago I came across a copy of Auguste Valensin’s  Joy in the Faith*.   Valensin and Teilhard were both  Jesuits and the greatest of  friends and his book  serves to remind me that thus far I have spent little time actually exploring the role of the Sacred Heart in the  Jesuit tradition. Today I read a passage in Valensin’s book which prompts me to begin the new year by taking a new (Jesuit) path towards the ‘desire of the everlasting hills’.  Valensin observes that the Sacred Heart of Jesus  is the ‘image and expression of the Father’s heart’.  He reflects on the fact that the gospels record that Jesus was often moved to tears and that ‘He allows  himself to be conquered by his tender love.’  Valensin prays;

Jesus, as You have wept  for others rather than yourself, allow me to follow your example!  May a full nature flourish within me..’  (Joy in the Faith, Desclee, New York, 1958, pp 99-101)

That seems a good prayer and a good sign post for the coming year.

* La Joie dans la Foi, Paris 1955) 

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Teilhard and Christmas

If I had to chose one passage from Teilhard which had the most impact on me as a teenager it was his observation on Christmas  contained in The Hymn of the Universe.   I have it before me now marked and underlined with the word ' Christmas' in blue ink.  I remember reading it out at a meeting as a student where people were asked to say what Christmas meant to them.   Many years have past, but to me what Teilhard says still captures  the enormity of what we celebrate on this day: nothing less than the beginning of a new phase in the evolution of mankind.  This is why the stars moved and the Angels sang ' Gloria in Excelsis Deo!'   What happened in the stable was a cosmic and biological event: the Word of God became flesh. The Word of God began to beat and pulse through all creation with a human heart.   It beats still: if only we listen and follow. 

The prodigious expanses of time which preceded the first Christmas were not empty of Christ: they were imbued with the influx of his power. It was the ferment of his conception that stirred up the cosmic masses and directed the initial developments of the biosphere. It was the travail preceding his birth that accelerated the development of instinct and the birth of thought upon the earth. Let us have done with the stupidity which makes a stumbling-block of the endless eras of expectancy imposed on us by the Messiah; the fearful, anonymous labours of primitive man, the beauty fashioned through its age-long history by ancient Egypt, the anxious expectancies of Israel, the patient distilling of the attar of oriental mysticism, the endless refining of wisdom by the Greeks: all these were needed before the Flower could blossom on the rod of Jesse and of all humanity. All these preparatory processes were cosmically and biologically necessary that Christ might set foot upon our human stage. And all this labour was set in motion by the active, creative awakening of his soul inasmuch as that human soul had been chosen to breathe life into the universe. When Christ first appeared before men in the arms of Mary he had already stirred up the world. (Hymn of the Universe, p70) 

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Eve: Venite Adoremus

This  Advent has been one of preparing for Christmas by taking the road from mount Carmel to Bethlehem in the company of St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross as well as  Teilhard.   And a very enlightening trip it has been.  I am still trying to make sense of what I have learnt about preparing my heart or my stable to receive the Christ child.  I think to sum up what I have learnt is that mystical writings of the Carmelite tradition have considerable relevance for us who do not live the kind of lives led by Carmelites.  If we are to find Christ we have to find ourselves: we have to try and free ourselves from all the things which get in the way of becoming closer and nearer to the love of God.  But we must not delude ourselves that this is easy: finding Christ in all things and in our very centre and core is an enormous challenge.  We often have to look for the love of God in the darkest of dark places when we can see little light and joy.  We have to find God when we fail, or when are lonely, afraid and in pain.  The writings of St Teresa and St. John  provide us with powerful insights and disciplines into the great task of purifying our hearts.  These were evidently an inspiration to Teilhard’s own mysticism.   And what all three show us is that it is that our religious life needs a mystical dimension, as fire needs oxygen.  For me Teilhard is more relevant to what that can mean for me because he was someone who lived in the wide-wide world: he travelled to the most distant parts of the world, but he also travelled deep within his own ‘interior castle.’  He shows us how a mystical understanding of our world and cosmos is vital for us to grasp the profound significance of the evolution of our souls as of the cosmos.  As Francis Kelly Nemeck and  Theresa Coombs show in their book  – despite the differences in language – Teilhard was remarkably close to what St. John has to tell us about dealing with our ‘dark nights’ and our ‘ diminishments’.   And thus, I think Teilhard captures so much of what I have learnt this Advent about purifying our hearts.   If we want to welcome the Child of Bethlehem in our hearts this Christmas  we have to ADORE  Him.  That is we have to adore God and only God.  As Teilhard says:

To adore …That means to lose oneself in the unfathomable, to plunge into the inexhaustible, to find peace in the incorruptible, to be absorbed in defined immensity, to offer oneself to the fire and the transparency, to annihilate oneself in proportion as one becomes more deliberately conscious of oneself, and to give of one's deepest to that whose depth has no end. Whom, then, can we adore? The more man becomes man, the more will he become prey to a need, a need that is always more explicit, more subtle and more magnificent, the need to adore. ( The Divine Milieu, p 127-8)

It is when we as individuals and as societies lose ourselves in the fathomable, exhaustible, and corruptible  things of this world that we lose sight of the light of God shining out of the stable.  And from this stems so much human misery.  It is only when we lose ourselves in God that we really find ourselves.  It is when the heart of Jesus beats within us as it did in Mary’s womb  and when we are wholly receptive and open to God’s will that we become the person we are meant to be.  And thus on this holy night I will sing ‘Venite Adoremus’ with a new sense of what it means.  The answer to my question was there all along in the stable.  We purify our hearts by adoring the baby who is Alpha and Omega.

Adeste, fideles,

Laeti triumphantes,

Venite, venite in Bethlehem.

Natum videte
Regem angelorum.

Venite adoremus,

Friday, 23 December 2011

Last week of Advent: the blessing of the icon

It was appropriate that the blessing of the icon took place in the last week of Advent.  Our parish priest did the honours  and afterwards we had an excellent supper to celebrate.   It was a simple, but moving little ceremony which meant so much our family.  We asked God to: 'Bless and make holy this icon created in honour and in remembrance of Your Sacred Heart. [And to]  Sanctify all who come before it in prayer.'

And this line captured for us what the icon is ultimately is for: to act as a focus for prayer for all those who call upon the Lord in true faith and with a pure heart.

With the icon now blessed it feels somehow far more part of the family!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Remembering St. John of the Cross

I have a terrible confession to make.  Although this day is very special to me I have never once, in all these years, realised that it is the day when the Church asks us to remember the life and work of St. John of the Cross.  And yet there it was, all along.  Waiting for me to discover it.  It was a while ago now that reading this icon lead me to the Carmelite tradition, by way of an old Chaplain and a much loved picture in my junior school.  Since then I have been reflecting on the Sacred Heart as calling us to 'purify' our own hearts as we travel to Bethlehem this advent.   So today is a good day to put some thoughts down on what I have learnt thus far about a 'pure heart' and how this relates to Teilhard.  I was not really trying to make any connections, but just allow disparate thoughts to converge in their own time.  But, as always, all did converge!

Just a few points  to note here.  The first is, of course, St. John's 'dark night of the soul'.  They have not been my favourite times in my life.  And yet St. John makes us realise that  when we feel utterly alone and feel that God has abandoned us we are at critical points in the journey towards the divine centre. The cross on the icon for me now represents those dark nights when pain and failure and loss open the door to a deeper self-knowledge and a deeper relationship with God. Purity of heart can be a painful process: and perhaps it has to be so.   I think St. John's writings are about getting us to realise that the process of purifying the heart is about cutting out all the stuff, things, desires that get in the way of us becoming closer to God and that we have to understand that the pain of that process - carrying our cross - is an opportunity for growth.   I began to think that it is like the pain of someone who is trying to escape from an addiction.  I don't know much about it, but I do know from people who do know that it is a very painful process indeed.  So in a sense we are all addicts of some kind, and we can only really be ourselves when we are free from  our addictions.  Whatever they are.

As I thought about this I wondered if anyone had thought on similar lines and I soon came across a really excellent  book  by Francis Kelly Nemeck, OMI and Marie Theresa Coombes, a Hermit called : O Blessed Night.  (See HERE).  Imagine my delight that it was subtitled: 'Recovering from addiction, codependency and attachment based on the insight of St. John of the Cross and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin' !!   The authors show how close St. John and Teilhard are with regard to the role of pain and suffering in human individual and collective development/evolution.  The dark night for both becomes the blessed night.  I was not looking for convergence, but it came unbidden! I am only just reading it at the moment and  I need to think more about what they say: but the authors show how comparing the works of a saint and a scientist on the transformative effects of working through the 'dark night' can serve to illuminate both and also give us help on our advent journey.  The Sacred Heart is about pain.  But it is also about seeing pain  - and for Teilhard the pain of evolution - as transformative.  As we journey to Bethlehem we have to be asking ourselves what are we addicted to, what are we dependent on, and what are we attached to?  Sin is really just a form of addiction.  This advent I realise that  in order to become more centred on God we have to confront our own self-centeredness and our addictions.  I had a student many years ago who went through the 'hell' of  drug addiction but eventually he came through it. 'I'm clean!' he told me with a big smile on his face.  Like all addicts we  have to 'get clean'.  And that is not easy :  getting clean takes us to some dark places in our 'interior castle'.   But as Christians  we have the knowledge that the 'golden glow' radiating from the centre of the icon is giving us the energy to transform our dark nights into truly blessed nights.  At Christmas we should remember and pray for all those who are addicted, dependent or attached to things that keep them from the love of God.

Saint Maximilan Kolbe*, patron saint of drug addicts, pray for all those who are addicted this Christmas.

*Blessed John Paul called him the 'Patron Saint for our difficult century'  - and perhaps for an age which is full of addiction!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Third Week of Advent: Following the Sacred Heart to Mexico

Last week ( Friday 9th) we celebrated the feast of St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin or  St. Juan Diego.   An important day for the Church in the Americas and in particular in Mexico.  And today is the feast of  Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Having been to the basilica  in Mexico on a number of occasions I am especially touched by the message of Guadalupe.  I carry a small picture of the image of the Virgin with me , and as I write a I am overlooked by a  statue  that I bought several years ago when I visited the shrine with my wife.  It is also my sister's birthday, so all in all, it is an important day for me.  Everywhere you go in Mexico you see the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Sacred Heart - often together - and when I think of both my thoughts immediately transport me back to Mexico.  Above all I recall the simple devotion of the people to Mary and we here in Western Europe could learn much from  their devotion.  What strikes me is that you feel intensely close to Mary in Mexico and especially at Guadalupe and I try to remember how that feels when I see the famous image.    

 Guadalupe is a deeply spiritual place whose peace I treasure in my heart.   Reflecting on this I imagined what the Virgin might  have said to St. Juan Diego if he had asked her what he must do to become pure in heart.  Straight away I thought she would have said: 'Let God's will be done'.  And that seems to me to be the essence of Mary's response to the Angel Gabriel: she has the grace to simply let go of herself and allow God's will to be done in and through her.   That is the message of Guadalupe: we have to pray for the grace to  open our hearts to  God's love.  And that is the real miracle of Guadalupe: when God becomes the very centre and core of your existence.  

So on this day I pray for the people of Mexico and especially for all my friends in that great country that the Virgin will watch over and guide all those who trust in God's will. 

(Although  I  have to confess that  every time I see the image  I always think of Hillary Clinton's gaffe in 2009 when she asked ' who painted it ' and was told 'God!'  ( See here! )   )

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

As  St. Teresa and Teilhard remind us, the journey to the divine centre - to the Christ child- is a journey which involves a purification of our hearts: burning away all that gets in the way of our journey.   And it is appropriate that today we are reminded of the Virgin Mary as a person who was wholly and completely open to the God's love.   Mary is the second Eve who gave birth the the second Adam, whose heart literally beat within her body and soul: two hearts as one.   For this reason we keep in mind that the hearts of Mary and Jesus have a unique relationship.  And as we journey to Bethlehem for Jesus to be born again in our hearts we ask for her to pray for us this Advent.

I like the painting by Bracceso ( in the Louvre)  very much.  The Blessed Virgin is shown  looking rather anxious about what is taking place, but despite her fears she places all her trust in the will of God.  That seems to me the essence of a pure heart. (Click on pictures to enlarge.)

In December 1916, Teilhard reflected on today's feast: 

For me [it is].. the feast of ‘passive action’, the action that functions simply by the transmission through us of divine energy. Purity, in spite of outward appearances, is essentially an active virtue, because it concentrates God in us and on those who are subject to our influence. In our Lord, all modes of lower, restless, activity disappear within this single, luminous, function of drawing God to oneself, of receiving him and letting him penetrate one’s being. To be active in such a way and such a degree, our Lady must have been brought into existence in the very heart of grace, - for no later justification, no matter how immediate, could replace this constitutive, in-born, perfection of the purity that watched over the birth of her soul. It is thus that I see the Immaculate Conception. May our Lord give you and me too a little of her translucence, which is so favourable to God’s action. (Making of a Mind : 149 ) 

Earlier in April 1916 he completed his work 'Cosmic life'. In this essay he refers to Mary as ' the pearl of the cosmos and the link with the Incarnate Absolute.. Queen and Mother of all things, the true Demeter' (The Prayer of the Universe, Fontana, 1973: 91) .  Mary is the ‘unmoving light between the universe and God’ and shows the way to the divine centre ( aka the Sacred Heart) of creation through her utter openness – her active passivity - to the energy of God’s love. It is through the example of Mary that we can be united with the fullness of God.

He prayed, in December 1918,  that it is his dearest wish is that: 

God, through our Lady, may grant us to share in her purity and to have so ardent a passion for her, that we may be able to serve, in our own small way, to regenerate the world. We must have absolute faith in the power of this divine virtue to transform souls and spread itself; and we must see to it too, that the greatest interest of our life is to feel that we are growing a little more within her, and are serving to radiate her influence. (MM: 262)

On this day, Teilhard's prayer has a special resonance. 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Second Week of Advent: Traveling to Bethlehem with St. Teresa and Teilhard

Teilhard and St. Teresa a have much in common as mystics and it is clear that Teilhard was a great admirer of her work.  And I think the difference between them is summed up in how they saw the divine centre.  Both describe the presence of God deep within our souls and reflect on how we may become closer to God in our hearts.  Both explore what prevents us from drawing closer to the ultimate union with Christ.  Both saw the journey into this divine centre as about becoming less and less centered upon ourselves and more and more centered on God.  Both see this as about a process of purifying our hearts.   Both see Christ as calling us into a loving union.  The differences perhaps are ones of language and poetry and of historical context.   Teilhard comments, for example, that: 'St. Teresa is made terrifyingly distant from us by her own religious imagery and a lack (common to her time) of all cosmic concern.. But she expresses, for that time, an attitude that must be preserved’. (cited in de Lubac’s  The Eternal Feminine, p 192.)   He also notes that ‘St. Teresa [was] : a typical case of an element undergoing reversal in Ω. Such an interior event is more important biologically than a huge war’ (de Lubac, p223)  So St Teresa is extremely important – despite the imagery and lack of cosmic concern!  For Teilhard the Omega point is another way at looking at the Sacred Heart, so I think  he is saying that  what St Teresa is describing and analyzing in her writings is the process of an individual becoming progressively centered on and united with the Sacred Heart.  Teilhard sees the Sacred Heart as energy or force  field pulling us towards the divine centre – the divine milieu.  This idea of Omega as the focal point is clearly very similar to what we find in St Teresa’s idea of having to journey deep into ourselves by listening to the call and following the light of the God within our hearts.   She sees this as a kind of personal evolution moving through a number of stages (7) and culminating in a union – or ‘marriage’ with Christ (Ω).  Like St. Teresa who uses the idea of a sphere in whose the centre or heart we find God, Teilhard also uses the same metaphor.  The divine milieu is a  sphere, centre,  or circle which is the focal point of all creation – rather than just the individual soul.  As he puts it: ‘The divine milieu is, in reality, a center..the ultra-active point of the universe’.  God is the universal milieu and ‘ the ultimate point upon which all reality converges’.  Teresa's writings for Teilhard lacked this cosmic idea of the divine centre: is is not only within us, but ahead of us. 

Hence, for Teilhard, the experience related by St. Teresa is an evolutionary event – of more significance than a ‘huge war’!!   I think that what Teilhard  is saying is that when we read St Teresa we have to see her experience on this cosmic scale: as a manifestation of the way in which the universe is being progressively ‘christified’.   I tend to agree with Teilhard, her language and imagery is very much of its time and place.  As I am not a 16th century Carmelite nun I do find it something that is not exactly appropriate for how I think and live, but even so I find that the idea of my journey to the Sacred Heart as essentially a journey of self knowledge and re-centering our self on Christ as providing great insight: Teilhard’s point was this journey was both an journey to the centre of our souls,  but also to the centre point at which all reality converges.

Thus the significance of St. Teresa for our journey to the heart of the Christ child in Bethlehem and in our own heart is of immense significance.  In  Human Energy he makes this point very clear:

The growth of the human collective consciousness at present taking place does not prevent there having been in the world before us (in a not too distant past) men better endowed as individuals than many of our contemporaries, nor would I affirm that the love of God did not have in Paul, Augustine or Teresa of Avila a certain potential richness that we should have difficulty in finding in any Christian living today. What I mean is that under the influence of rare passions like those of Paul, Augustine or Teresa, the theory and practice of total love have ever since Christ been continually clarified, transmitted and propagated. So, as a result of the two thousand years of mystical experience that support us, the con- tact we can make with the personal centre of the universe has gained as much in manifest riches as our possible contact with the world's natural spheres after two thousand years of science. Christianity, I would dare to say, is neither more nor less than a phylum' of love in nature. Now regarded from this point of view, not only is it not stationary, but it is so much alive that at this very moment we can directly observe it undergoing an extraordinary mutation by raising itself to a steadier consciousness of its universal value. ( Human Energy, Collins, 1969: 157)

St. Teresa ‘s mystical experience is therefore an important stage in the evolutionary journey of humanity.  As we appreciate that we can only encounter the Sacred Heart by undertaking a spiritual journey through our own souls, and purifying our own hearts, the message of St Teresa – and Teilhard becomes ever more indispensible for our journey. 

Teilhard himself was very much influenced by St. Teresa.  His essay ‘The Mystical Milieu’ written in 1917,  is regarded as being inspired by the Interior Castle.  (Read here in Writings in Time of War, pp 115-150)  Whereas St, Teresa gives us the idea of 7 stages  in the mystical journey to the divine centre, Teilhard  uses the idea of 5 circles of experience leading to a mystical experience of the divine centre.   I recommend taking both Teilhard’s essay 'The Mystical Milieu ' and St Teresa’s Interior Castle as useful 'maps' to take on the road to Bethlehem, and the journey to the centre of our hearts.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Second Week of Advent: St John the Baptist and Elijah

Ian's icon of Elias - visit the ELIAS website sitefor more information. 
What appears to have happened with the icon is that, as you read it through the year, it seems to open windows and doors into the theology of the Sacred Heart.   It is rather like an advent calendar in which little windows open out to reveal aspects of the Christmas story.  The icon in this way opens windows into the Sacred Heart as a 'treasury' of knowledge and wisdom.  St. John the Baptist has become such a window of late.  As I have been reflecting on St. Teresa and the Carmelite tradition of the pure heart, St. John in the icon now becomes a doorway through which I can prayerfully explore the Carmelite tradition which is centred on the figure of Elijah.  When we remember that the Angel Gabriel (above, left holding the cross)  tells us that St. John comes with 'the spirit and power of Elijah and will turn the hearts of Israel back to God,(Luke: 1: 16-17) the icon gives us yet another perspective.   Elijah - or Elias - is a popular subject for iconographers and it is interesting to compare Ian's icon of the prophet  being taken up to heaven with  our Sacred Heart icon. We see that he has used the same geometric design for the wheels of the chariot as for the whirling nimbus around the Sacred Heart.   I think when we read the two icons as 'parallel texts'  the whirling nimbus and the chariot wheels serve to represent the the energy of God's love. It is interesting to note in this regard that Teilhard uses the story of Elias being taken up to heaven to convey precisely this idea: 'The Spiritual power of matter'.  (READ HERE - pp 25-33) It is a wonderful piece. As I am exploring St. Teresa's writings I find that Teilhard's mysticism  seems to  have a good deal in common with her - and that is a new discovery for me!  I shall be writing about this in due course.  As a first thought  I feel that whereas St. Teresa - and other Carmelites  focus on Elijah listening to God calling to him in the gentle breeze by the entrance of his cave(1 Kings, 9-14), Teilhard focuses on God in the whirlwind in 2 Kings: 1-18.   And I think this difference in focus tells us much about their  mysticism.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Last first Friday of 2011

Heart Speaks to Heart, Sr Mary Stephen CRSS*
Going to mass every first Friday of the month is a traditional way to express devotion to the Sacred Heart.   And today was a very special day for me as it is the last one of a year which has been devoted to Heart of Jesus. Over the past year, using the icon as a focus, I have just allowed things to unfold as they will, rather than impose my own agenda.   This is not really me, but letting go in this way has been  rewarding in so many ways.   Because of a funeral, the readings at mass today were different to those as set out in the Roman Missal. But the reading today from St. Paul could simply not have been more appropriate for me.

Out of his infinite glory, may he give you the power through his Spirit for your hidden self to grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, and then planted in love, you will with all the saints have strength to gasp the breadth  and the length, and the height and the depth; until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God.  Glory be to him whose power working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine; glory be to him from generation to generation in the Church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen. 
 Ephesians, 3: 16-21

As I listened to St. Paul, the words of St Teresa and St John of the Cross, which I have been exploring recently, and Teilhard's approach to the Sacred Heart  came together like two spotlights overlapping one another in the darkness.  This journey has turned out to be very much about strengthening  my 'hidden self' deep inside my 'inner castle'. It has been about listening to the call of the Sacred Heart so that Christ may live in my heart.   Reading the  icon has lead me to realize that - as the 'delight of all the saints' - the Sacred Heart needs to be discovered with the help of all the saints who have taken delight in the heart of Jesus.  At the same time, I discovered that with Teilhard as my guide to a cosmic and universal Christ, I did not go off into some new age direction, so much as it has enabled me to  re-discover the age old teachings and traditions of the Church. ( So thank you Ian.)   I am now ever more convinced that this is what  Teilhard wanted above all: a rediscovery of the meaning of the Sacred Heart  and an enriching and deepening our understanding of the mystery of God's love and mercy.  The Sacred Heart is calling us to participate in and become one with  the divine centre which is both the centre of our very souls (burning and glowing in our 'hidden selves')  but also the glowing and radiating centre of the entire cosmos: Christ Omega  who will complete us as individuals and bring all creation into 'the utter fulness of God'.

* I have been looking at this lovely  banner by Sr. Mary for quite a while, but I really only 'got it' today!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The icon as an 'interior castle'

In reading St. Teresa’s Interior Castle  (READ HERE ) with its idea of the soul as a crystal globe in the form of a castle which contains many rooms – seven mansions-  at the centre of which is the King of Glory illuminating the castle from its very core,  I now find myself looking at the icon rather differently.  It aims, of course,  to show Christ as King of the Universe- the Omega point we find in St. Paul – drawing all things towards Him and becoming all in all.  But St Teresa shows me another way to look at this Cosmic Christ: the Christ who lives and radiates his light in the centre of my soul, my interior castle – in my heart.   The journey to the Sacred Heart is a journey to our centre: the center and heart of our  ‘interior castle’.  We know ourselves when we know Christ.  That is, when my heart becomes like His: pure,  meek and humble.   I now can see the icon in this ‘interior’ as well as in a ‘cosmic way’: and I realize that they are just two ways of seeing the same thing.   God is not just up and ahead, he is within, and when we journey to find the Sacred Heart we undertake a journey to explore all the rooms of our life – our interior castle  - which we have been building day by day since we came into this world.   I have come to see the walls of the New Jerusalem that the angel is measuring in the icon as the walls of my interior castle, and there, deep in the centre  of centres, is Christ’s heart  illuminating my soul and calling to me to give my heart: calling me to be united with the divine energy that glows throughout the cosmos and also deep within my crystal globe.  I cannot travel the vast expanse of the universe: but, as St Teresa shows, the journey to the centre of  our interior castle is truly a cosmic journey. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Following the Sacred Heart to Bethlehem: St. Teresa points the way

At the start of this year I decided to devote the year to the Sacred Heart by using an icon to help me on the journey.   And  as we are the first week of advent I  am now on  my way to Bethlehem: there to give my heart and to allow Christ to be re-born in my heart.   This seems a fitting end to the year.  However, I would not have imagined that at his stage in the journey I would be following so many wise men and women.  But then again, the Sacred Heart is, so the litany of the Sacred Heart says, the 'delight of all the Saints'!  As I journey to Bethlehem I now find that I will be sharing the journey with two Carmelites as well as my other constant companions - especially Teilhard.  I really do not know very much about the 'Carmelite way', but I am pleased that I am now getting to know St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.  Back in January I would have been surprised to learn that I would be accompanied by these two great saints, but I think  they have much to tell us about the Sacred Heart.   I have been reading Prof John Welch's (O.Carm) book The Carmelite Way (  Gracewing,  1996) and I think it will be an excellent 'guide book' for the journey to the stable in Bethlehem.

It is clear to me at this stage that a devotion to the Sacred Heart involves a process of 'purifying' of the heart.  Like in the Welsh hymn, we pray for not wealth or riches but a 'Calon Lan': a pure heart.  The gift of someone who has no gold or myrrh to give and has no lamb to offer the new born King of the universe.

 As I set out I find Saint Teresa's idea of the soul as an 'interior castle' very appealing. Prof. Welch's book   describes   the way St. Teresa thought of the journey of a soul in  terms of responding to God's call:

Where is this call coming from ? From the center of one's life.  Teresa's image for the journey to and with God is the movement from periphery of a circle to its center.  We begin the pilgrimage living at the  periphery of our lives, locked into  many dissipating centres, and gradually, through prayer, we are de-centered and drawn to another Center.  The advantage of Teresa's image is that God is not in the distance to be reached by crossing rivers, passing through deserts, or climbing mountains. God is 'always already there' in the center of our existence.  If anyone is absent from the relationship it is the human being who is unaware of the friendship being continually offered. (Welch, p64-5)

The journey to the Sacred Heart in Bethlehem is therefore a journey to my own heart: the more I centre my life on the Sacred Heart  - the divine centre - the more I know my own center  -  re-centred on Christ.  I think that this is what a journey to the Sacred Heart is all about: you cannot find Christ in other people if you cannot find him in yourself.  The Sacred Heart is calling deep within my own heart.   Looking at the icon I am seeing the circles within circles in a different way now. I need to explore what St. Teresa is saying about finding the centre or heart of our inner castle.  At first thought I find it very evocative of Teilhard and of the icon.     I don't know if I understand her yet, and I pray that  I will find out more in the next few weeks. At at this stage, I can just ask St. Teresa to  pray for all those who are preparing to offer their hearts to the child in a manger.

 St Teresa, pray for us as we journey to Bethlehem.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

First Sunday of Advent

It has been fascinating and illuminating to have spent some time recently exploring the Sacred Heart through the Carmelite tradition and it seems that this tradition will give the advent season this year a new perspective: a new way of seeing Christmas.   Today, whilst reflecting on the words of St Teresa and St John of the Cross  my mind recalled the last verse of one of my favourite carols. And this has now provided a focus for this advent season.  The carol is ' In the Bleak Mid-Winter'  - (HERE )  words by Christina Rossetti-  and it was the last verse which came to mind at mass:

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

The purpose of advent is to prepare one's heart - to purify it - so as to make it a fitting place for Christ to be born.  At Christmas we give Him our heart, as the wise men gave their gifts and the shepherd's their lambs.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Presentation of the Virgin

On this day, which follows the Feast of Christ as the King of the Universe - as illustrated in our icon -  it is good to recall what Blessed John Paul says in ROSARIUM VIRGINIS MARIAE.

If it is the Father's plan to unite all things in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10), then the whole of the universe is in some way touched by the divine favour with which the Father looks upon Mary and makes her the Mother of his Son. The whole of humanity, in turn, is embraced by the fiat with which she readily agrees to the will of God.

Teilhard wants us to focus on precisely this aspect of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mary's response to Gabriel - who stands at the top of the icon - is an event which  touches the 'whole of the universe'.  The presentation of Mary as a child in the temple  thus represents a critical and defining moment in the evolution of the universe: Mary - the Immaculate Conception -   who will become a temple of  the living God,  is dedicated to God.    In the Eastern Orthodox tradition today is one of the 12  great feasts which celebrates the presentation of Mary in the Temple and her consecration to God by  St. Anne and St. Joachim.   It is also important to note here that in St. Margaret Mary's  original drawing of the Sacred Heart, (RIGHT->)  Joachim and Anne are included as a central aspect of the Sacred Heart.  It is well that we remember that today. *

  In the Catholic church we celebrate the dedication which ' Mary made to God from her very childhood under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who filled her with grace  at her Immaculate Conception'.   It is also a day which we pray for  the  work of the cloistered religious  - such as the Sisters in  the Tyburn Convent in London  and the Carmelites - who have dedicated their lives to the Sacred Heart and whose prayer energises the life of the Church. ( I continue to explore the Carmelite tradition in respect of the heart and I am finding it most illuminating. )

* As I have said before, this little drawing by the saint herself ought to be the focus of more reflection and  should be actively used to aid our devotion to the Sacred Heart.  It is what she herself recommended, after all!! The image is of special relevance today  given  that we are remembering  St Anne and St. Joachim, the Blessed Virgin's parents.   It is also interesting that the structure of the design is not unlike our icon.  Perhaps this picture influenced Ian in some way?

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today, when we celebrate Christ as King of the Universe our icon comes very much into its own.  For it is, above all else, an icon of the Sacred Heart in terms of being the centre and focus of the universe.  And the reading for today from St Paul's letter to the Corinthians(15:20-26, 28) was a favourite text for Teilhard.   As we read St. Paul we can also read the icon  and reflect upon what St. Paul is saying and what the Sacred Heart - as a 'cosmic' symbol represents.

We see in our icon Adam as the first man from whom Eve was created.  And  we see the New Eve, who gave birth to the Second Adam - who points the way for humanity.  Christ is showing us what we are supposed to become: people who love God with their whole hearts and  their neighbour as themselves.  The icon shows Christ as the completion of the evolution of the universe: all is now under his feet so that 'God may be all in all'.  In the Preface of today's mass  we  acclaim God's glory with all  the 'Angels and Archangels'  and  with the 'Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven' which we see gathered around the figure of Christ in our icon.  We are also reminded in the icon that, as King of the universe,  Christ will look into our hearts and ask us did we see him in all things.  Were our hearts on fire with the love of God? (Matthew, 25:31-46. ) Did we love with our whole hearts?

Teilhard thought that the feast of Christ the King was an important step in the evolution of the Sacred Heart.  I blogged about this quite early on in the writing stage of the icon. (See HERE. ) He saw the 'Universal - Christ' as the Christ we find in St. Paul's letters and is here represented in the icon as the Omega point of the Cosmos as evolving from the  ' expansion of the heart of Jesus'.   The Sacred Heart as no longer as just a 'devotion' familiar to his mother and to French Catholics, but as much more that this: a symbol of a divine  cosmic love that gathers and pulls us into unity with his heart, and in doing so completes us as individuals and thereby brings the entire created order to its fullness and completion.   At that point Matthew's gospel tells us Christ, as King of the Universe, will ask us if we opened our hearts to God's love and did we allow that glowing fire of love to illuminate our world : did we see Christ in our fellow human beings?  Did we help the world to evolve in the direction marked by His cross being held aloft by St. Michael and St Gabriel in our icon.  Have we 'harnessed for God' the energy of love and  used its power to change the world and build a new  earth? Was our heart meek and humble as His heart? And, reflecting on the Carmelite tradition: was our heart pure?  Did we see the Lord in the faces of all those we have met ? ' 'Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God'.  And : Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see Jesus in the faces of the least of his brothers and sisters.  Did we live our lives with a cold and hard heart or was our heart open to the love of God?  Such will be the questions of the King of the Universe.   As one hymn puts it: 'it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.'  So on this day we pray: 

Heart of Jesus, king and centre of all hearts: have mercy on us. 

Heart of Jesus, focus of the ultimate universal energy of love:  have mercy on us and unite us to yourself. 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Dali's Christ of St. John of the Cross.

Dali's Christ of St. John of the Cross, 1951
There is another significant  connection between the  icon, the Carmelite tradition and my own faith journey which I have also been musing on (see  HERE  and HERE ).   In my old junior school (St. Cadoc's in Cardiff) there used to be a picture of Christ as you came into the school entrance. *  I loved that picture as a child and I looked at it every time I  came into the school.  It was so very striking and there was no other image of Christ like it.  When I first saw the image of the earth from the moon, I thought of this picture.  And I wonder if  this image 'primed' my mind to be very receptive to Teilhard in my teens: was this childhood image a defining image in my spiritual evolution? I think it was!     I discovered later on that it was painted by Dali in 1951.  I think it may have been my late brother-in-law Manuel, who told me.  Manolo was a Spanish artist  and he knew Dali's work very well.  The fact that it was by Dali took me completely by surprise at the time  because I always supposed it was just a good 'holy picture' of no particular importance.  And I was not much of a Dali fan - unlike Manuel.  I think I must have rather repressed my love of the painting thereafter!

That my reading of our icon could have brought me back to this painting which was so formative in my childhood is remarkably providential - as it was inspired, so I have discovered,  by a drawing by St. John of the Cross himself!  Read more about it HERE.

Dali's drawing based on St. John's drawing (below), 1950

St  John drew the image - below - when he  was chaplain at the Carmelite  monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, (between 1574 and 1577) after he received a vision of Christ.   In the general introduction to the Collected Works of St. John of the Cross - published by ICS press  (See HERE.) it is noted that: 
'The sketch is of Christ crucified, hanging in space, turned toward his people, and seen from a new perspective. The cross is erect. The body, lifeless and contorted, with the head bent over, hangs forward so that the arms are held only by the nails. Christ is seen from above, from the view of the Father. He is more worm than man, weighed down by the sins of human beings, leaning toward the world for which he died. John, who was to write so many cautions against visions and images, later gave the pen sketch to one of his devout penitents at the Incarnation, Ana María de Jesús. She guarded it until the time of her death in 1618, when she gave it to María Pinel who was later to become prioress.
Drawing  by St. John of the Cross that inspired Dali.
In 1641, at the time of Madre María's death, the drawing was placed in a small monstrance, elliptical in shape, where it was conserved until 1968. …. Now restored and provided with a new reliquary, it is once more available for all to see at the Incarnation in Avila. The French Carmelite biographer of St. John of the Cross, Bruno de Jésus-Marie, in 1945 and 1950 discussed the drawing with two renowned Spanish painters of the twentieth century, José María Sert and Salvador Dalí. …Dalí, in turn, was inspired to do a painting from a similar perspective, "The Christ of St. John of the Cross. " In Dalí's painting, in contrast to John's original drawing, the crucified body reminds one more of a Greek god than of the suffering servant. René Huyghe, once Conservator-in-Chief of the paintings in the Museum of the Louvre, wrote concerning the Spanish Carmelite's drawing:

Saint John of the Cross escapes right out of those visual habits by which all artists form a part of their period. He knows nothing of the rules and limitations of contemporary vision; he is not dependent on the manner of seeing current in his century; he is dependent on nothing but the object of his contemplation....The vertical perspective - bold, almost violent, emphasized by light and shade - in which he caught his Christ on the cross cannot be matched in contemporary art; in the context of that art it is hardly imaginable.'

Dali himself said this of the painting.  ".. in 1950, I had a 'cosmic dream' in which I saw this image in colour and which in my dream represented the 'nucleus of the atom.' This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it 'the very unity of the universe,' the Christ! In the second place, when, thanks to the instructions of Father Bruno, a Carmelite, I saw the Christ drawn by Saint John of the Cross, I worked out geometrically a triangle and a circle, which 'aesthetically' summarized all my previous experiments, and I inscribed my Christ in this triangle." 

Dali explained in a letter to Scottish Art Review (Vol. IV no. 1,1952):

 "One of the first objections to this painting came from the position of the Christ, that is, the angle of the vision and the tilting forward of the head. This objection from the religious point of view fails from the fact that my picture was inspired by the drawing made of the Crucifixion by St. John of the Cross himself. In my opinion, it is a drawing made by this saint after an Ecstasy as it is the only drawing ever made by him. …..My aesthetic ambition, in this picture, was completely the opposite of all the Christs painted by most of the modern painters, who have all interpreted Him in the expressionistic and contortionistic sense, thus obtaining emotion through ugliness. My principal preoccupation was that my Christ would be beautiful as the God that He is.'

The drawing by St. John  is clearly remarkable as René Huyghe (above )points out  and I think Dali's painting is a powerful interpretation of the saint's vision.  

In a  later painting -  The Ascension of Christ painted a few years later in 1958, Dali  reverses the perspective.  In the painting inspired by St. John we see Christ looking down on the world.   In his picture of the Ascension  now see Christ rising up, in full unity with the Father and Holy Spirit.    Christ is shown as holding out his arms as if to embrace all creation.  In the picture of Christ on the Cross Dali uses the geometry of a triangle - representing the Trinity we appear to have - as in Dante - three circles of light which also appear to suggest the Trinity.  (Perhaps we are meant to read the woman at the top of the picture as the Blessed Virgin.   It is actually his wife Gala.) 

Madonna with Mystical Rose, 1963 
Dali's Sacred Heart, 1962
 Dali's  picture of the Sacred Heart painted in 1962, is by comparison rather disappointing - leastways that's what I long thought.   Like Redon's  Sacred Heart we discussed earlier, Christ is not looking at us but appears to be directing our attention to His heart.  This is not a Christ of the universe as in the painting inspired by St. John of the Cross, so much as a Christ of power and energy.  His body is powerful and looks ready for action - as if he is rolling up his shirt to do a job of work with St. Joseph.

  This is the Sacred Heart as the 'zest of the world' as Teilhard described it.  The 'golden glow' that we see in the picture of the Ascension is there, but the heart is not part of the body so much as in a different space or dimension - outside His body.  As in all three images there are no wounds or blood.  No doubt this is in reaction to the rather gruesome images which abound in Spanish Catholicism.  He holds a small cross as if it is a twig which no longer has any power  to inflict death or pain. The cross becomes - I think -  more of a key - to unlock the mystery of God's love. The Sacred Heart looks like a door-way into another dimension and the cross is the key to that doorway.  The heart is an image, an icon, a symbol of Christ as as a kind of radiant energy contained by the heart.  He used this idea ( as I see it) in a later painting - 1963 - Madonna with Mystical Rose.  Here the heart is replaced by the symbol of a rose (which he uses a good many of his paintings ) and the eyes of the Virgin are again closed in contemplation.   In both pictures the heart appears to be wholly un-naturalistic as compared with the rest of the bodies.  It is really as if he sees them as windows or doorways into the mystery of God.  By placing them in a frame Dali is drawing attention to the symbolic meaning of the heart, rather than as a 'real' biological object. 

These religious paintings show how Dali's attitude towards the Catholic church changed as he grew older.   As a young man he was very anti-Catholic.  Indeed one of his most controversial pictures was his picture entitled 'Sometimes I spit with pleasure at a portrait of my mother.'  (1929) ( His mother was the Catholic!)    Significantly,  his mother is represented by a drawing of the Sacred Heart.    It shows how  central was the Sacred Heart at this time as 'the' Catholic symbol.  Thus his later picture of the Sacred Heart  is a sign of how, by the 1960s,  he was changing his mind about  Catholicism and the faith of his mother. 
 Perhaps it was his way of saying 'sorry' to his mother - and to the Sacred Heart!   His painting of the Ecumenical Council  (1960) also shows that he thought the election of John XXIII was  a sign of changes in the church which he welcomed.  By this time he was, it appears, influenced by Teilhard's books which were causing a good deal of controversy at the time.  (See HERE.)  Given his approach to the Christ of  St. John of the  Cross and the Ascension  it is easy to see how Dali would have found Teilhard interesting and relevant to his fascination in the relationship between science and religion  ( he called it 'Nuclear Mysticism!) .   Perhaps Teilhard helped a sinner to come to repentance and re-discover the Sacred Heart?  He received the last sacraments of the Church on his death bed in 1989. 

So, by following the icon to Mount Carmel, I have ended up seeing myself as an  eight or nine year old boy  looking up at a print of a Dali  in St Cadoc's school in Cardiff, Wales.  Thus my initial question about what would my old university chaplain would have said about the Saints of Wales led me to Carmelite spirituality, which led me to St. John of the Cross, which brought me back to my early years in school named after a Welsh saint!!  Another full circle! Perhaps that is where this journey to the Sacred Heart began - with a childhood fascination with this image?  But with Dali of all people?!:  you could not make it up!  But, the Lord moves in mysterious ways:  because of Dali I was actually exposed to a vision given to a great Carmelite.  And it was this vision of seeing Christ looking down on the world which appears to have influenced my way of thinking ever since.  I think I am being asked to look more carefully at what St. John of the Cross tells us about the the Heart  of Jesus.... I can take a hint. 

*  I just had to check this out to make sure  that I was not suffering from false memory syndrome!  The current head of the school informed that it was indeed the picture that impressed me as a child.   It has now been replaced by a mosaic of St. Cadoc which is very beautiful. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Sacred Heart and the Carmelite tradition.

St. John the Baptist
"A well-known quote from Teilhard is  that 'Tout ce qui monte converge'  - all that rises converges.  And, so often in the process of writing and reading this   icon this seems to have been the case.  Reading the icon takes me off into a new direction, but then this new line of reflection seems to curve around and converge with other ideas and aspects and times of my life.  The last post a while ago (see HERE )  took me by surprise in the way that I was drawn to thinking about a person who was important influence  back in the 1970s! It struck me that if I had asked him then what did David and the other Welsh saints 'have' he would have replied in Welsh, that they had pure hearts - Calon lan.  This in turn took me on a journey to explore where he was coming from: that is the Carmelite tradition.  I knew a little about the Carmelites, but not that much and so off I went to Mount Carmel!  ( READ MORE ABOUT THE CARMELITES HERE) .  Of course I have not physically been to Carmel - unlike Paris - but none the less if you want to discover the Carmelite tradition  that is where you have to start.  The converging began straight away!   Mount Carmel is, of course, the site closely associated with Elijah - or  ELIAS.   This is the name Ian chose  for his studio.  The presence of St.John the Baptist immediately took on a new dimension.  John the Baptist    in the gospels is proclaimed by some as Elijah returned : the sign of the coming of the Messiah.  John is not Elijah, but, as the Angel Gabriel tells Zachariah in St Luke's gospel,  he came in the 'spirit and power' of Elijah.   I think that just as the Seraphim on the upper left of the icon is a window or doorway into the Franciscan tradition   - which  is very relevant to understanding Teilhard - so John the Baptist in our icon now provides a similar  door-way into the Sacred Heart in the Carmelite tradition.  And it is a very long, deep and rich tradition which has - for many hundreds of years - focused on the 'heart'.   I have been reading  about the Carmelite's and the Sacred Heart  and  I soon discovered that  a central idea in this tradition is a 'pure heart'.   So, when I supposed what my old Chaplain Fr. Fitz O.Carm would have said, I had providentially come to the right answer!  He would have said  -like a good Carmelite - they have pure hearts!  There is so much to say about this that it would be just plain silly to try and sum-up what I am learning.  Fortunately there is a really excellent piece by a lay Carmelite  (Johan Bergström-Allen, T.O.C. ) which does a helpful job in providing and introduction to the topic. Please read it HERE.  He notes, for example  that:
Carmelite Scapular Medal showing Our Lady of Mount Carmel and  the Sacred Heart

'Exponents of Carmelite spirituality tell us that ‘the Carmelite tradition begins in searching hearts ..and they speak of the relationship between Carmelites and Jesus Christ as Seasons of the Heart. The dynamic at the root of the Carmelite quest is a longing for God deep in the heart. The Carmelite journey is a pilgrimage to the heart of God whom we eventually discover has been dwelling deep within our own hearts all the time. It is therefore not surprising that Carmelites have often given prominent place to the notion of ‘the heart’, including the Sacred Heart of Jesus…… Devotion to the Sacred Heart is therefore especially appropriate for the Carmelite, because it encourages us to reflect on Jesus in his humanity. In the years following Teresa’s reform of the Order, her sisters in France further developed devotion to the Sacred Heart, notably Venerable Mother Madeleine of Saint-Joseph (1578-1637), Blessed Marie of the Incarnation (Madame Acarie, 1566-1618), and her daughter the Venerable Marguerite of the Blessed Sacrament (1619-48). To these, and later Carmelites, the word ‘heart’ awakens an image of that vital organ which throbs within us. We know that it sustains our physical existence, but we also speak of the heart as that place deep within that gives rise to our emotions and desires. We talk about giving our heart to someone or something, we speak of opening our heart to others, and we are afraid of having a broken heart. We know from John’s account of the Gospel that Jesus’ heart was broken, but devotion to the Sacred Heart is not only about Christ’s anatomy but rather about the emotions and feelings he has for us: tenderness, forgiveness, and love….. In the Carmelite tradition we revere Mary as the woman of pure heart, a title ascribed to her since the Middle Ages. Like her we are meant to cultivate detachment so that we enjoy purity of heart (puritas cordis), given over to the one true God and not distracted by false idols. With her we strive to serve Jesus ‘faithfully from a pure heart and a good conscience’ (Rule of Saint Albert, Ch. 2)…… In recent years other Carmelite nuns have placed their confidence in the heart of Jesus that loves us even in our feebleness. Congregations have been founded within the Carmelite Family that take their name from devotion to the Sacred Heart, such as the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart, and the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus. By forming praying communities at the service of God’s people, such Carmelites cultivate hearts open to those around them.'

So there is much to discover about the Sacred Heart from the perspective of  the Carmelite tradition!  Prof. John Welch O. Carm has written an inspiring account of  what Carmelites  understand by  'Seasons of the Heart', you can read it HERE.  I  am currently reading his book  The Carmelite Way,  (HERE ) which is very good introduction to the  tradition and some of the saints who have inspired this 800 year old religious community. 

And the connections with Teilhard are also quite interesting.  The first is that Teilhard wrote a piece (Hymn to Matter ) about Elias/ Elijah being taken up to heaven which I blogged about some time ago.  Go HERE The second connection is that  ' The Mystical Milieu', written in 1917  shows clear signs of being influenced by  St Teresa of Avila's  Interior Castle. And the third is that, as de Lubac  notes, Teilhard thought of St John of the Cross  and St Francis as amongst  'the most authoritative representatives'  of a 'cosmic' sense in Christianity! (The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin., p143)  So, the fact that our icon - inspired by Teilhard - provides us with a window into the Carmelite tradition of the heart is a real joy. 

Finally, an interesting footnote and connection.  When Ian was trying to explain the difference as between an icon and other forms of religious image he suggested I compare Bernini's 'The Ecstacy of St. Teresa and an  icon of Elias (above, left ) from St. Catherine's Monastery, Mount Sinai!  See HERE! 

St Teresa gave this account of her experience as depicted in Bernini's sculpture (left):

"I saw in [the angel's] hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying."