Wednesday, July 18, 2012


When I was a girl, probably between 10 and 12 years old, I would sometimes lie in bed at night and try to quiet my mind. The goal was complete silence. Whenever I actually achieved something close to silence, I realized that there was another voice in the background narrating what was going on, or not going on as the case may have been. It was a busy little voice, "Okay, it's really quiet now. That's it. Wait. What am I hearing now?" It became clear to me that there was more than one voice in there, and there might be as many as three. I'm not talking about some sort of mental aberration, and it didn't bother me at all. It was just like so many things that you notice in childhood. "Well, so that's that way that is," we think, "isn't that interesting,"

I didn't have a lot of time to think about thinking at night because I was spending a lot of time thinking about nuclear war, and how foolish my parents were not to build a fallout shelter, and who I would have room for in the fallout shelter if it was big enough for five, or ten, or twenty people. And then I got to be a teenager and there were boys, and then marriage and children. My mind was so full of stuff that twenty voices wouldn't have been enough to straighten it all out, so the fact that there were three voices pretty much disappeared from my conscious thought.

Then about 6 years ago I read something by St. Teresa of Avila. It might have been her autobiography which I am reading now, or it might have been something else, but she wrote quite thoroughly about the faculties of the soul, and what part each of these plays in the different stages of prayer. Specifically, she is speaking about will, intellect and memory.

All that the soul has to do at these times of quiet [the second stage of prayer] is merely to be calm and make no noise. By noise I mean working with the intellect to find great numbers of words and reflections with which to thank God for this blessing,...Then the commotion starts, the intellect works and the memory seethes. Indeed these faculties sometimes tire me out, for though I have very little memory I cannot keep it under control....let [the will] speak any words of love that suggest themselves, in the firm and sure knowledge that what is says is the truth. But let it pay no attention to the intellect, which is merely being tiresome.
If the will wishes to inform the intellect of the nature of its joy, or strives to bring it into recollection, it will not succeed. It will often happen in this quiet and union of the will that the intellect will be in great disorder.
And later:
The soul will lose a great deal if it is not careful about this, especially when the intellect is a lively one. Once it begins to compose speeches and draw up arguments, especially if these are clever, it will soon imagine that it is doing important work.
I love this last part. My intellect is very good at imagining that it is doing important work, and since I have been writing this blog, it has become difficult to read any scripture or spiritual writing without that little voice buzzing in the background about what I'm going to write about it. I also recognize it as the little voice that wants me to worry in troubled times. When I had a tumor in my thyroid about 25 years ago, I was very peaceful, but I can remember that it seemed like there was something buzzing around my head trying to explain to me why I should be more concerned. 

St. Teresa goes on to explain how the intellect and memory are "captured" in the next two stages of prayer. That will be quite a relief if I ever get there. This book, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself," is the book that Edith Stein read in one evening that convinced her that the Catholic faith was the truth. I can't read more than about three pages a day, and then sometimes I have to go back and read them again the next day. This may explain why every time I try to read the book I have that was written by St. Teresa Benedicta, I read about ten pages and put it down.



  1. Yes, that part is great--I was going to say that, too. St. Teresa's autobiography has been on my list for years. I wonder if I'll get to it before I die.

    "that little voice buzzing in the background about what I'm going to write about it."

    I've been that way all my adult life.

    "By noise I mean working with the intellect to find great numbers of words and reflections with which to thank God for this blessing,.."

    Sometimes that would be an improvement over the mere noise about everyday cares etc.

  2. I have studiously avoided writing almost all of my life, so this is a fairly recent development for me.