This article is the final in a series on the spiritual life commemorating the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of St. Teresa of Avila.
From the moment of her conversion, a wellspring of joy sprang up in Teresa’s heart from its most inner “dwelling place,” and she wanted to share this wellspring with others. She proposes the image of two large basins of water in a garden to explain the essential feature in her new life of prayer, source of this wellspring:
With one, the water comes from far away through many aqueducts and the use of much ingenuity; with the other the source of the water is right there, and the trough fills without any noise (…). There is no need of any skill, nor does the building of aqueducts have to continue; but water is always flowing from the spring.[i]
For our Doctor of the Church, the first basin symbolizes the work of the Spirit in meditation. It produces joy, but it is a human joy, the joy produced by a work well done. The second basin symbolizes contemplation, which invites God’s pure gift, which is so abundant that the capacity of the basin is too small to receive all the water. Never mind that, says Teresa: the Lord himself will enlarge the basin,[ii] according to this Psalm verse:
I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding [literally: my heart] (Ps 119:32).[iii]
Thus the basin will grow as it is filled by water. This dilation of the heart filled by love and joy cannot be the fruit of human work. “There is no need of any skill,” only a loving faith is necessary.