Nobody can accuse Teresa of Avila for being a dormouse or a doormat. She wasn’t a sleepy little submissive mouse, nor was she anybody’s fool. She rolled up her sleeves and got on with the job of reforming the corrupt Carmelite order in Spain and wasn’t afraid of the knocks she would get for it.
Reading about her life reminds one that all the saints have this gritty and realistic streak to them. They engage in battle and they are not surprised when they’re wounded. When this fighting spirit is seen in the female saints it is even more striking. St Catherine of Siena had it. Teresa of Calcutta had it. Even Therese of Lisieux–the Little Flower and God’s good little girl–had that tough interior life, and she admired Teresa of Avila who wrote about the Interior Castle.
It’s easy to romanticize about the spiritual life, and St Teresa’s vision was of a beautiful castle of crystal, but I ask myself what an interior castle really is. If it was crystal it was also crusty. In other words, a castle is a tough place to live. Built out of stone and lodged on a solid rock, a castle is a safe place and a secure home, but it is also a fortress and a place to withstand a siege and plan a battle.
Teresa wouldn’t have minded this extension on her imagery. She was pretty feisty herself and didn’t mind getting into a scrap if need be.
Which brings me to the subject of feminism. Sometimes feminists get a bad press because they are obnoxious, offensive and aggressive. It’s easy to see those outward signs as the problem, but they are not the real problem. The real problem with the classic boorish feminist is not that they are feisty, but that they are too often fighting the right thing in the wrong way. They see the problems of injustice, cruelty and discrimination as a male-female issue. Of course the battle of the sexes is one dimension of injustice and discrimination, but the problems are not solved with big generalizations about men and women.
The problems are human problems. Some men are bigoted, unjust, aggressive and self serving. Some women are too, and as soon as you get off the main problem and get into generalizations about one sex or another you actually weaken the cause and lose focus.
Teresa of Avila, like all great reformers, didn’t get caught up in stereotyping and blaming large groups. She pinpointed problems and tried to solve them.
This is the sort of people we need –both men and women–who know what is beautiful, good and true and are willing to stand up for the truth with a feisty spirit and a spark of fun. St Teresa was famous for her sense of humor, and that is also a reminder that feisty feminism (like all forms of battle) is much more fun when it’s funny.
When we laugh at ourselves we win points, but we can only laugh at ourselves if we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and the only way to NOT take ourselves seriously is by taking God and eternity very seriously indeed.
Do you know about the online apologetics conference that Matt Fradd is organizing for later this month? It’s going to be huge. Go here to learn more.