Lost and found
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock..." Revelation 3.20
Teresa of Avila overcame her identity crisis, as being descended from Jewish converts, through her own conversion - from death of self to life in Christ. This both liberated her from the crippling obsession with honour and status which characterised the society she inhabited and it transformed her theology - from being a rational exercise in thinking about God to being a mystical experience of relating to God. In common with other mystics, Teresa struggled to express these encounters in words and so much of what she writes is allegorical.
Robyn Wrigley-Carr, who is a professor of Spiritual Theology in Australia, directs our attention to Teresa's use of the silkworm as an example. This ugly creature weaves itself a cocoon in which it undergoes such a transformation as to emerge a delicate and beautiful white butterfly. For Teresa the only way that humans can attain to a similar transformation is by recognising how disgusting we are in our sinfulness, then - in the humility that inspires - throwing ourselves into the merciful embrace of God, whose redeeming love - expressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus and imparted to us through the sacrament of Holy Communion - effects our own transformation.
Far from isolating her in her "spiritual cocoon", Teresa's mystical union with God unleashed an extraordinarily productive phase in her life, during which she reformed the Carmelite Order to which she belonged (purging it of social distinctions), founded numerous convents (of independent means so they would not have to rely on benefactors) and wrote copiously (books and letters).