This is the 11th day and 22nd stop on the “God Alone is Enough” Blog Tour and I’m SO excited to review this debut non-fiction work by my writer-friend, Claudia Mair Burney. So let’s get to it….
When it comes to saints and such, I am admittedly a skeptic. Not because I believe that these men and women did not do great works or live great lives but mostly because of my fear that they are somehow exalted higher than God because of those works…as we humans often do with those we admire. But something about St. Teresa of Avila in all of her fierce love for our Savior and her willingness to stretch herself beyond herself to seek His face in prayer intrigued me…convicted me even…as I’m sure Claudia Mair Burney knew that it would; as it is quite evident that it has done for her.
“God alone is enough” the blessed saint says. In the book, Burney reiterates this by giving me peeks into various recollections of her own journey. By doing so, she and St. Teresa caused a shift in me that was, at the least, unexpected.
In a blink of an eye…or rather the turn of the page…my post-modern-evangelical-Baptist-with-a-touch-of-Pentecostal skepticism was transformed into something well outside the confines of religiosity. Beyond my narrow view and understanding of Catholicism, I, in opening myself up to the intersecting journeys of St. Teresa and Sis. Claudia, felt this overwhelming need to experience the kind of passionate contentment (a contradiction in my mind before reading this book) that these women of God spoke of. The realization that one can really know God with such a spiritual intimacy shined a harsh but loving light on all the reasons why, too often, peace escapes me.
In earlier chapters, I discovered that there was something very intriguing about this woman and all of her ideas, visions, and revelations. Teresa was a woman who revered the words of holy men found in books thought to be well above her pay-grade as a woman in the 16th century and yet was still able to extract meaning from a lovers’ tender embrace in the romance novels she read with her mother as a young girl. That duality, revealed through the eyes of Burney, drew me even closer to her story and her thoughts. It made me okay with her becoming my guide on this new pilgrimage towards a more profound prayer life. Even more so, it was her frailties that helped me pack my bags. Her brokenness, in spite of my perceptions of her sainthood, looked eerily like my own. Her need for praise and validation and her uber-aware struggle against that other part of herself had made us sisters—500 years apart.
Viki Hurst in her Personal Pilgrimage series says this: “There are inspirational guides all around you, and you never know when they will walk up and surprise you with quiet yet brilliant words of wisdom, meant just for you and your journey.”
And so it is with this book. St. Teresa’s words…particularly as it relates to our communion with God…is brought to life by Burney. The notion of what is now called contemplative prayer is explained simply and without cluttered metaphors or boring, uninviting narrative. In early chapters, Burney shows us how Teresa was captivated by the nature of our souls; believing that they are like gardens, planted by God and ideally, tended to by us. The vessel by which we are to water our tender soils? Prayer. But not exactly the rote, practiced soliloquies we might be familiar with. No, this is something else and as you read further in the book, you’ll find yourself drawn to following St. Teresa and Burney on the journey to revisiting how we pray.
But hold up! There’s stuff you got get through first. And it isn’t always pretty.
In the beginning of Chapter 11, and taking her cues from the writings of St. Teresa, Burney fully “goes in” on us about our notions of sin. Reading this chapter, I have to admit that I found myself wading waist deep in conviction.
***taking my halo off***
So many times I’d succumbed to the belief (even if never spoken aloud) that I was somehow more righteous than another because I’d stopped drinking, didn’t do drugs, was abstinent for a significant amount of time before marrying, blah, blah, and more blah. I’d attempted to categorize myself out of the line of God’s judgment, not realizing that I still had some big ticket sins (as Burney notes) —you know the “besetting” kind that the bible talks about—still on the table. Shoot! Truth be told, I have enough on the table of my past that without God’s grace and mercy…well, you know.
So what, you say! We all have our stuff, right? Yes. But Burney via St. Teresa notes that for us to not be fully aware of how we grieve God (particularly in our intentional sins) and how we separate ourselves from Him, is akin to the proverbial slap in His face.
Which, of course, is the perfect segue into the discussion of “dwellings” noted in the mid- and latter parts of the chapter. These dwellings are the various areas located in our “internal castle,” Teresa’s metaphor for the soul. Each has several rooms — some dark, some only appearing so. Through prayer we explore these dwellings (particularly the initial ones noted in this chapter) and in the midst of such exploration, we must face ourselves completely, digging through all of the pride, all of our “attachments to worldly pleasures”, and all of the things we lust after. We do this while simultaneously dealing with all of the demons, snakes, and other vermin that we allow to keep us from getting to the most desired of all of the dwellings in the castle/soul—the place where God is waiting to meet us and establish a relationship uninhibited by all of our stuff. While the pull of His love is what guides us through each of the dwellings, it’s in THIS place where He waits to heal us.
So you all know I could go on and on…but I won’t. 🙂 Summer’s here. It’s a new season…on the inside and the outside…for me and you. If you need a bit of a stretch in your faith? Buy this book. Today.
About the Author
Claudia Mair Burney is the author of seven novels, including the Amanda Bell Brown mysteries, and Zora and Nicky, and Christy Award finalist in 2009. Readers familiar with her style will enjoy this rollicking journey through their own interior castles. She lives in Kentucky, where she also authors the popular blog, “Ragamuffin Diva.”