By the time Teresa Sanchez Cepeda Davila y Ahumada had turned 14, she had already known grievous sorrow. Her father, a Jewish convert to Christianity who lived in Gotarrendura, Avila (recently annexed as part of the newly unified kingdom of Spain), had disappeared early from Teresa’s life after the Spanish Inquisition questioned the sincerity of his conversion and condemned him. Then, when her mother fell ill and died, the girl went to the only place left to her: a nunnery.
Disgusted by the ostentatious wealth and church corruption she found there, the girl took solace in her daily communion with the only family she had left: her heavenly Father and Jesus his son. Through daily intensive meditative prayers, as Teresa later recalled in her autobiography, she was able to cultivate a state of mind which made it possible for the Holy Spirit to seize her, for her own ego to be swept away in stages and finally for herself to be subsumed in the ecstatic bliss of perfect communion with God’s angels, and sometimes even Jesus himself.
The writing reads like superstitious hocus-pocus to the secular readers of today, but Teresa approached her study with the meticulousness of a scientist and insisted that her insights could be used by any devoted Christian to find the same blissful connection to God as she had found. Though some of her rivals in the Church initially condemned her insights as diabolical in their origins, Teresa’s writings and church reforms eventually gained such broad acceptance within Catholic circles that the Jewish girl of humble origins — also known by posterity as Saint Teresa of Jesus, or simply St. Teresa — nearly became the patron saint of Spain after her death in 1582. She would have shared the honor with St. James, one of Christ’s original 12 apostles.
Is the popularity of St. Teresa’s instructions on meditative prayer based entirely on mass delusion? Were her experiences of divine bliss, which she describes in such detail, based on mental illness, the product of a fervent belief and an active imagination? Or could St. Teresa’s meditations, derived through years of careful study and trials, actually deliver the goods in a way modern science can describe And what does all this have to do with drug prohibition?
– Read the entire article at AlterNet.