God Alone is Enough

A Spirited Journey with St. Teresa of Avila

CHAPTER 9: Ecstasy is not a Drug
By Claudia Mair Burney
172 pages Paraclete Press
ISBN: 978-1-55725-661-4

If I’d read this book and especially this chapter at any other time, in any other place, it wouldn’t have had the impact in me it did. But I got to chapter 9 on the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, on my way to a writing retreat I had looked forward to for the entire year. Last year’s retreat, my first, had been a grace filled and healing time both for my writing and for my self and soul. Since Lent, though, the retreat became more a way to crawl into a hole and pull a rock on top of me than a time to spend with God and writing. It would be an escape from the ongoing, unremitting crises that have left me shell shocked and depressed. In the last year, I’ve lost 2 good friends to cancer. My aunt, the last of her generation, died in the middle of Lent. 95 years old, and sharp as a tack to the end, but it means that she’s gone, and that leaves a hole in my life and my heart.

In this last year, as well, two friendships have blown up in my face, one of which was of 25 years close and loving duration. I lost another good friend to re-addiction and the streets, nursed a daughter through a three month illness and a son through a problematic relationship.

And those are only the worst things – all round, whatever could go wrong, did go wrong. This has been Murphy’s Year for sure.


Claudia’s book, for those just joining the tour, is how to get closer to God. She paraphrases and explains the writings of Teresa of Avila, one of God’s best friends. St. Teresa talks about 4 methods of prayer, using the metaphor of a garden for our souls. God is the gardener, pulling the weeds and nurturing the flowers. St. Teresa likens the 4 methods of praying to our watering the garden – first from a bucket with well-drawn water, next by turning the crank of a water wheel, which is easier, but still a lot of work. Then we progress to irrigating the garden by using a river, which is better for both the garden and us. Chapter 9, the chapter I’m blogging on, describes the fourth method, which is, for us, the easiest of all – rain, lots and lots of abundant rain falling from heaven.

As Claudia explains, when the rain begins falling, we’d better prepare to get soaked. Once God takes over the watering, he’s not stingy, and the result, for us, is ecstasy, pure and simple. The senses are suspended; the self is enveloped by love and God’s presence and everything else just disappears.

Much of the chapter is spent trying to explain this state of being. From a writer’s point of view, what’s most interesting is that what both Claudia and Teresa are trying to describe is impossible to articulate. I not have experienced the ecstasy that both of these faithful women have, but I’ve encountered enough of God’s grace to know that you simply can’t translate it into words. It has to be experienced. And once you have, Claudia is right. It’s addicting. You can never get enough of it. But how to convey to someone who has never experienced it the overwhelming sweetness and peace and joy that infuses your entire being? You can’t. But that doesn’t stop either of them from trying, and the chapter uses some of the imagery that I’d been struggling with in my work on the last writer’s retreat. Imagery that was directly linked to the grace and healing I’d experienced last June, just before Murphy’s Year got underway.


That imagery and Claudia’s lively and lucid prose combined with my state of mind to bring me back to an awareness of what had been missing in my life. As the world kept socking it to me, my prayers (never one of my strengths in the first place) had dried up almost completely. The well wasn’t empty, since God fills it, but my bucket had definitely developed a number of leaks. The water I was carrying kept dribbling out the holes. I’d gone from every day formal prayers and my through the day “arrow” and “thought” prayers to just the arrow prayers to barely praying at all – and most of those consisted of variations of “When is this going to stop?” and “Can I please have a hug, God?” spoken into what felt like an echoing void. No hugs were forthcoming that I could feel.

The book, and especially this chapter, made me want Him all over again. Not in the little child curled up hurting in Daddy’s lap way that I’d been wailing about, but simply to rest in that marvelous peace and joy, the way I had last summer. I recommend reading this book, if only because it reawakened in me and I pray in you, the longing to go “further in and higher up”. But it also reminded me that I have work to do to. God’s not just going to shower that ecstasy on me because I demand it. I’m not going to be able to rest in his presence if I’m not doing my part.

I have to carry the buckets to the garden, turn the water wheel, fast, pray, confess, do all the work of building the spiritual muscles to keep the door of myself open to him. And I had been – well, except for the prayers. But it felt, as the year went on, that none of it was doing any good – if anything, I was losing ground, coming lower down and moving further away. But on the first leg of the journey to Oregon, I sat on the ferry, absorbing Claudia’s lively descriptions, her simple and humorous explanations, and yearned to return to my Beloved. Learned again that he never abandons us and is always there for us – we just have to turn to him.

Her last piece of advice in the chapter is to “Sit on that awhile.” I will, Claudia, and thanks for reminding me of what I’ve been missing by neglecting to water the garden. I think I can patch those buckets, pick them up and turn the water wheel, because I know the rain is coming.


The Ravens of Farne: book review

A Tale of St. Cuthbert
By Donna Farley, illustrated by Heather Wayward
Conciliar Press, 2010: ISBN 978-0-9822770-5-8
32 pages

Relatively unknown in North America, St. Cuthbert is one of Britain’s most beloved saints and is very much a saint for today’s world. In addition to his devout and deeply-rooted faith, he treasured and protected the wildlife on the island he lived on, including, when he became bishop, banning the harvesting of down from the eider ducks who nested in the area.

The Ravens of Farne, by my friend Donna Farley takes one of the tales of St. Cuthbert, and retells it wonderfully for young children in this picture book.

Stories today often grab the reader by the throat and drag them into the story, throttling them and hauling the reader through the plot ups and downs. The ride may be exciting, but it’s often also tiring – whether in a picture book or a book for an older child or young adult. Not this book. The free verse lines enfold you in the story and lead naturally and easily to the next moment, and the next and the next. The end leaves you feeling refreshed, hopeful and happy.

The description, as befits a picture book, is minimal but that doesn’t stop the story from being vivid, fresh and polished. Donna’s familiarity with the time period of St. Cuthbert allows her to use medieval literary devices in the story to good effect, and she has a master’s touch in knowing how to raise the tension just enough to encourage the step into the next page, without overdoing it for the themes and the story. She balances elements and images well. “The birds built nests to hold their eggs, and the monk built a place to hold his prayers” is one of my favourite lines in the book, just for that balance and paralleism.

Additionally, Donna weaves specific and factual information into the poem without a seam.
“. . . just Curthbert, God, and the birds of Farne./Oh the birds that fed and nested on Farne!/puffins and fulmars,/terns and gulls/cormorants and eider ducks – / linnets and pipits,/ warblers and sparrows/ . . . and a tribe of cheeky ravens.” The species flow into the lines of the poetry as naturally as they live on St. Cuthbert’s island.

Heather’s water colour illustrations are a perfect match for Donna’s text. They appear simple, but actually include an immense amount of detail, and each bird illustrated is not only identifiable as to species, but she gives them character and personality. The details of the monks’ habits, accessories and clothing look and feel natural to the time described.

The story itself is, like the illustrations, is deceptively simple seeming tale of offense, repentance and forgiveness. The ravens of Farne torment the Saint as he settles on the island and builds his house, sows and reaps his crops and receives his friends the monks as visitors. Finally, he loses his temper at them, and not until they beg his forgiveness is the situation sorted out. But it is and all of the characters in the story benefit from the ravens’ learning their lesson. It will hold children’s attention, and contains enough to engage a parent reading aloud to the child. A book I’d recommend for anyone – child or adult.

This is Donna’s second book – her first, Seasons of Grace, was first published in 2002 and her third, a young adult novel called Bearing the Saint, is coming out this summer from Conciliar. For more information on Donna and her writing, check out her blog pages, The Rafter’s Scriptorium, and A Spell for Refreshment of the Spirit. For some interesting information and more of Donna’s writing visit the St. Cuthbert page, Haiwefolc.

Donna’s books can be purchased at the Conciliar website (if you live in the USA) or on Amazon if you live outside the USA.