By Antonia Terrazas
In your fantasy, dream about me
and all that we could do with this emotion.
— Carly Rae Jepsen
Sometimes you’re further than the moon
sometimes you’re closer than my skin.
The only other person I have fallen in love with that way is Jesus, and I hope that goes more smoothly. I hope I remember, when I’m bored with Him, and antsy, and sick of brushing my teeth next to the same god every morning, I hope I remember not to leave Him. I am not so worried that He will leave me.
— Lauren Winner
I used to believe that authentic spirituality was marked by a constant overflow of feeling—like if my connection to the Divine didn’t fill me fit to burst like a first-crush Carly Rae Jepsen song, or even with awestruck rapt attention like a Mary Oliver poem, surely I wasn’t all that connected in the first place, and surely every holy moment from my past was probably a farce. Even beyond the boxes of the Mountaintop Experience Faith of my upbringing, there is still a part of me that wonders—and doubts—whether the periods of my life that are stagnant, dim, or quiet will one day add up to an eventual separation or break-up, like a love that’s lost its fire. (I know it happens sometimes, and that’s ok. I just don’t think it’s time for me to say goodbye).
While Christian traditions are full of so-called holy people who also shame themselves for their lukewarm God-feelings, there are a few others I return to in order to stay sane. One of them is St. Teresa of Ávila, a 16th-century nun popularly known for having an honest-to-God orgasmic spiritual encounter with the Divine. That spicy claim to fame aside, my favorite thing about her is in contrast–she reminds me you actually can’t just always Cut to the Feeling. She acknowledges in The Interior Castle* that while there are moments and glimpses of effortless sweetness, peace, delight, awe, and even fire, these are ultimately mysterious. They defy mastery and conjuring. These gifts of grace she compares to natural springs of water, that simply flow, almost by miracle. They sweep you off your feet.
Perhaps more commonly, she says, we build aqueducts. These we construct with the building blocks of practices, structures, tools, and guides, towards the sometimes-tedious work of preparing the way for spiritual delights to nourish and surprise us. So, I may light one hundred candles before I feel the flicker of the Spirit’s flame, and my heart may not be burning within me every time I kneel at the altar rail. It seems the point is to keep showing up to the work, building my aqueduct a little each time. In Teresa’s rendering, the process is noisy, clumsy, and clunky, which seems about right. But it comforts me to know that even saints sometimes have to engineer their living water, too.
* For all my nerds, Teresa’s watery reflections come from her description of the Fourth Dwelling Places of the Interior Castle, chapter two.
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Antonia Terrazas is a bisexual queer fat femme Episcopalian living in Dallas, TX. She loves lipstick, liturgy, and liberation theology, and believes that selfies are sacramental. Antonia tweets at @antoniaterrazas, and vandalizes bad theology at @holyblackedout on instagram and twitter.