Few things excite me more than reading about the lives of the Saints. I find encouragement and challenge in their stories of working for God. I find reason to believe in the possibility of heaven on earth, of being a co-laborer with Christ, and of experiencing the work of God in everything I see.
However, when I read stories of St. Teresa of Avila getting completely enraptured by the love of Jesus that she would write on the ground in an ecstatic fit, I get uncomfortable. Or when I read about her praying in front of people and just floating off the ground like David Blaine in Church, I begin to feel inadequate. I've walked closely with Jesus at times. Sometimes, I feel Him next to me in a way I can't describe without sounding a little kooky. I know what it's like to feel like Christ's breath is blowing on the back of my neck or His arms are literally wrapped around me.
But I ain't levitating in church, y'all.
St. Teresa challenges me and I have a tendency to get cynical when I read stories about her, but more and more I am struck by her humility. She could have been extremely removed from society, become a hermit, or become uninterested in this world. Instead, she chose to work for reform in her monastic order and bring more people into her way of looking at God. She would write about how to pray, instructing her followers on ways to pursue an experience of Christ's love. She also would go into great detail about her own shortcomings even to the point of saying she found it hard to find any virtue in herself at all. She found spiritual progress to be laborious and painful. It didn't come easy.
I can identify with that.
A woman who would levitate under the power of the Holy Spirit found spiritual progress difficult. No matter how far we progress in sanctification, we can always use reminders of the struggle inherent in following Jesus. The language used in Scripture isn't lollipops and roses. Not every day is going to be Friday. We are told to die to self, to take up our cross (an instrument of torture and death), to forsake the world in order to gain the eternal. If our eternal life begins the day we are born, and I believe wholeheartedly it does, we are given countless opportunities to feel glimpses of glory while still in skin. In order to attain the holistic experience of Grace I seek, I have to be persistent. I have to work. Not to earn love, because love is given freely and undeservedly, but to experience heaven. We have to be persistent and labor in order to experience something that is there for us all the time, waiting for us to strip away laws and rules and religious ideas in order to grab hold of it.
The work we must do is like building a fire. We don't do anything to make the fire burn the wood, but we must make a place where the fire is welcome to do what it does. Getting our hearts to a place where fire can burn us from the inside out is labor-intensive, but instead of building something it usually requires us to clear space.