Teresa of Avila—a Master of Prayer?

Philip Yancey’s book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (2006, Zondervan), sadly, steers us to medieval mystic Teresa of Avila for guidance regarding our prayer lives. He praises her as “one of the masters of prayer.” (p. 184) And he states that she wrote “one of the most exhaustive books on prayer ever written.” (p. 323)

Theresa of Avila statue

Sounds like someone to emulate.

But before we start collecting wisdom from Teresa, we should realize that what Teresa really “mastered” wasn’t prayer at all. The poor girl opened occult doors (via contemplative or mantra prayer and also praying to saints—which is consulting the dead and forbidden in Scripture). She levitated, starved and tortured herself, had erotic encounters with entities . . . Mr. Yancey should have clarified a few things.

Additionally, Mr. Yancey seems to think of prayer as something difficult. He says, “I take some comfort in the fact that virtually all the masters of spirituality recount a dark night of the soul. . . . Teresa of Avila spent twenty years in a nearly prayerless state before breaking through to emerge as a master of prayer.” (p. 201)

Does Scripture teach that prayer requires a 20-year agony, some special talent/formula, some sort of breakthrough to become a “master of spirituality”? No! Rather, the Lord repeatedly invites us to simply call on him anytime, anywhere, about anything. Nobody has to be a “master” to speak with the Master.


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