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Spirit’s Sculpture

StTeresa (2)A picture is worth a thousand words. The great 17th Century artist, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, did it one dimension better. He did it in stone. Bernini captured the essence of the spiritual life with his sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Theresa. Here he dramatically depicts the spiritual life as our relationship with the Spirit who aggressively pursues us.

This sculpture is displayed in the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome. Bernini has an angel stand in for the Spirit. An angel with a smile. The angel has penetrated the heart of St. Theresa with an arrow. The arrow is the Spirit’s invitation to growth.  She is in ecstasy. Surrender to the Spirit’s invitations is joyful. Absolute surrender is absolutely joyful!

Steeped in Jesuit spirituality, Bernini would have been aware that the Spirit dialogues with us, not through words but through our feelings. The Spirit uses the gift of consolations (emotional highs) to invite us to greater love, hope and faith. Not only for St. Theresa, but for all of us. We can project ourselves into the dynamic action of this sculpture.

Bernini is unconventional. He avoids the traditional image of the dove for the Spirit. Who can relate to a dove?  So he focuses on the Spirit’s action. Bernini has given us a way to visualize our relationship with the Spirit and fire up our spirituality.

Spirit at Work. Let us visualize the Spirit directing his arrows of invitations to our hearts for greater love, hope and faith. The Spirit’s arrow of faith is the Spirit inviting us to discover his presence where our bodily eyes cannot see him, and through his Word in our hearts to reach an intelligence that no human reasoning can provide, according to Ladislas M. Orsy, SJ.

The Spirit’s arrow of hope invites us to a certainty beyond what we can calculate. In earthly matters, Fr. Orsy states, “When I say ‘I hope’, I express an expectation that some future event will take a favorable turn for me. I may have a burning wish that it should be so, but I have no certainty.” By contrast, with divine hope the Spirit invites us to an awareness that we already possess the Kingdom of God in our hearts. “The final outcome is certain; its time and manifestation have not been revealed.”

The Spirit’s arrow of love invites us to learn the ways of love. Growth in love make us generous givers beyond any human measure. These three virtues are not just individual, unconnected virtues but the components of a dynamic spiritualization process. Faith generates knowledge. Hope provides the energy that love needs for its operation. For the most part, love is the driving force in this process.

Consolation at Work. If your reaction to this sculpture is: “That’s not my spiritual life, a life of ecstasy,” you have missed the point. You have to go beyond the sculpture’s setting to your own spiritual life. Bernini highlights the relationship between the Spirit and the individual soul of every man, every woman. We may never experience ecstasy, but we should be open to and eager for the Spirit’s gift of consolations.

The Spirit is smiling. He has gifts of consolation to give us. Spiritual consolation is experienced on two levels of our consciousness, according to Jules Toner, SJ. One, we experience our love, hope or faith increased in depth or firmness or purity or intensity or effectiveness. Two, we recognize feelings of peace, joy, confidence, exultation and the like—flowing from our spiritual experiences.

Most likely, you have experienced such moments in your spiritual life. You may not have attributed these joyous experiences and feelings to the Spirit, unless you are living a deep relationship with the Spirit. But the Spirit is making it happen.

Note: when we are the source of our consolations, they are not the work of the Spirit. Fr. Toner writes: “…feelings can be to a large extent or even wholly non-spiritual when the subjective ground is not living faith but only sensitivity to poetry, great thoughts, music, the charm of human persons.” Discernment is needed. Our awareness of what is taking place within us can help us convert our experience into a truly spiritual encounter.

Pursuing the Pursuer. Bernini’s sculpture is telling us that the Spirit is an erotic God. The Spirit aggressively pursues us. Each day let us pursue the Pursuer. Not for his consolations. That is the Spirit’s gift to give or not to give. But for deeper relationship with the Spirit.

Daily I recall Bernini’s sculpture in my imagination. I envision the smile of the angel, the face of St. Theresa. And I pray: “Spirit of Love, Divine Eros, direct your arrows toward my heart to awaken it to greater love, hope and faith.”