One of my favorite Jewish holidays is called Birkat Hachama, (ברכת החמה). It’s the Festival of the Blessing of the Sun and is meant to thank the Creator for creating it. (Chama is Hebrew for “sun.”)
According to Judaism, the sun has a 28-year solar cycle known as the machzor gadol (מחזור גדול. “the great cycle”) which is 10,227 days long.
The blessing is recited when the sun completes its cycle on a Tuesday at sundown. Jewish tradition teaches that when the Sun completes this cycle, it has returned to the position it was in when God created the world. Why Tuesday after sunset? Because, according to the Genesis account, God created the sun on the first Wednesday. (Gen 1:14-19)
The last time that the Birkat Hachama was recited was on April 8, 2009. The next time this holiday will be celebrated is 2037. I hope you’re all alive to celebrate in next time it swings around. Mirtsishem!
Obviously Easter is the most important Christian holiday followed closely by Christmas. And these remain my two favorite Christian holidays. But for me, today is a wonderful holiday also.
Friday, Aug. 25 is the Feast of St. Teresa of Ávila’s Transverberation. Today is the date about which St. Teresa of Ávila reported having her most exquisite spiritual experience:
I saw an angel beside me toward the left side, in bodily form. He was not very large, but small, very beautiful, his face so blazing with light that he seemed to be one of the very highest angels, who appear all on fire. They must be those they call Cherubim. I saw in his hands a long dart of gold, and at the end of the iron there seemed to me to be a little fire. This I thought he thrust through my heart several times, and that it reached my very entrails. As he withdrew it, I thought it brought them with it, and left me all burning with a great love of God. So great was the pain, that it made me give those moans; and so utter the sweetness that this sharpest of pains gave me, that there was no wanting it to stop, nor is there any contenting of the soul with less than God. (St. Teresa, The Interior Castle, Chapter 19).
It was on this day, more than 400 years ago, when the great mystic St. Teresa of Ávila communed with her Maker.
The Cherub who dealt St. Teresa a mortal blow belongs to the choir of angels whose responsibility it is to impart knowledge and God’s love to lower orders of angels and other creatures (Tobit 12). The spear yielded by Raphael wiped away all lesser loves emptying her of all pettiness and distractions. Teresa wrote that when the spear was withdrawn from her heart, she felt her inner organs being drawn out. This signifies that she would live only for her Lord from that day onwards. The debilitating euphoric was a sign of the wisdom the Holy Spirit imparted to her. All divine knowledge is overwhelming―her gift was no less so. The mesmerizing feeling of emptiness engendered in her was gratefully and immediately filled by the Spirit’s Wisdom, the Son’s Logos and the Father’s Love
She was so blessed by God Who bestowed upon Teresa a sensitive to the realities of The Holy. What we understand by our intellects and our emotional or intuitive states, Teresa understood palpably―in the very depths of her soul.
She had no word in Spanish to describe this mystical experience. Indeed, she had to create a new word which has come done to us today: Transverberation. In was in this experience in which she felt a “resonance” to what our Faith teaches us―she felt God’s Love in both her soul and body.
St. Teresa described her experience in the 7th mansion of her book The Interior Castle, as entering to the supreme state of Spiritual Marriage with God. Very few people have been invited by Christ to enter into the state of spiritual marriage with Him, not because Christ isn’t generous with us, but rather because most of us put limits to the gifts God gives us. Christ with would like nothing more than to bestow this pure and precious gift on us all. (Mt 23:37)
Though this gift is completely unmerited, we must first spiritually dispose ourselves to it by totally surrendering and abandoning to God’s will. This extensive process will most likely take on the form of spiritual darkness, spiritual aridity, great spiritual temptations and personal sufferings. It requires us to do that which many of us are unwilling―to trust God completely.
St. Teresa described her experience of the mystical infusion by God into her soul as impossibly beautifully. God is desirous to give this extraordinary grace to all His children but it is a pas de deux―a spiritual dance between Creator and creature in which one gives himself to the Other and the Other lovingly reciprocates.
And in this to-and-fro, we became purified by the transformative power of God’s love. However, just because most of us aren’t contemplatives, we still have access to God’s purifying love via Scriptures. God’s Word is alive and active and sharper than any double-edged sword. It cuts all the way through, to where soul and spirit meet. It judges the desires and thoughts of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
Mental or contemplative prayer can reach this point not due to any actions on the part of the human being but rather from our making an empty space within our hearts. Those Christians who immerse themselves in Scriptures and other spiritual writing can experience the overwhelming love God desires to give us all. It illuminates the mind, cleanses the soul, purifies the body and enkindles love in our hearts.
With it, they, too, aim to pierce the very substance of our souls, to bring death to ignoble love of self, to illuminate our minds with divine truth, and enkindle in our hearts an unadulterated love for God and man. It reaches down into the division of soul and spirit, distinguishing clearly the animal man from the spiritual man (who is created according to God in the justice and holiness of truth). It penetrates to the division between joints and marrow, that is, it instructs us concerning the relationships binding us to our fellow men. It is the discoverer of our real self, laying bare the secret chambers of our minds and hearts.
This is not merely pretty words meant to inspire but then are easily forgotten. God’s Word, which pierced St. Teresa’s heart in the form of a spear, which St. Paul calls the “Sword of the Spirit,” is available to all of us — especially those who practice mental or contemplative prayer. Those who practice it find themselves transformed by the grace of God. As Aeschylus reminds us, where even in our sleep, the pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes God’s wisdom. This is all part of God’s plan to purge us of deadly pride, stifling self-love and sinful affection.
Happy Feast of the Transverberation, everyone.