The Fourth Degree of Prayer

In all the ways to water the garden, or ways of prayer, discussed so far, the gardener does some work. In this fourth degree of prayer “the soul isn’t in possession of its senses, but it rejoices without understanding what it is rejoicing in. It understands that is is enjoying a good in which are gathered together all goods, but this good is incomprehensible”. This prayer is called union. What union means is that “two separate things become one.”

St. Teresa attempts to explain what this union is and what it is the soul feels in this divine union, but has trouble explaining something so ineffable. There are many graces and effects left in the soul that has reached so great a state.

This heavenly water, when it comes, comes in abundance and soaks and saturates the entire garden. “This water from heaven often comes when the gardener is least expecting it.” St. Teresa also points out that this prayer almost always occurs only after a long periods of mental prayer. At the beginning this prayer is brief and passes quickly and may be imperceptible at first. The faculties are suspended but only for a very short time. The intellect, memory and will are united and are all tasting the “divine wine and are inebriated by it”.

While this prayer remains an obscure experience to the soul the soul has a certitude about being joined to God and cannot help but believe in the truth of it.

Many fruits are left in the soul that has received this great favor from the Lord. Particularly, the virtue of humility. “The soul sees clearly that it is most unworthy; it sees its misery.” The soul realizes that it did not receive this on its own; it is truly pure gift.

Progress in virtue remains for a long time and the soul begins to be of benefit to others without knowing it or doing anything that is of itself. “The soul understands that it has virtue, and its neighbors see the desirable fruit.”
“If the soil is well cultivated by trials, persecutions, criticism, and illnesses – for few there must be who reach this stage without them- and if it is softened by living in great detachment from self-interest, the water soaks it to the extent that it is almost never dry.”

“But if the soil is still hardened in the earth and has a lots of briers,…and is still not so removed from occasions and if it doesn’t have the gratitude a favor as great as this deserves, the ground will dry up again. And if the gardener becomes careless and the Lord soley out of His goodness does not desire to let the rains come again, the garden can be considered as lost.”

And it is for this reason that St. Teresa often exhorts in her writings that one should ….

Never give up or abandon prayer or the practice of virtue!

The Third Degree of Prayer

The third way of watering the garden is to irrigate it by the water flowing from a river or spring. Less work is involved in watering the garden in this manner. Some labor is required however to direct the flow of the water.

“This prayer is a sleep of the faculties: the faculties neither fail entirely to function nor understand how they function. The consolation, the sweetness, and the delight are incomparably greater than that experienced in the previous prayer. “

There is not a complete union of all the faculties. God is clearly at work in this prayer. “For the truth of the matter is that the faculties are almost totally united with God but not so absorbed as not to function.” It is God who takes on the task of gardener and the soul is to rest.
The virtues grow even stronger than in the prayer of quiet. The soul “begins to perform great deeds by means of the fragrance the flowers give, for the Lord desires that they bloom so that it may see that it possesses virtue although it is very clearly aware that it couldn’t have acquired them.”
St. Teresa explains the difference between this prayer and that of the prayer of quiet discussed in the second way of watering the garden by using the story of Martha and Mary. Where in the prayer of quiet the soul did not desire to move or stir, “rejoicing in that holy idleness of Mary”, in this third degree of prayer the soul is much more like Martha in that it is engaged in both the active and contemplative life together. “It tends to works of charity and to business affairs that have to do with its state of life and to reading;although it isn’t master of itself completely. And it understands clearly that the best part of the soul is somewhere else”.

The Second Degree of Prayer

The second manner for getting water is by turning the crank of a water wheel and by aqueducts; more water is obtained with less labor and the gardener can rest without having to work constantly.

St. Teresa refers to this second degree of prayer as the “prayer of quiet”. In this prayer the soul begins to become recollected and then something supernatural happens. She says this is supernatural because the soul in no way can acquire this prayer through its own efforts.

“In this prayer the faculties are gathered within so as to enjoy that satisfaction with greater delight. But they are not lost, nor do they sleep. Only the will is occupied in such a away that without knowing how it becomes captive; it merely consents to God allowing Him to imprison it as one who well knows how to be the captive of its lover.”

“All this that takes place here brings with it the greatest consolation and with so little labor that prayer does not tire one even though it last for a long while.”

” This quietude and recollection is something that is clearly felt through the satisfaction and peace bestowed on the soul, along with great contentment and calm and a very gentle delight in the faculties.”

St. Teresa advises souls in the prayer of quiet to proceed “gently and noiselessly” and to not let the distractions of the imagination and intellect disturb this peace. During this prayer the soul should not go running about with the intellect looking for great concepts; words and reflections to give thanks for this gift; or listing ones sins and faults because they see the gift is unmerited. “One should pay no attention to the intellect, for it is a grinding mill.”

The virtues grow incomparably better than in the previous degree of prayer because the soul is much closer to God. “This prayer of quiet is the beginning of all blessings. The flowers are already at the point in which hardly anythng is lacking for them to bud.”
(from The Book of Her Life ~ St. Teresa of Jesus)

The First Degree of Prayer

St. Teresa makes use of these four ways of drawing water to explain the four degrees of prayer.

The first degree is that of beginners and includes vocal and discursive meditation. The second degree borders on the supernatural and she calls this prayer the prayer of quiet. The next degree is mystical and she refers to this as a “sleep of the faculties”. The final degree of prayer is totally mystical and is called the prayer of union.

The first way of watering the garden, the way of beginners, is to draw water from the well and this way of watering involves a lot of work. It is the discursive work of the intellect. These are things that we can do ourselves with God’s help.

“They must tire themselves in trying to recollect their sense. Since they are accustomed to being distracted, the recollection requires much effort. They need to get accustomed to caring nothing at all about seeing or hearing, to practicing the hours of prayer, and thus to solitude and withdrawal – and to thinking on their past life.”

” These things make up the beginning of fetching water from the well, and please God that it may be found. At least we are doing our part, for we are already drawing it out and doing what we can to water these flowers…God is so good that when for reasons His Majesty knows… the well is dry and we, like good gardeners, do what lies in our power, He sustains the garden without water and makes the virtues grow.”

St. Teresa exhorts beginners to begin with determination and to persevere in prayer. Dryness and difficulty at prayer will come and to not let this cause us to give up prayer. She advises us to not become distressed or afflicted over dryness or noisy and distressing thoughts. ..For, clearly, if the well is dry, we cannot put water into it. True, we must not become neglectful; when there is water we should draw it out because then the Lord desires to multiply the virtues by this means.

(from The Book of her Life ~ St. Teresa of Jesus)

The Four Waters

The garden can be watered in four ways.
(taken from The Book of Her Life, Chap 11 ~St. Teresa of Jesus)

You may draw water from a well (which is for us a lot of work).

Or you may get it by means of a water wheel and aqueducts in such a way that it is obtained by turning the crank of the water wheel. (I have drawn it this way sometimes – the method involves less work than the other, and you get more water.)

Or it may flow from a river or stream. (The garden is watered much better by this means because the ground is more fully soaked and there is no need to water so frequently – and much less work for the gardener.)

Or the water may be provided by a great deal of rain. (For the Lord waters the garden without any work on our part- and this way is incomparably better than all the others mentioned.)