Collection: My Soul is a Garden

ARTIST: Br. Mickey McGrath, OSFS


It gives me great delight to think of my soul as a garden in which the Lord came to walk about.
—Saint Teresa of Avila

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In Life, she speaks of her early years, severe illnesses and spiritual struggles. A keen user of metaphor, she also outlines the stages on the spiritual path in terms of irrigating a garden, in her analogy of the “four waters". The soul, Teresa explains, is a garden, formed on barren soil and full of weeds. “His Majesty" pulls out the weeds and then plants good seeds; however, it is the individual's responsibility, the gardener, to water the garden and the four methods of irrigation described represent the stages of prayer through which the soul must pass.

The first stage, Devotion of Heart, is extremely hard, owing to the inexperience of the individual, and in order to demonstrate this, Teresa uses the analogy of drawing water from a well. The second stage, Devotion of Peace, is similarly challenging, and is exemplified through the turning of the crank of a waterwheel and using a system of aqueducts. The third stage, Devotion of Union, is where God starts to help in the process, described as using water that comes straight from a river or spring.

The fourth and final stage, Devotion of Ecstasy, is where the analogous garden is watered by the sweet rain from the heavens above:

I am now speaking of that rain that comes down abundantly from heaven to soak and saturate the whole garden. If the Lord never ceased to send it whenever it was needed, the gardener would certainly have leisure; and if there were no winter but always a temperate climate, there would never be a shortage of fruit and flowers, and the gardener would clearly be delighted.

But this is impossible while we live, for we must always be looking out for one water when another fails. The heavenly rain very often comes down when the gardener least expects it. Yet it is true that at the beginning it almost comes after long mental prayer.
—Teresa of Avila, The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila