Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
-Teresa of Avila
(A reading chosen for St. Teresa’s feast day)
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
I’m excited about this day, as I head for a conference we’ve been planning for almost a year. It will be held at Christ Church in Charlotte, a lively and faithful congregation. The conference is called Discipleship Matters. We’re gathering folks to explore what we talk about each Monday in these emails. What does it mean to be a disciple these days? How can we do that with authenticity and generosity of spirit? How can we do that when it’s difficult or perplexing?
We can answer those questions by learning from folks who seem to have figured out something about discipleship. As the Holy Spirit would have it, today is also the day in which the church remembers the life and ministry and witness of Teresa of Avila, saint of the 16th century. Her quotable quotes reach across the generations with wit and wisdom that has nourished me along the way.
Here’s one of my favorite stories. Teresa would go from town to town in her ministry. On one of her journeys, the wheel fell off the cart in which she was riding. She was thrown from the cart and landed in a mud puddle by the side of the road, at which point she shook her fist at heaven, and said in unfiltered prayer: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends it’s no wonder you have so few of them.”
I might nominate her as matron saint of cartoonists, as she prayed: “God save us from gloomy saints.”
She models the power of honesty in prayer, when so often we feel like we have to be polite in addressing the Almighty, as if God can’t handle the truth. One of my favorites: “O God I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you, but I want to want to love you.”
She spoke of prayer as nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God. That’s a wondrous way to describe discipleship.
At one particularly challenging passage in the life of our family, when uncertainty and anxiety were strong, we posted one of her prayers by our door: “Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.” Teresa ministered to us across the centuries.
And she presented a great vision for discipleship, one that elevates expectations, offers challenge, and suggests the great privilege that Christ uses us as his presence in the world. The vision is printed above, and it invites us to think about discipleship as a way of doing Christ’s work in the world, work that needs to be done.
I invite you to join the conversation taking place in Charlotte over the next few days, wherever you may be, by thinking about why discipleship matters (join us online if you can’t be here in person). Why does it matter to you? Please pray for this conference. Pray that we might get new insights into what it means to be a disciple. And take the feast day of St. Teresa as an opportunity to let her teach about discipleship, as you pray with her wit and wisdom, her honesty and hope.