Jun 13 2008

Teresa of Avila – You are Christ’s Hands

Published by at 8:14 am under Poetry

You are Christ’s Hands
by Teresa of Avila

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
      no hands but yours,
      no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
      Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
      doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

— from The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions, Edited by Andrew Harvey


/ Photo by batega /

Let’s round out our series on women’s voices in sacred poetry with this selection by St. Teresa of Avila.

I haven’t been able to confirm whether or not this beautiful poem was actually composed by Teresa of Avila or not. It is popularly attributed to her, but it is not included or even mentioned in The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, which I assume has all of her known writings. It may be similar to the popular Prayer of St. Francis, which is a profound prayer-poem, but not actually composed by St. Francis of Assisi.

Whether this was composed by Teresa of Avila herself or by an anonymous Christian poet, this is one of my favorite prayer-poems. It is a prayer of supreme spiritual maturity. It is not someone imploring Christ to come and fix everything in the external way imagined by so many fundamentalist sects; rather, it recognizes the presence of the Divine within each of us and our sacred responsibility to embody that compassion and service to the world. Each one of us is the vehicle through which Christ (or Ishwara, or however you name the personal form of the Divine) sends blessings. Our job is to get out of the way and let that sacred current flow through us unhindered.

“Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now…”

Teresa of Avila, Teresa of Avila poetry, Christian poetry Teresa of Avila

Spain (1515 – 1582) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

Teresa de Jesus, more popularly known as Teresa of Avila, lived in a time of turmoil and religious reform. She was a nun in Catholic Spain during the immediate aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, when Spain saw itself as the most secure bastion of traditional Catholic faith and practice.

She was a strong and inspired leader, in a time and place when women were relegated to more passive roles. And she was a deep mystic, who was sometimes seen to levitate slightly off the ground, and her face illuminated.

Teresa entered the Carmelite order of nuns against the wishes of her father. She eventually joined the “discalced” movement within the Carmelite order, a movement that advocated simplicity, humility, and the spiritual life over the increasingly worldly and sometimes corrupt practices that dominated many other communities of monks and nuns. Her reputation for holiness along with her immense energy and practical talents quickly made her a leader of the discalced Carmelites and the foundress of several monasteries. These activities led her into a world of politics, legal battles, letter campaigns, and long periods of exhausting travel.

Like Francis of Assisi, Teresa also suffered from a series of debilitating illnesses and injuries, often made even worse by the treatments of the time. Later in life, for example, she fell down a flight of stairs and broke her arm. It was poorly set and limited her movement. Someone had to rebreak her arm in order to reset it, but an even worse job was done, leaving her essentially crippled and needing aid for such simple things as dressing herself.

Obedience was one of the virtues Teresa particularly extolled. Politically, this was significant at a time when the Catholic world was being challenged by the Protestant reformation, and when many mystical movements within the Catholic church narrowly escaped the label of heresy. Yet obedience, for her and for monastics throughout the centuries, has the spiritual value of freeing the individual from self-will and the trap of ego. In other words, when practiced with intelligent caution, obedience can be understood as a technique that opens the heart and the awareness.

Despite her physical sufferings and the challenges of her foundational work within the Catholic church, she remained supremely dedicated to the mystical life. She shared a close spiritual connection with John of the Cross, her younger contemporary, and was in some ways a mentor to that great poet and mystic.

Teresa of Avila wrote poetry, many letters, histories of her work in establishing monastic foundations, but it is her book on the path of prayer, The Way of Perfection, and her spiritual autobiography, The Interior Castle, that are most widely read and considered her masterpieces.

More poetry by Teresa of Avila

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Teresa of Avila – You are Christ’s Hands”

  1. Suzy Musseron 13 Jun 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Hi Ivan, I read the poem several times…so beautiful…I thought about what it means to be his hands, his feet, his eyes…and then I remembered praying or actually listening to God…and heard the words..”Seek My Face”…That was a number of years ago. I then asked God..’but what does your face look like?’..Somehow what came to me was…’my face is everyone’s face…all that exists is my face’…so somehow it seems to help me understand how our hands etc…are the hands of Christ…There are no boundaries between us and our brothers and sisters…our earth…except when we feel we are seperate.
    You will be in my prayers.
    Suzy

  2. Ivan M. Grangeron 13 Jun 2008 at 3:30 pm

    You expressed that insight so well, Suzy. It’s very much in harmony with my own perspective. “My face is everyone’s face… all that exists is my face.” Everything has a hidden… fulness. When we look at the world with simple, honest eyes, we glimpse that fulness. Finally, we see that only that fulness exists, and the seemingly fixed reality of the material world loses its tangibility and fades into the background. That fulness shines through everything. And it smiles at us… and through us.
    :-)
    Ivan

    (And thank you for your prayers.)

  3. WIREMANon 14 Jun 2008 at 10:20 am

    thanks Ivan…….what beautiful thoughts to carry with me as i go out into the world today….

  4. Joseon 15 Jun 2008 at 1:22 am

    Does anyone has the English translation of Alma buscarte has en mi?

  5. Subhan Alion 15 Jun 2008 at 7:26 pm

    R/Sir, It is a marvellous poem, with the message of full supplication. You are doing well doining so. Thanks innumberable……….Subhan Ali

  6. Tomon 24 Aug 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Does anyone one have the spanish version? Thanks

  7. Sr. M. Lucinaon 28 May 2009 at 12:57 pm

    Thank you Ivan, I was looking for this prayer to include in a meeting, I used to use it a lot in my primary school assemblies.
    Grateful thanks.
    Sr.M.Lucina

  8. Miguelon 28 Nov 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Jose,

    I just found the translation into English in below link.

    http://www.archive.org/stream/minorworksconcep00tereuoft/minorworksconcep00tereuoft_djvu.txt

  9. You want proof?on 06 May 2011 at 2:00 am

    […] finish with some famous lines from Teresa of Avila: Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, Yours are the […]

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