Holy Daring: Conversations with St. Teresa, the Wild Woman of Avila
by Tessa Bielecki
Boulder, CO: Albion-Andalus Books, 2015
by Donna Erickson Couch
Many years ago, on the advice of my spiritual director, I went on a quest to read the Christian mystics. Predictably, the works of Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila were first on the list. I was most intrigued at the prospect of reading Saint Teresa, a Doctor of the Church, quoted in nearly everything written about mysticism. However, when I delved into these original works written in sixteenth century language, I was perplexed and uninspired. What was wrong with me? Was I just too shallow to grasp the depth of the mystical writers? Unquestionably, I needed an inspired guide, not just an authority on mysticism (there are many out there), but someone who could help me unlock the treasure everyone said was there. Much to my surprise and delight, the book Holy Daring: Conversations with St. Teresa, the Wild Woman of Avila by Tessa Bielecki, first published in 1994, came my way.
After the book arrived in my mailbox all those years ago, I read Holy Daring three times! First round, I gobbled it down like a half-starved desert nomad. The second time, I chewed on the words more slowly, allowing them to digest over time. The third time, I savored each of the chapters like courses of a gourmet meal. During each reading, I became more drawn into the personal world of the great saint as well as the author who wrote so vividly about her, what mysticism really means, and how everyone could aspire to such greatness. I faced the very real prospect of how I could actually pattern my life on Saint Teresa, a mystic full of Spanish duende, “one who knows God by experience,” as so beautifully described in the book (4).
In Bielecki’s words, “If we fall in love with her, we may fall in love with the God she herself loved so madly. And when we love God this passionately, we love life passionately” (8). That sentence burned in me. I underlined, highlighted, and dog-eared the page and subsequently many others in this little book. I often returned to those words whenever life got to be a little too much. How I longed for such passion about life. Without hesitation, I can say now that reading and applying the principles of Holy Daring changed my life.
Recently, coinciding with the 500th anniversary of Saint Teresa’s death, Bielecki updated and rereleased Holy Daring. Of course, I read it again. This time, the experience was like slowly drinking my favorite chardonnay wine. The words slipped down into my body warmly and gently, enlivening my blood, “exquisitely delicious and divinely intoxicating,” in the author’s own words. Bielecki has written three books about Saint Teresa, her namesake, and I have read them all. But Holy Daring has remained my favorite. The author not only plumbs the depths of all of the writings of Saint Teresa, but also portrays the great saint as delightfully alive and infinitely loveable , “…an earth mother and earthy mystic, a poet and a brilliant administrator, a shrewd politician and a good friend. …stunning to look at … out-going, cheerful, charming and scintillating in her conversation” (3).
I recommend this book often to spiritual directees who want to know more about contemplative living. Many wonderful conversations have sprung from the six chapters (called conversations) that Bielecki so artfully portrays. The very titles of these conversations attract and intrigue the reader: “Zest for Life,” “Meeting the Beloved,” and “Spousal Prayer,” just to name three. Healthy, natural, and organic practices and guidelines for the mystical journey are also clearly presented as attractively doable for anyone.
Today, Saint Teresa of Avila and Bielecki herself are soul sisters to me. I cannot think of one without immediately remembering the other, so intertwined are they in my mind. I can give no greater compliment to anyone nor any stronger endorsement. Read this book. It just might change your life.
Donna Erickson Couch, MA, is the director of faith formation at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Dana Point, California, USA. A spiritual director, she also has many years of experience as a retreat guide, master catechist, and college professor. She is the author of Together but Alone: When God Means Something Different to Your Spouse. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.