“If St. Teresa had written letters on any other subject than God, if she had talked about the flowers in her garden or what was being said in the drawing-rooms in Seville, she would have been only a Marquise de Sevigni. But she was speaking of God, and God who gave her the power to love Him also gave her the ability to write well. There is a story that St. Thomas Aquinas, as death was drawing near, heard the Lord ask: “You have spoken well of Me; what reward would you like?”—”Nothing but Yourself, Lord,” he answered. He was able, at that moment, to make such a reply since he had previously, in his mortal life when speaking and writing of God, desired nothing but God alone. It is for that very reason that he spoke of Him well.”
—Jean Leclerq, O.S.B., The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture
In his classic work on medieval monastic culture Dom Jean Leclerq considers the depth of beauty in the writings of several of the church’s mystical writers including St. John of Ruysbroeck, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales, St Thomas Aquinas, and St Bernard. Dom Jean speculates that their talents are augmented by God working in them. He goes on to say, “St. Bernard thinks the angels will help him since they also are servants of the word. They ‘administer’ to the mind beautiful conceptions and the images which make them perceptible. But while images express God they likewise conceal Him. This radical defect in everything the mystic tries to express succeeds in detaching him from his literary pursuits and in removing any self-satisfaction he might take in what he writes. Literature, he knows, with all its formalities and necessary laws, is an example of the impotence of our condition, its limitations, and of the inadequacy of what we say to represent what gives us our life. To become aware of this lack and this impediment is to intensify one’s desire to possess God fully in eternity.”
When our honest engagement with our craft inevitably admits its failure to speak all we would have it say, or show anything like the beauty of our inner vision, or even remotely echo the heavenly chorus we faintly heard, let us not despair. If it is first of all a relationship which spawns our effort then that is what will sustain it.