Still Wandering the Hundred Acre Wood

Hundred Acre Wood

E. H. Shepard’s 1926 map of the Hundred Acre Wood, based on the Winnie-the-Pooh stories by A. A. Milne.

The Pooh books of A.A. Milne had their influence on me when I was slipping into being a teenager. They were not books of my childhood. A girl friend who I wanted to be a girlfriend was a big fan of Pooh and so I started reading them. My relationship with Milne has lasted a lot longer than my relationship with that girl.

I always thought there was something wise in the words of Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin, and their friends. The Tao of Pooh was published after I had stopped being a student in classrooms, but it would have been on my bookshelf in those days. When it was published (1982), I was married, teaching and a few years from having my own children. I had rediscovered Pooh because the books were also a favorite of my wife-to-be. It was also a time that I was rediscovering Buddhism which I had started to study in college. This book about Pooh’s “philosophy” by Benjamin Hoff is an introduction to the Eastern belief system of Taoism intended for Westerners.

The book does use the Milne characters’ words but more so it allegorically uses the characters to illustrate the basic principles of Taoism.

Tao (or Dao) is a Chinese word meaning the “way” or “path” and sometimes more loosely “doctrine.”

I like the story (hopefully true) that Hoff wrote the book at night and on weekends while working as a tree pruner in the Portland (Oregon) Japanese Garden in Washington Park. Pruning and weeding my garden are two of my favorite practical meditations.

Hoff later wrote The Te of Piglet, a companion book – both are available in one volume.

But Hoff’s relationship with publishers was far less pleasant than a day in the Hundred Acre Wood.

In 2006, he denounced the publishing industry and announced his resignation from book-writing.  He has published five books including The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow which won the American Book Award in 1988.

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.” – A.A. Milne

The character of Winnie-the-Pooh is a good personification of wu wei.  Don’t confuse this Taoist concept of “effortless doing” with laziness.  Imagine if you could do your work “effortlessly.”

Pooh also illustrates for us pu.  This Chinese word means “unworked wood” or “simple” and was an early Taoist (or Daoist) metaphor for the natural state of humanity. Pooh is an exemplar of this concept of being open to, but unburdened by, experience.

Owl and Rabbit are characters that are quite the opposite. They over-complicate and over-think situations and problems.

Eeyore (who I fully identified with for a long time) is a pessimist. always complaining and fully burdened.

Piglet: “How do you spell ‘love’?”
Pooh: “You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – Pooh”
― A.A. Milne

The Te of Piglet is the 1992 companion book to The Tao of Pooh. It was also a bestseller. In this book, Piglet acts as our model of living Te.

The Chinese concept of Te, which means “power” though often interpreted as  “virtue,” is particularly suited to Piglet in the Taoist concept of “virtue of the small.”  This second volume is really an elaboration on the first book’s introduction to Taoism, so they should be read together.

Piglet has power, though small, because he has a great heart or, in Taoist terms, Tz’u.

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”  – A.A. Milne

The Hundred Acre Wood of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories is based on the Five Hundred Acre Wood in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, England. Milne’s country home was just north of Ashdown Forest. That Wood is one that young Christopher Robin Milne would explore.

I am still wandering in my own One Hundred and Fifty-Seven Acre Wood on a regular basis. I can be found there practicing (rather badly) Qigong and Tai Chi and trying to identify plants, playing Pooh Sticks in a creek and picking up plastic bottles and trash so that I leave the Wood cleaner than when I entered.

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”  –  A.A. Milne

I have learned that Laozi in the Tao Te Ching explains that the Tao is “not a name for a thing” but the underlying natural order of the Universe. That order is perhaps impossible to describe as it is peskily non-conceptual. But it must exist.

Laozi also said that the Tao is “eternally nameless” in a world filled with named things that are manifestations of the Tao. The universe is a confusing place to wander.

“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.”  –  A.A. Milne

A Haiku May Be a Koan But

The crow yells at me
while I napped by the creek
the muddy water cleared

water bloom

If some of the koans that I have posted here baffle you, perhaps you can step into them gently by thinking of haiku as a kind of koan. I believe that a haiku can be a koan, but not all koans are haiku.

They both often ask us to consider a situation that is not obvious. Though sometimes haiku present a situation that seems so obvious that you wonder if you are not missing “the point.”

There are even “American koans” – a term that probably emerged from the distinction of American Buddhism and American Zen – terms that some may view as derogatory.

balanced stones

The most famous haiku from Japan are probably those attributed to Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, and Kobayashi Issa.

One well known Basho haiku from 1686 translated to English says:

The old pond;
A frog jumps in –
The sound of the water.

So simple. This moment of action and sound of the water that captures the poet’s mind.

But, why is it an “old” pond? He might have used the sound of the frog itself singing, but instead the water “reacts” to the frog as we react to the sound.

Unfortunately, most Westerners don’t study haiku very much. I am no expert, but whenever I read more about them, their meanings become clearer. I have written here about

Here is a Buson haiku that I read recently which hasn’t been translated into the familiar Western 5,7,5 syllable format we are used to seeing.

An elephant’s eyes smile-
Mountain cherry blossoms.

I read those lines and then I read further that elephants didn’t arrive even come into Japan until after the medieval era. But they were known as sacred and mythical animals from stories of them in India and China. There were places named for them (such as Elephant’s Head Mountain) and it turns out that Buson visited there and wrote the haiku inspired by the place and the elephant eye shape of that mountain shrine.

Basho was Zen-trained, and ordained as a priest, but did not seem to actually practice as a priest. But Issa lived for several years in monasteries. His taken name “Issa” means “one tea” as in a bubble in a cup of tea and suggests the Buddhist ideas of emptiness and change.

In checking online about him, I found that he seems to have also used the name Haikaiji Issa. Haikaiji means “haiku temple.” He was paralyzed by a stroke at age 58. After he recovered, he changed his name to Soseibo, meaning “revived priest.”

Here’s a poem by him that is often noted as a Zen haiku:

From the white dewdrops,
Learn the way
To the pure land.

His lesson, seen in the drops of dew, is that as they form during the night, gather in the morning and then fall into a pond or the soil and become part of it.

Simple oneness.

“Pure Land” is a reference to Pure Land Buddhism, described as a place of beauty that surpasses all other realms. More importantly for the Pure Land practitioner, once one has been “born” into this land, one will never again be reborn. In the Pure Land, one will be personally instructed by Amitābha Buddha and numerous bodhisattvas until one reaches full and complete enlightenment. Being born into the Pure Land is akin to escaping samsāra. Sansāra (or samsāra) literally means “continuous flow” and is the cycle of birth, life, death, rebirth or reincarnation that is part of Buddhism, Hinduism, Bön, Jainism, Sikhism, and other Indian religions.

temple tower

Are haiku koans? Some may be. They certainly ask us most of the time to think more deeply about something in a focused manner. Many haiku can teach something, though I don’t believe that is always their purpose. Still, the continued study of haiku can be a practice of refining your vision, both literally and figuratively.

The Grapes of Wrath

Grapes of Wrath book jacket
My 1940 edition of the novel that was on our home bookshelf and that I carried and read for a week.

I read John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, when I was 13. I was really taken with this story of the Joads who leave their dustbowl Oklahoma for the promise of a better life in California.

The story had no real connections to my life, but the writing absorbed me. I brought that big paperback to church one Sunday because I just had to finish the story. It seemed more important than what was being said at Mass. But there were connections to that place, starting with the title taken from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord / He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”

John Steinbeck had published six novels, a play, and a short story collection in the previous ten years, including two of my favorites – Tortilla Flat and Of Mice and Men.

Steinbeck was hired by Fortune magazine to visit the tenement camps in California to write a piece. He never wrote the article, saying that that magazine’s audience was not one he liked, but he agreed to go with a Life magazine photographer to document the camps.

In March 1938, he wrote his agent to say that “… I simply can’t make money on these people. That applies to your query about an article for a national magazine. The suffering is too great for me to cash in on it… I break myself every time I go out because the argument that one person’s effort can’t really do anything doesn’t seem to apply when you come on a bunch of starving children and you have a little money. I can’t rationalize it for myself anyway. So don’t get me a job for a slick [magazine]. I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this.”

After writing some newspaper articles about the conditions, he decided to start work on a novel about the people he had met. He started that summer and gave himself a deadline of 100 days. He also kept a journal as he was working. He stuck to the deadline and on October 26 – day 100 – he wrote an entry: “Finished this day — and I hope to God it’s good.” It was completed as a first draft, but Steinbeck reworked it several times and it was published the following year.

Steinbeck said he didn’t expect The Grapes of Wrath to be popular, and it did receive some negative reviews, as one might expect for a novel of social awareness with a political agenda. Steinbeck wanted the book to disturb readers enough that they might do more than just become aware of the conditions he saw. He wanted some readers to take action. He wanted politicians to act.

A review in The New Yorker by Clifton Fadiman said it had a terrible ending, but that it might be the Great American Novel. It became the highest-selling book of 1939. It won the Pulitzer Prize.

That ending was a part of the book that I finished that Sunday in church. If we need a spoiler alert for a book that is 80 years old, insert one here. The novel ends with the Joad family broken apart. Rose of Sharon, the pregnant daughter, delivers a stillborn baby. She breastfeeds an old starving man.

It seemed shocking. It felt religious, and my reading room certainly contributed to that.

In the following years, I read every other book by Steinbeck I could find. He was the first author that I “studied” on my own with no prompting from teachers.  During junior high and high school, I would make my way through Fitzgeral, Hemingway, salinger and Updike.

I eventually started reading critical studies and found that The Grapes of Wrath was full of religious references, from the title to the ending.  It was a self-revelation while reading the book that “Reverend” Jim Casy was JC, the initials of Jesus Christ, and I read the rest of the novel with that connection in mind. Jim travels with the Joad family. He has left the priesthood because he knew he wasn’t good enough to stay, but he is always thinking about God and the ways in which humans’ souls are connected. He inspires the Joads and others that he “preaches” to on the road to and tries to help them retain faith in a higher power.

Jim knows his emerging ideas about religion don’t fit into the Christian church. Trying to explain his new view, he tells Tom Joad: ”I figgered, ‘Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,’ I figgered, ‘maybe it’s all men an’ all women we love; maybe that’s the Holy Sperit–the human sperit–the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’ ”

The novel has religious symbols and ideas throughout. Some were obvious to my 13-year-old self. Their exodus from the desert of Oklahoma along Route 66 to the promised land of California was the most obvious connection. But it was also what really happened to those people. I loved that connection.

Jim became my favorite character and the Christ connection held for me. He wanders into the wilderness to find his soul, but decides it’s not there or in him unless he is connected to people. He sacrifices himself by turning himself in to the police to save Tom. In jail, he preaches his message. When he leaves jail, he decides that preaching isn’t enough and he needs to put his ideas into actions. He dies a martyr’s death. His last words – “You don’ know what you’re a-doin” – are an obvious paraphrase of Christ’s last words.  Tom becomes his disciple, vowing to spread his message that is as much one of social justice as it is religion.

The film version of the novel was released in 1940. For all the limitations that a film version of a big novel has, it is an excellent film. The story is unfortunately changed, especially in the second half and the ending becomes a more positive Hollywood one. But for all the people who saw the film but didn’t read the book (which I suspect was the vast majority), at least the themes of the novel come through.  In 1940, that story was still in the news. I’m glad that I saw the film after reading the novel. The screen images made things I had read more vivid. Henry Fonda now looks like Tom Joad and John Carradine is how I picture Jim Casy even if I reading about them on the page.  I don’t recommend watching the film on your phone or laptop but it is available on archive.org.

As sad as the story of the Joads is throughout the novel, Ma Joad’s final thoughts are an optimism of strength. Things will be better, if not for all of her family, then for her people and the country.

“I ain’t never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked as though we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn’t have nobody in the whole wide world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and nobody cared…. Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain’t no good and they die out, but we keep a-coming. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, cos we’re the people.”


The film was one that was highly anticipated in 1940, building on the novel’s popularity. This trailer for the film shows how that anticipation was encouraged. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards® including Best Picture, and won Best Supporting Actress, Jane Darwell as Ma Joad, and Best Director, John Ford.

The Red Road

I recently retraveled the back roads of William Least Heat-Moon’s 1978 travel account, Blue Highways.  I read the book when it was released, but this time I listened to the audiobook which is how I prefer to experience books when I am on the road or walking my own backroads and woods.

Heat-Moon seems to have coined the term “blue highways” to refer to those out-of-the-way roads in mostly rural America which were shown in blue on the old Rand McNally road atlas. This is a book from a time when a GPS wouldn’t have even seemed possible.

But the author mentions an earlier version of his blue highways coming from his own American Indian ancestry. He references Black Elk’s “Two Roads,” one of which is sometimes called the Blue Road. On this recent reading of the book, I did some further research into that aspect of the roads.

I had read John Neihardt’s Black Elk Speaks a few years before I read Blue Highways, but I don’t recall ever making the connection between the two.

Nicholas Black Elk was born in 1863 and died in 1950 and saw tremendous changes in the lives of his Oglala Lakota people.  The book was published in 1932, but paperback editions of it were common in the 196s and 70s amongst college students. The “New Age” popularity was probably due to the visions of Black Elk that are recorded.

The book describes Lakota life and is a history of a Native nation, but it is often read as a spiritual tale.

Black Elk met Neihardt in 1930 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and asked him to record and share his story. (There has long been some controversy about this non-native writer telling the story.)

At the age of nine, Black Elk received a great vision which is the central reflector of the book. His celestial vision has been interpreted as the totality of earthly creation. It is a joyous sky-spanning vision of Earth and the heavens united.

For perspective, think about that the year after his vision, Black Elk was present at the Battle of Little Bighorn. He was a second cousin of the war chief Crazy Horse.

Black Elk
Black Elk (USDA photo)

In the 1997 book, Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala, we get a more modern version of the vision and of the latter part of Black Elk’s life.

His childhood vision remained strong in Black Elk’s life until his death, though his own interpretation changed. He asks Wakan Tanka (God or The Great Spirit) throughout his lifetime if he properly interpreted or fulfilled the vision. In Black Elk Speaks, the conclusion seems sad and he feels he has not been able to save his people through his vision and works.

But Black Elk lived for almost twenty years after Neihardt finished his book, so the story there is incomplete. The newer book suggests that the answer that Black Elk finally received from Wakan Tanka was that he had fulfilled the vision.

Something that is missing from Neihardt’s book is that Black Elk was baptized on St. Nicholas Day in December 1904 and took the name Nicholas to preface Black Elk. He was a practicing and proselytizing Catholic until his death. He baptized hundreds of Indians, taught the Bible, held Masses, and preached sermons. That was a 46 year period of having a simple, righteous, useful Christian life.

This conversion changed his interpretation of the childhood vision. There is Roman Catholic teaching aide that he encountered commonly known as the Two Roads Map. It was a visual catechism that was poster-sized. Though it is a Christian “salvation history,” there are parallels between Black Elk’s vision and the Two Roads Map that Black Elk was probably pleased to see.  Some of the similarities may seem coincidental or trivial – thunder beings, flying men, tree images, villages, a black road, a red road, an evil blue man engulfed in flames in a “Hellish” place where people moaned and mourned. He used the Two Roads Map in his teaching.

The map has a pre-Christian black road and a Christian red road. In Black Elk’s vision as well as in the Christian map, the Red Road was the good and authentic path. For Black Elk, it seems to have represented both the traditional Indian way with Lakota symbolism and Christian symbolism. The Red Road was the Christian right way to live.

It may be cultural or religious appropriation that the Red Road has more commonly become a name for the right path without regard to religion but perhaps some regard for spirituality.

So where does the Blue Road that Heat-Moon alludes to originate? For that, you need to read in The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux. This book is also a transcribed version of Black Elk’s teachings on the sacred pipe that was written much later in his life. In this book, he speaks of the Red Road as the north-south cross of the Medicine Wheel. The east-west cross is the black or blue road, which is the way we should not travel.

For, Nicholas Black Elk, Christianity was the Red Road, a metaphor for living a spiritual way of life. Rather than being a road stretching forward to the horizon, he saw the people on the red road as one interconnected circle of travelers making a “sacred hoop.”

William Least Heat-Moon lightly references the blue roads as being a way to travel that is kind of a waste of your time, but his blue highways were chosen to help him reconnect to people, the country and himself. His motorized journey is a spiritual one, though not one Black Elk may have recognized or endorsed.

In the descriptions of Black Elk’s central childhood vision that I have read, there is almost always a disclaimer that, of course, words cannot really capture what he saw. He saw multiple manifestations of a single Great Spirit. This monotheistic image probably made the transition to Catholicism more logical.

Nicholas Black Elk and family
Nicholas Black Elk and family, between 1890 and 1910

In my next post, I will travel down the blue roads and highways…

Cleopatra’s Nose

When I taught in a secondary school, I always had a rotating series of quotations on my classroom walls. Many were quite serious: “Some of us think that holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” – Herman Hesse
Some were humorous: “Every place is within walking distance if you have the time.” – Steven Wright
Some quotes were somewhere in between: “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain
I even quoted myself: “Bladder control is a sign of maturity” and “When the mothership lands, know who your true friends are.”

Students would sometimes ask about a quote, and I would use them in lessons. On some rare and happy occasions, a student would connect a quote to something we were doing in class.

One quote that students usually thought was “stupid” was:

“Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.”

It is a quote from Blaise Pascal who can be described as both a mathematician and a mystic. He was born in Clermont, France in 1623. I told students that Blaise was homeschooled because his father, a mathematician, believed that children should absorb knowledge naturally rather than by studying. My students found this to be sound thinking.

They were in lesser agreement on that approach when they learned that his home life was less fun and games and more geometric problems which he was told to work out using lengths of sticks in his backyard.

The method seemed to work. At 12, he showed his father that he had discovered that the sum of the angles of a triangle is equal to two right angles. His father invited him to join in his discussions with other mathematicians. He published an article on the geometric properties of cones at 16, and a few years later, he invented the first mechanical calculator.

TaylorBut what about Cleopatra’s nose? I always assumed that Cleopatra was a great beauty, but there are very few images or descriptions of her.

In my mind, she looked like Elizabeth Taylor in the film Cleopatra (1963). That nose looks, like the rest of Liz, quite beautiful.

But it seems that power rather than beauty was the real appeal of Cleopatra.

coin
“The Lover’s Coin” a bronze showing Cleopatra (left) and Marc Antony.

She is described as being quite thin and quite small (about four feet tall). Julius Caesar was accused of pedophilia when she at around age 18 visited him in Rome. She was also depicted as having quite a big nose. But Cleo was  proud of her large nose because it demonstrated her pure Macedonia blood (she was not Egyptian) as a descendant of Alexander the Great.

Pascal had a good-sized nose himself, so maybe he identified with Cleo. But what did that odd quote mean?

I college, I was assigned to read some of Pascal’s writings in a philosophy course. The idea that stuck with me was that if you change one thing, you change everything. If you decide to go to a different college, or marry a different person, everything after changes. But even if you change something that seems less significant – whether to skip work today, the route you take driving, your nose or Cleopatra’s nose – other things will change. Every choice changes the consequences.

That kind of thinking moves easily into discussions of fate, destiny, free will and religion. Pascal’s family was not religious and he was not raised with religious teachings. By chance (if you believe in that concept), he met two Christian mystics who cared for his father during an illness. They converted Pascal.

The newly converted Pascal had no problem with these new beliefs and science. He continued working on scientific experiments. He showed that a vacuum could exist in nature. He invented the mathematics of probability.

He had his religious beliefs, but he wasn’t a blindly devoted believer.

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when
they do it from religious conviction.”

But then, in 1654, he experienced a “night of fire.” He had a divine vision. It changed his life and he decided to forget the world and everything except for God.

He left Paris the following year and went to live in a convent. While living there, his niece was miraculously cured of an eye disease by touching a thorn from the crown of Jesus.

He started to write a book to convert skeptics to Christianity. He never completed the book. The notes he had made were posthumously published as Pensées (Thoughts).

What I recall most clearly from that book is his “wager.”

“God is or He is not. But to which side shall we incline? Let us weigh the gain and the lose in wagering that God is. Let us estimate the two changes. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, lose nothing. Wager then without any hesitation that He is”

If God does not exist, the skeptic loses nothing by believing in him. But if God does exist, the skeptic gains eternal life by believing in him.It is logical to believe.

In his writing, the “heart” is what experiences God, and not reason. The famous quote of his on that:

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of…
We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.”

These are far larger questions than my quotations on the wall ever answered. Then again, they were meant to provoke questions more than provide answers. Pascal said that “Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”

Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Ávila s a young woman by François Gérard, 1826

Last March 28, I saw on a website that it was the birthday of St. Teresa of Ávila. I’m not a “religious” person these days in the sense of an organized religion, but I have an odd relationship with St. Teresa.

It started when I was 13 and attended “Sunday school” at St. Leo’s Church in Irvington, New Jersey. That year I my teacher was a young and very kind nun. Those two qualities set Sister Teresa Avila apart from all the other nuns I encountered.

I knew nothing about the real Saint Teresa of Ávila whom she was named after until many years later. The Saint Teresa (28 March 1515 – 4 October 1582), was a prominent Spanish mystic, Roman Catholic saint, Carmelite nun and author during the Counter Reformation, and theologian of contemplative life through mental prayer.

Teresa grew up in a wealthy household in the province of Ávila, Spain. She was a beautiful and social girl who loved her privileged life, perfume, jewelry, and elegant clothes. Her mother died when she was 14, and her father sent her to convent school to protect his beautiful daughter.

Perhaps surprisingly, she found the religious training very appealing and she decided to become a nun.

After twenty increasingly important years, she established her own monastery, She then traveled around Spain on a donkey, setting up 16 new monasteries for women. She also wrote several books, including The Way of Perfection (1566) and The Interior Castle (1580).

One day in that thirteenth year, I had forgotten a homework assignment for Sunday school catechism class. Sister Teresa told me to go home, get the assignment, bring it to the convent and ask for her. The nun who answered my knock at the convent door went to get Sister Teresa.

When Sister Teresa Avila appeared she was not wearing her nun’s habit. I can only imagine how my face must have looked.

She was beautiful. She had long, dark, shiny hair. She asked me for my assignment which was in my hand. I was frozen. It probably took me a few seconds to respond but it felt like a lot longer.

I was in love with her in the way that a boy of 13 can be in love with an adult woman. I don’t know in what way a boy can be in love with a nun.

The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa
The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini , 1652

In college I took a course about religion in literature and although it was taught by a religion professor, it was the most influential literature course I took as an English major. Along with novels, we read religious works including The Wisdom of the Sufis, The Dark Night of the Soul  by Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa’s The Interior Castle.

The Interior Castle was inspired by a Saint Teresa’s mystical vision of a crystal castle with seven chambers, each representing a different stage in spiritual development. She immediately wrote her book which is divided into seven parts (also called mansions, dwelling places or chambers) Each level brings you closer to God.

Entrance into the first three mansions is achieved by prayer and meditation. The fourth through seventh mansions are considered to be mystical or contemplative prayer. The soul achieves clarity in prayer and a spiritual marriage with God in the seventh mansions.

Of course, as I read the book my thoughts often returned to Sister Teresa rather than Saint Teresa. The two have remained blurred in my mind. I imagine Sister Teresa before she took the veil as a beautiful young girl much like the Teresa of Avila in 1529.

Over the years, both Teresa’s have been in my thoughts and have been alluded to in other works. Simone de Beauvoir writes about Teresa as a woman who lived her life for herself in her book The Second Sex. George Eliot compared the character Dorothea to St. Teresa in Middlemarch. Thomas Hardy took Teresa as the inspiration for much of the heroine Tess (Teresa) in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, a character who in one scene lies in a field and senses her soul ecstatically above her.

Saint Teresa appears in a few contemporary songs: “Theresa’s Sound-World” by Sonic Youth  and in “Saint Teresa” by Joan Osborne.

But none of those allusions have had as much of an impact on me as reading The Interior Castle through the lens of a 13 year-old boy discovering another kind of love.