Death, Carmel, Art and Life

Varo’s 1963 “Still Life Reviving” was her last painting

“On, then, my daughters! Let us hasten to perform this task and spin this cocoon. Let us renounce our self-love and self-will, and our attachment to earthly things. Let us practice penance, prayer, mortification, obedience, and all the other good works that you know of. Let us do what we have been taught; and we have been instructed about what our duty is. Let the silkworm die — let it die, as in fact it does when it has completed the work that it was created to do. ” St. Teresa of Avila

The beauty of The Call is so great in person it made me cry-with joy.

St. Teresa of Avila reformed the Carmelites back to the ancient rule of the monks of Mt. Carmel.  A call that led her on many journeys of an exterior and interior kind.  She had many vocations within her life time and after her death the work continues and flourishes.  Her writings still inspire, instruct, convert and shape souls all over the world.  Anyone  dealing in prayer with St. Teresa can testify to how very much alive she is in the most profound and oddest ways.  If all those adventures of body and soul could be seen Remedios Varo painted them to some degree.

Interior Castle inspired

Though Varo rejected her Catholic faith, partly due to her experiences in Catholic school, she embraced the Carmelites near the end.    She sought the mystic world all her life and expressed it in her work.  Unseen cooperation with the divine to create and reveal the innermost soul with beauty and often humor. One Discalced Carmelite convent, founded by her ancestors, beckoned her near the end of her life.  Though it was only a dream in this world, as she never found out she didn’t fulfill the requirements to such a life, I like to think she found her way in the next.

Maybe in some ethereal Carmel in Heaven she and St. Teresa shared some birthday cake as St. Teresa’s 500th birthday was a few days ago.  Varo had grown disenchanted with the world near the end of her life and the answer to this seemed to her to be a call away from the world and into the beauty of Carmel.  While planning to live out her years in cloistered peace she died suddenly at the age of 54.

“I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very crystal in which there are many rooms just as in Heaven there are many mansions” -St. Teresa of Avila

Carmel is a beautiful and mysterious spirituality that emphasis is detachment from all creatures and contemplative union with God.  St. Teresa wrote a masterpiece The Interior Castle taking the reader through doorways and corridors to a kingdom deeper within the soul than we could imagine.  A union so complete with God that space and time and being are one with Him.  Senses suspended and appetites obliterated into a peaceful, weightless and never-ending bliss.  Varo saw this as a kingdom surrounded by a watery spiral shaped like a nautilus perfect and infinite.   There the Holy Spirit is centered and sings his songs lending us to him.  While the earth-bound goats perhaps distract us on the shore.

“And as we seemed be walking along and getting fatigued all the time –for, believe me, it is an exhausting road– we shall be very lucky if we escape getting lost. Do you think, daughters, if we could get from one country to another in a week, it would be advisable, with all the winds and snow and floods and bad roads, to take a year over it? Would it not be better get the journey over and done with? For there are all these obstacles for us to meet and there is also the danger of serpents.”- St. Teresa of Avila

Her last painting is a perfect meditation for holy week and Easter.  It has what is seemingly dead revive and it all becomes immortal.  A meal that provides nourishment in a constant cycle for not only our temporal life but for all of eternity.  Everyday we can live this as we celebrate the Eucharist.  The resurrection constant now and in the past and present.  We live and die again every day until we live forever.  The grand mystery of love and sacrifice that strengthens us until we die from love for love and become the beloved.  Blessed holy week!

“The soul beings to live and nourishes itself on this good, and on good meditations, until it is full-grown –and this is what concerns me now:the rest is of little importance When it is full-grown, then, as I wrote at the beginning, it starts to spin its silk and to build that house in which it is to die.” -St. Teresa of Avila





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