The next stage of prayer that we have to talk about has been called by so many names that it is often hard to tell that various writers are talking about the same thing. Teresa of Avila calls it recollection. But she also calls the first stage of infused contemplation recollection. This adds to our confusion.
On my blog I will call this stage of prayer acquired recollection, as opposed to the infused recollection that is a pure gift of God. Other authors use the terms acquired contemplation, the prayer of simplicity, or the prayer of simple gaze.
In Interior Castle Teresa doesn’t speak much of prayer in the third mansions, except to say that souls at this stage “spend hours in recollection.” If we find prayer tedious, tend to avoid it, or cut it short, we are probably not firmly in the third mansions. People in the third mansions love to pray and would spend much of their day praying if they could. In fact, they begin to recollect themselves throughout the day as their duties allow them.
For more details on acquired recollection, we must turn to Way of Perfection. Teresa writes:
“But if we cultivate the habit, make the necessary effort and practice the exercises [of recollecting ourselves] for several days, the benefits will reveal themselves, and when we begin to pray we shall realize that the bees are coming to the hive and entering it to make the honey, and all without any effort of ours. For it is the Lord’s will that, in return for the time which their efforts have cost them, the soul and the will should be given this power over the senses. They will only have to make a sign to show that they wish to enter into recollection and the senses will obey and allow themselves to be recollected. Later they may come out again, but it is a great thing that they should ever have surrendered, for if they come out it is as captives and slaves and they do none of the harm that they might have done before.” (Peers translation, Ch. 28)
Gazing silently at God
At first meditation is difficult. Then it becomes easier. Before long, we can just picture in our minds a scene from the Gospel and are moved to make acts of love. That is the affective prayer we spoke of last time.
Now, instead of being moved to speak to Jesus, we are moved to sit quietly in His presence. As Teresa says, this may last only a few seconds. Then we return to our image or reflection, until it occurs again. And if it doesn’t, we go back to affective prayer, or even discursive meditation if necessary. At times the recollection may last for several minutes. Or we may sit quietly for an hour, with just a glance now and then back at the image that first helped us recollect ourselves. Our prayer time flies by. It is sweet, and we try to make more time for prayer if our duties allow it, adding a second prayer time during the day or turning our gaze inward during our duties whenever we can.
Jesus is drawing us. We hear Him calling. We are eager to remove every barrier that keeps us from Him.
Pere Marie Eugene notes that there are two elements to acquired recollection: “the gaze fixed on its object, and the calm or silence that this produces.” He explains further about the soul:
“It will be aware of the object of its gaze, giving little attention to the peace it brings; or, it will give itself up to peaceful and sweet repose, giving to the object only the attention necessary to prolong the impression and renew it. ” (I Want to See God, ch. 9)
Don’t force the soul
When we begin to experience this, it’s imperative that we give ourselves up to it. We should never force ourselves to meditate or to speak! On the other hand, we should not try to unnaturally prolong acquired recollection. We should not force the soul one way or another, but let God lead us where He may. Teresa says in the fourth mansions:
“God gave us our faculties to work with, and everything will have its due reward; there is no reason, then, for trying to cast a spell over them — they must be allowed to perform their office until God gives them a better one.” (Ch. 3)
We may also find this phenomena occurring during vocal prayers. For example, while praying the Rosary, we may find ourselves drawn to a simpler meditation on each mystery, offering simple prayers in the heart at the same time our lips say the Hail Mary. We may picture just one image, using no reasoning at all. Then we are gradually led to this same stillness, and we set our beads aside to gaze at God.
In acquired recollection, the soul is still doing much of the work. But now and then something deeper, and more mysterious happens–the beginning of infused contemplation. We will save that discussion for the fourth mansions, after we talk about growth in virtue in the third mansions.