An impulse is what I call a desire that sometimes comes upon the soul, and even very habitually, without any preceding prayer. But suddenly there comes to it a remembrance of its separation from God, or of some word it hears that refers to this separation. This remembrance is so powerful and has such force sometimes that in an instant the soul seems to be beside itself. It’s as though you were suddenly given some unknown and very painful news, or like a great and sudden shock that takes away the mind’s discursive power to console itself; the mind remains as if absorbed. So it is here, except that the pain serves such a purpose that the soul comes to know that the purpose is worth dying for.
The fact is that it seems everything the soul understands then adds to its pain and that the Lord doesn’t want it to profit in its entire being from anything else. Nor does its will appear to be alive, but it seems to be in so great a solitude and so forsaken by all that this abandonment cannot be described in writing. For the whole world and its affairs give it pain, and no created thing provides it with company, nor does it want any company but only the Creator; and it sees that having such company is impossible unless it dies. Since it must not kill itself, it so dies with the longing to die that there is true danger of death; and it finds itself as though hanging between heaven and earth [Cf. Poetry, 1: “I die because I do not die”]. It doesn’t know what to do with itself. And from time to time God gives it a knowledge of Himself in a strange and indescribable way so that it might see what it is missing. There is no knowledge on earth, at least of what I have received, equal to this divine knowledge. In the half-hour this prayer lasts, there is sufficient time to leave the body so disjoined and the arms so straight that the hands can’t even write; and the pains are most severe.
Nothing of this is felt until that impulse passes. The soul has enough to do in experiencing what is happening interiorly. Nor do I believe it would feel heavy bodily torments. Yet it is in possession of its senses, and it can speak and even see—but not walk because the forceful blow of love prostrates it. But unless God gives this impulse nothing is gained even were one to die for it. It leaves the greatest effect and improvement in the soul. Some learned men explain it one way, others another way; none of them condemns it. The Master Avila wrote me that it was good, [Letter from St. John of Avila, 12 September 1568] and so says everyone. The soul understands clearly that this impulse is a great favor of the Lord. Were it very frequent one’s life would not last long.
In the ordinary impulse there comes this extremely tender desire to serve God, along with tearful wishes to leave this exile. But since there is freedom for the soul to consider that it is the Lord’s will that it go on living, it is consoled by this thought and offers Him its own life, begging Him that it be for no purpose other than His glory [Cf. Soliloquies, 15: “See me here, Lord; if it’s necessary to live in order to render You some service, I don’t refuse all the trials that can come to me on earth”]. With this thought, the soul can continue on.
Saint Teresa of Avila
Spiritual Testimonies, 59: no. 13–16
The degrees of infused prayer (Seville, 1576)
Teresa of Avila, St. 1985, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K; Rodriguez, O, ICS Publications, Washington DC.