Volume XIII:2 July - December 2023
Le Swami et la Carmélite:
Vol. I – L’appel de l’Inde

Correspondance Henri Le Saux – Thérèse de Jésus 1959-1968.
Préface et notes de Yann Vagneux
Volume I of The Swami and the Carmelite: The Call of India, contains the correspondence between Sr. Thérèse of Jesus, novice mistress at the Carmel in Lisieux, and Henri Le Saux (Swami Abhishiktanabnda) that took place between the years 1959 and 1968. A second volume, entitled The Beauty of the Ganges covers the subsequent years of their correspondence and is scheduled to appear in September 2023.
The first connection between Le Saux and the Lisieux Carmel took place  in the late 1950s when Mme. Le Saux confided to Mother Françoise-Thérèse, the superior of the Carmelite community,  that she was concerned about her son, Henri, who had been in India for a dozen years.  Mme. Le Saux and Mother Françoise-Thérèse became friends, and Mother Françoise-Thérèse later encouraged her young novice mistress, Sr. Thérèse of Jesus, to begin corresponding with Abhishiktananda.  She knew that Sr. Thérèse had an extraordinary thirst for God, and “God alone,” and felt the correspondence between them would benefit her. Undoubtedly it did. But what began as a simple correspondence led to Sr. Thérèse’s own call to begin a solitary life in India.  She even wrote to Pope John XXIII asking for the permission to go.
A year later, in February 1963, Bishop Paul-Pierre Philippe, secretary of the Congregation of Religious, responded with a resounding “no,” adding that Sr. Thérèse was forbidden to have further correspondence with Le Saux.  In her last letter, Sr. Thérèse exhibited a heroic acceptance and abandonment to God in this circumstance of her life.  
However, Mother Françoise-Thérèse was at work behind the scenes and eventually convinced Bishop Philippe that he ought to allow Sr. Thérèse to experience life in India.  So in  October, 1964, Bishop Philippe did give her the permission to transfer to the Carmel in Pondicherry, and she finally met Abhishiktananda for the first time on the dock in Bombay.  From there, she traveled to the Carmel in Pondicherry where she stayed for two years until she received a three-year indult of exclaustration, permitting her to leave the enclosure and live as a solitary. She dressed in a sari and eventually settled near the ecumenical ashram of Jyotiniketan. 
The real beauty of this first volume is the insight into the spiritual journey of Sr. Thérèse as she was guided continually by the wisdom of Le Saux. 
I include here a few excerpts from Abhishiktananda‘s advice: 
While still in Lisieux (and we learn that Lisieux was indeed a very busy place, with a history of popularity dating back to the canonization of St. Therese when the community received 500 to 1000 letters daily!), Le Saux wrote:  
Recognizing the taste of the Lord in the food that we eat, his face in the brother or sister that we meet, the sound of his voice in all the acoustical waves that come to our ears . . .entering into the truth, is to rediscover our identity, but with a new understanding, that of the resurrected son of God. (p.40)
Le Saux did not hesitate to tell Sr. Therese that she was too occupied with herself, not abandoned enough to the Lord.  He added.
Again, don’t be so preoccupied about your contemplative life. Instead, be focused on the present moment.  The rest will take care of itself. . . . Only come to India for God himself.  Not for yourself. Not to be a contemplative. Not to be perfect. The true contemplative does not worry about being a contemplative. He is. Contemplation is having your regard on God. Asking yourself if you are a contemplative means that you have your regard on yourself.” (pp. 124,126.)
While continuing to guide her on her spiritual journey, Le Saux also helped her with all the practicalities that had to be attended to when she arrived in India. 
Sr. Thérèse was a very timid person, and her health was anything but robust. She had a tendency towards scrupulosity (at least while in France) and found it hard to adjust to both the heat and the cold, as well as the food.  She sought a place where she could live in her own hermitage but within the shadow of an Ashram.  But even when she proposed to live near a Protestant ashram, she worried that she would say the wrong thing and offend those who lived there, or not use their proper titles.  She had a million cares but learned to surmount them as she journeyed along.  Le Saux did not worry about these external difficulties but concentrated on giving her encouragement and bringing out the best in her. He helped her to grow, all the while nurturing her quest for God. 
This is truly a book worth reading, both for a deeper contact with Indian spirituality (including advaita), but just as much for the nourishment it provides for the soul, for the contemplative life.
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