This seven-part series explores St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle. This is not a program to be worked but as we explore each facet in a general sense, we will gain a deeper perspective of the journey and where we may be at any giving time. The spiritual journey requires effort and deliberateness as much as grace. It is the process of becoming love, Christ-like and learning to surrender to the God-who-loves. The God, who desires a relationship with us more than we do with Him. As such He is willing and able to help us along the way!
We now turn to the Third Mansion in Teresa's interior castle. Teresa of Avila encourages us on the spiritual journey to continue in the same foundational things which have brought us thus far, and keep our hearts focused on the King via prayer, study, and other spiritual practices. These spiritual practices are not a means by which we earn God’s love, but a way in which we position ourselves to experience the reality of it. It is the way we learn to abide in God. It is akin to a walk on the beach with that someone special, the sharing of your heart in conversation, the sharing of a dance or a kiss – the kinds of things that facilitate a deepening relationship.
At this juncture, we may begin to appear super-spiritual to others, and perhaps we will impress ourselves. This can be one of the most dangerous places in our spiritual journey. We can get caught up in our press falling into pride, and sabotage any progress we have made thus far. Teresa exhorts us to a posture of humility – forgetting our spiritual resume with the ecstatic experiences and understanding that any progress we have made is a gift from God and that God owes us nothing. Rather, it is His good pleasure to draw us deeper. It is important that we remember that no matter how much progress we make or how high we climb we can fall from any level.
The third room is also often a season where we continue to recognize God in many ways - particularly in the more subtle ways. This season serves to take us even deeper, and this includes times of “aridity”. Aridity or sometimes described as the desert is when it seems as if God is not with you. It may feel like the heavens are brassed over, and there seems to be no demonstrative sense to confirm His presence. John of the Cross would use the analogy of the weaning of a child from its mothers breast. The mother is most certainly present but withholds herself for the healthy development of her baby. It is in this season we begin to experience Him in more subtle ways, but learning to do so involves a desert experience. These can be very trying time, and the temptation may be to abandon the journey but at this level of our interior castle we are on the threshold. We can either press in and surrender to the Divine Love or retreat to our own reason/strength. We are encouraged to press on through the dryness of the third mansion.
It is great love that keeps drawing us forward, through the desert. The temptation to short cut the desert or build a kind of "Las Vegas" in our desert will greatly diminish the cultivation of deeper lover and slow our journey. It is important to have a mature, seasoned soul friend who can help navigate these seasons lest we are short changed by well-meaning but immature themselves. In essence, Teresa is calling us to concrete (deepening) love, love with feet that includes a tenacious choice of will to love God. This should not be confused with works-based salvation, rather it is a call beyond a vain romanticism or abstract ideas about love. How easy is it indeed to declare our love when the words have no substance in reality.
"And this love daughters, must not be wrought in our imaginations but must be proved by works. Yet do not suppose God hasn't any need of our works; what He needs (desires) is the resoluteness of our will (hearts).”
About St. Teresa and the Interior Castle:
St. Teresa of Avila, a Roman Catholic saint, mystic and Carmelite nun (1515-1582) came to think of the soul as a single diamond, “… as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or a very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.” The Interior Castle and its seven rooms are an allegory for an inward spiritual journey of formation to maturity, towards communion with God. Teresa describes a life long journey with seven rooms each signifying a season, and each room being visited perhaps more than once along the healthy spiritual journey.