This seven-part series explores St. Teresa’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!
Teresa's next room for those on a spiritual journey and who have chosen to begin to pray and desire more. It’s for those who want to go deeper but still struggle with temptations and a multitude of attachments. It is in the second mansion that things get harder, because for the first time we are seeing a little more clearly and understanding and experiencing more of God, and we are aware for the first time there is indeed more.
We become more aware of the Lord as the one who “… is so anxious that we should desire Him and strive after His companionship that He calls us ceaselessly, time after time to approach Him; and the voice of His is so sweet that the poor soul is consumed with grief at being unable to do His bidding immediately; and thus, as I say, it suffers more than if it could not hear Him.” This calling comes in a more traditional sense via sermons, through other people, good books, trials, and the like. It is this place that the desire of our heart for God stirs us, moves us forward as our understanding is keener than before, and this keeps us from becoming easily distracted. We begin to learn there is no “better friend in the world,” “… a true Lover that never leaves and goes with you everywhere and providing a greater sense of His life and being. There is a growing intimacy, and this intimacy serves to draw us further along towards greater communion with the divine One.
It is also a challenging season because for the first time our eyes are opening, and we get a sense of the things that work against our going deeper in the Lord. Teresa calls these things serpents and reptiles. In the light of the Lord, we begin the journey to know ourselves, and we become aware of our self-absorption for the wispy illusions they are. We begin to wonder why we would possibly want these things that are contrary to love and this cause us to grieve. It is paradoxical time because as much as we recognize these issues in our lives it doesn't necessarily mean it's easy to let them go and we may continue to be tripped up by them.
As uncomfortable as this can sometimes be, it is in itself a gift. As we begin to see more clearly, we can better see the reptiles and serpents for what they really are. We can then make better choices and avoid them. If this season has a posture, it is probably best described as continually turning to God. Teresa assures us that with our great desire for God we cannot fail. It is His good pleasure to grant us this desire of our heart! Again, this is a season of prayer. Don't worry if you feel your prayers are feeble. We need to prayer as we are able, knowing that any heartfelt prayer is treasured greatly by God.
In this stage, we progress by cultivating prayerfulness and practicing turning towards God and we begin to become aware of God's grace and strength in our lives. This can be a difficult season, but we experientially learn that the Lover never leaves us, the Spirit of God is our ever present helper, bringing life and being to us in a deeply transformative way.
This can be very slow and subtle work, and be careful not to measure it too quickly. While there are times, we will experience what we think are spiritual profound experiences and feel we have made a giant leap in spiritual maturity it is important to remember that often the most significant gifts are those that are small but consistent over a period of time. The key to remember here is God is God's own reward. While the experiences and spiritual titillation can be truly wonderful, chasing experiences is a very poor way to build a deep spirituality. A soul that is built upon a selfish pursuit for the tingles and raptures will never weather the storms, nor the seasons aridity. The actual prize is union with God - with or without supernatural experiences. Supernatural experience can be wonderful gifts but are not necessarily an indicator of maturity nor extra favor. Focus on God for Her/Himself - not just for the goodies!
Resist the urge to be overly frustrated by the struggles and trials of this season but in all things, fall into God. These trials are a part of being human and God is the master recycler using these things as the building materials to grow rugged hope and faith in us. It is here that we begin to look for God in all things. This is not saying that God is the author of the difficulty, but will use all things for our good. The author of the letter to the Romans encourages us: "... we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (8:28)
When we blow it, understand this is to be expected. Beginners make mistakes, so don't give up! It is here that I like to encourage people to be kind to themselves. Violent discipline only serves to stir up the soul. It makes the soul a deafening place and a difficult to hear and to see clearly. This is not being soft on sin; rather it is once again turning and looking to God the source of our help. It is a matter of being Jesus focused not sin focused. This rhythm of stumbling and getting back up, the falling and turning back to God is the beautiful, real-life practice of love and grace.
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.
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