Throughout the centuries much has been written to describe and map the spiritual journey. One such classic is The Interior Castle written by St. Teresa of Avila. St. Teresa was a Discalced Carmelite nun living in Spain in the mid-1500’s. She was a contemporary and friend of St. John of the Cross and both are considered classic Christian mystics. She began to write Interior Castle June 2, 1577.
St. Teresa 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.
Teresa helps us to understand that the spiritual journey is not necessarily linearly successive, but loopier. One constant theme in one form or another is the journey is a combination of two postures: our desire and effort, and God’s grace. Wisdom is then required to know how to navigate these two postures. The key to navigation from one room to another is to keep our eyes focused on the centre room, the place where God abides. Jesus being the Way, leads us through to next mansion.
This seven part series explores Teresa's Interior Castle. It is not intended as programs to be worked, but my hope is 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. We will see there is challenge and struggle. 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!
The Spiritual Journey Begins - The First Room
Teresa's first room is a place of grace. It is a growing awareness of God, the beginning of a turning. This is a grace because we begin to awaken that there may be more. More in the sense that God is starting to become tangible to us. Teresa says it's not uncommon for people to stay in the courtyard of the castle and not enter the first room. This is in part because folks are not aware of the wonder that is awaiting them. She suggests that often people are so accustomed to the busyness of life that they allow external distractions to keep them living in the outer courtyard. To become aware of this in our lives is, in and of itself, a precious gift of God.
Like guards protecting a castle, major distractions are the seemingly ordinary and burdensome cares of the world. Today it would be our chronic busyness. More specifically, the core is often an unhealthy self-focus that often manifests as the fear of change, of the unknown, doubt that God is indeed good, and faithful. We often bump our heads on cultural ideals of success. Sometimes, our dearest cultural values can pose some of the most formidable distractions to a deepening inner life. As examples a value of freedom at all costs or the deep belief that money, and lots of it, buys happiness! Other stumbling blocks include our propensity to judge others and compare ourselves with others.
Teresa writes that it is her experience that even in the first room, many of these distractions enter with us, and we will continue to wrestle these distractions until they are overcome. The good news is this is a place of gradual progress where beginning the healthy practice of mindfulness, prayer and meditation starts to alter the way we see the world. It begins to reorient our hearts towards God. We begin to focus more on things above; the lovely, the beautiful, the true, and the authentically loving. It is by this slow work that we begin to get free of some of the things described above, those things that hinder our deeper journey and those things that are contrary to love.
Prayer is important to Teresa as a part of entering the first mansion. Profoundly, she refers to people who do not pray as paralyzed and desperately in need of the touch of the Lord, just like paralytic. She encourages us to heartfelt interaction with God, and to avoid going-through-the motions kinds of prayer. It is important that we pray as we can, and resist prayer methods that take us away from the way we naturally connect with God. We will discover that our prayer methods will begin to change, to deepen through changing seasons, the important thing, however, is that we engage as best we can with God. Remember, God isn't impressed with our eloquence rather our honesty.
The first mansion is the place, by the grace of God, we begin to notice the wonder, grandeur and the beauty of the Castle. It’s where we learn to be attentive to Jesus through the learning of self-awareness and dealing with the things that compete for our affection for Him. This is indeed a gift of grace, but there is a deliberateness on our part as well to avail ourselves of the grace to deal with brokenness and to choose to grow in love.