Christ Living in Us

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Two

But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”  (I Corinthians 6.17)

We’ve completed Chapter One of the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle where Teresa of Avila writes about the presence of the Trinity. As we move to Chapter Two, she focuses on our oneness with Christ.

Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez summarize Chapter Two in their book: The Interior Castle Study Edition.

“She has dealt with the mystery of the Trinity (the indwelling) in the first chapter. Now, in this second chapter, Teresa focuses on the mystery of Christ in this highest phase of her spiritual life, in which she experiences manifestly that “Christ is living in her.” The mystery of this experience is profound. Doesn’t the Christian life consist merely in a relationship with or the following or imitation of Christ? But here we have a compenetration of two lives, that of Christ and that of our own. This comes about not through empathy, but through a mysterious union of the lives of both persons.” (Teresa of Avila. The Interior Castle Study Edition (p. 410). ICS Publications. Kindle Edition. Kavanaugh and Rodriguez)

Kavanaugh and Rodriquez also note “two Pauline expressions, ‘to live’ and ‘one spirit,’ summarize the content of this second chapter of the seventh dwelling places.” Christ living in us moves us beyond “the following or imitation of Christ” — as important as that is. Here we’re talking about the interfusion or union “of two lives, that of Christ and that of our own”. The Apostle Paul wrote, But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”  

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

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The Room

The Presence of the Trinity: Part III

The Constant Presence of the Trinity
In the previous post Teresa of Avila talked about the continual presence of the Trinity in our soul in contrast to the intermittent presence of the Trinity referred to in the earlier mansions of the Interior Castle. Of course, we may not recognize this continual presence of the Trinity. And this is why we read a book like the Interior Castle: To learn from the “spiritual masters” how to develop our relationship with God. For example, I benefitted from going to Bible College and Seminary. My teachers were, for the most part, effective in teaching me theology and hermeneutics. What they didn’t teach me is how to hear God. Teresa teaches us to hear God. Other authors do this as well: Thomas a’ Kempis in the Imitation of Christ or Francis de Sales in the Introduction to the Devout Life. Modern day authors like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Eugene Peterson also teach us how to hear God.

Learning and Mystical Prayer Experiences
Teresa notes our “lack of learning” related to mystical prayer experiences. Mystical prayer flourishes in the interchange of learning and experience. As I’ve studied Teresa’s book, I’ve discovered several approaches to mystical prayer:

  1. Teresa explains in detail experiences I’ve already had with God. Before studying her work, I didn’t have the words or perspective to make full use of what God was doing or saying. I was also in a Christian community that didn’t accept mystical prayer experiences. I can now use my new understanding to apply previous mystical experiences to current situations.
  2. In some cases I hadn’t experienced what Teresa talks about, but now can recognize the fresh activity of God in my life.
  3. I’ve also learned to listen with discernment when others talk about mystical prayer experiences that are outside my experience. Because I’ve learned through the Interior Castle that God works in these ways, I can recognize their experience as rooted in God. I can appreciate and learn from the experiences of others without feeling the need to reproduce it.
  4. I can also better discern what is not from God, but invented by the imagination or the devil.

The Presence of the Trinity and Ordinary Life
God doesn’t intend for us to have every mystical prayer experience. However, a few of these are so closely linked to intimacy with Jesus he would like us all to experience them. One of these experiences is recognizing the continuous presence of the Trinity. Now you might think this would require unrealistic amounts of time and can’t be aligned with ordinary life. But Teresa says, You may think that as a result [of the presence of the Trinity] the soul will be outside itself and so absorbed that it will be unable to be occupied with anything else. On the contrary, the soul is much more occupied than before with everything pertaining to the service of God; and once its duties are over it remains with that enjoyable company. If the soul does not fail God, he will never fail, in my opinion, to make his presence clearly known to it. It has strong confidence that since God has granted this favor he will not allow it to lose the favor. Though the soul thinks this, it goes about with greater care than ever not to displease him in anything.

Four things to note there:

  1. The continuous presence of the Trinity is compatible with ordinary life.
  2. The continuous presence of the Trinity makes us more attentive to our responsibilities.
  3. We must be obedient to Christ to enjoy this continuous presence of the Trinity.
  4. The company of the Trinity is so “enjoyable”, we will take greater care not to displease God.

Metaphor: The Room
We experience the presence of the Trinity two ways. The first is episodic or a temporary period of ecstasy. The other is the continuous presence of the Trinity. Teresa says, “Let’s say that the experience resembles that of a person who after being in a bright room with others finds himself, once the shutters are closed, in darkness. The light by which he could see them is taken away. Until it returns he doesn’t see them, but not for that reason does he stop knowing they are present. It might be asked whether the soul can see them when it so desires and the light returns. To see them does not lie in its power, but depends on when our Lord desires that the window of the intellect be opened. Great is the mercy he shows in never departing from the soul and in desiring that it perceive him so manifestly.”

The room metaphor helps us understand mystical prayer:

  1. God “appears” to us. This creates a mystical prayer experience.
  2. These moments of ecstasy are episodic. The expectation of continuous ecstasy misses the point of the spiritual life and mystical prayer.
  3. God is with us in a “bright room” (the ecstatic experience) and then God turns off the light.  Since the light is off, we can no longer “see” him. However, turning off of the light hasn’t changed anything about his presence in the room. His presence still remains.
  4. We don’t have the power to turn on the light. We need to quit trying to create mystical prayer experiences and, instead, enjoy his continuous presence.

But God is still preparing us for more: “It seems that the divine Majesty desires, through this wonderful company, to prepare the soul for more.”  Teresa says, “Clearly, the soul will be truly helped in every way to advance in perfection.” She provides an example from her own life of how being in The Room transformed her life: “Such was the experience of this person (Teresa), for in everything she found herself improved, and it seemed to her, despite the trials she underwent and the business affairs she had to attend to, that the essential part of her soul never moved from that room.”

Summary

  • We can experience the continuous presence of the Trinity in the midst of the ordinary activities and trials of life.
  • God uses episodic mystical prayer experiences to bring us revelation and guidance.
  • The episode ends, but the power and presence of the Trinity remain.
  • Chasing spiritual episodes as a new way of life misses the point of mystical prayer.

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

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The Trinity and the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle: Part II

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14.23

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. John 14.26

In the previous post, Teresa explained that in the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle:

  1. God amplifies our understanding of his activity in our life.
  2. All three persons of the Trinity speak to the soul.
  3. Experiencing the presence of the Trinity is constant instead of intermittent.

Teresa goes on to say: Oh, God help me! How different is hearing and believing these words from understanding their truth in this way! Each day this soul becomes more amazed, for these Persons never seem to leave it any more, but it clearly beholds, in the way that was mentioned, that they are within it. In the extreme interior, in some place very deep within itself, the nature of which it doesn’t know how to explain, because of a lack of learning, it perceives this divine company.

Teresa teaches us we can experience the constant presence of the Trinity within our soul. We can also hear all three Persons of the Trinity speak to us. But, Teresa reminds us our “lack of learning” makes it challenging to understand mystical prayer experiences like this. Through Teresa’s writing we can gain this “learning” and ability to articulate these experiences. First of all her writing helps us understand the mystical prayer experiences we may have already had. Those who’ve been in faith communities that ignore or dismiss mystical prayer experiences or see them as the work of the devil typically don’t have the language and understanding to fully appreciate the work of the Trinity within the soul. Secondly, through reading the Interior Castle, we better understand the presence of the Trinity, the unity God desires to have with our soul, and what mystical prayer experiences may look like in the future as we progress in our spiritual journey.

 

References
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version. NRSV  Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha. Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

 

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The Trinity and the Interior Castle

Teresa of Avila: Seventh Mansions: Chapter One

They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them. (John 14.21)

Here all three Persons (of the Trinity) communicate themselves to it, speak to it, and explain those words of the Lord in the Gospel: that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit will come to dwell with the soul that loves him and keeps his commandments.” (Teresa of Avila)

We’re in the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle. Teresa explains the difference between the Unitive Prayer of the Fifth Mansions and the Unitive Prayer of the Seventh Mansions. (Unitive = Union with Christ)

Background
The Interior Castle is about Prayer. Prayer can be separated into two categories:

  1. Ascetic Prayer: In ascetic prayer we initiate interaction with God through vocal prayer and meditation. The first three Mansions of the Interior Castle cover this material.
  2. Mystical Prayer: God drives the activity in mystical prayer. Teresa writes about this in Mansions four through seven.

We can separate mystical prayer into two categories:

  • Illuminative Prayer: Through illuminative prayer God enlightens our will and understanding. Teresa explains this in the Fourth Mansions. This section includes several posts on the Prayer of Quiet.
  • Unitive Prayer: In Mansions five through seven Teresa writes about unitive prayer. Unitive prayer leads us to an intimate relationship with Christ “where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.” Unitive prayer covers 2/3 of the book and is the focal point of the Interior Castle.

Amplified Understanding
Teresa explains that in the Fifth Mansions the soul doesn’t fully understand the “raptures” or mystical prayer experiences it has. But by the time the soul reaches the Seventh Mansions “our good God now desires to remove the scales from the soul’s eyes and let it see and understand, although in a strange way, something of the favor he grants it.”

The Trinity Reveals Itself to the Soul
We discover in the Seven Mansions that unity with God includes all three Persons of the Trinity being revealed to the soul. Notice Teresa’s carefully worded phrasing that the three Persons of the Trinity are “distinct” yet “one God alone”. “When the soul is brought into that dwelling place, the Most Blessed Trinity, all three Persons, through an intellectual vision, is revealed to it through a certain representation of the truth. First there comes an enkindling in the spirit in the manner of a cloud of magnificent splendor; and these Persons are distinct, and through an admirable knowledge the soul understands as a most profound truth that all three Persons are one substance and one power and one knowledge and one God alone.”

All Three Persons of the Trinity Speak to the Soul
“Here all three Persons communicate themselves to it, speak to it, and explain those words of the Lord in the Gospel: that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit will come to dwell with the soul that loves him and keeps his commandments.”

Teresa is referencing Jesus’ words in John 14.23: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” See Indwelling.

The Ongoing Presence of the Trinity
“Each day this soul becomes more amazed, for these Persons never seem to leave it any more, but it clearly beholds, in the way that was mentioned, that they are within it. In the extreme interior, in some place very deep within itself, the nature of which it doesn’t know how to explain, because of a lack of learning, it perceives this divine company.”

Summary

In the Seventh Mansions:

  1. God amplifies our understanding of his activity in our life.
  2. All three persons of the Trinity speak to the soul and explain the “words of the Lord in the Gospel: that he and the Father and the Holy Spirit will come to dwell with the soul that loves him and keeps his commandments.”
  3. Experiencing the presence of the Trinity is constant instead of intermittent.

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

 

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The Answer is Obvious

Let us take special care, Sisters, to beg this mercy of him and not be careless, for it is a most generous alms to pray for those who are in mortal sin. Suppose we were to see a Christian with his hands fastened behind his back by a strong chain, bound to a post, and dying of hunger, not because of lack of food, for there are very choice dishes beside him, but because he cannot take hold of the food and eat, and even has great loathing for it; and suppose he sees that he is about to breathe his last and die, not just an earthly death but an eternal one. Wouldn’t it be a terrible cruelty to stand looking at him and not feed him? Well, then, what if through your prayer the chains could be loosed? The answer is obvious. For the love of God I ask you always to remember in your prayers souls in mortal sin. (Teresa of Avila)

Evil was defeated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While evil was defeated, God has not removed the free will of human beings and other spiritual agents (i.e. angels and demons). This means people can fall into sin or become victims of evil. This comes through direct attack by evil or collateral damage from evil. But because evil has been defeated, our prayers, behavior, and faith can counter the forces of evil. Of course, there are other variables at play in the battle of good and evil beside our prayers.

Teresa wants us to be attentive to those who fall victim to sin or evil. She uses a metaphor to describe their plight. Suppose someone “with his hands fastened behind his back by a strong chain, bound to a post, and dying of hunger, not because of lack of food, for there are very choice dishes beside him, but because he cannot take hold of the food and eat, and even has great loathing for it; and suppose he sees that he is about to breathe his last and die, not just an earthly death but an eternal one. Wouldn’t it be a terrible cruelty to stand looking at him and not feed him?” Of course it would be cruel not to feed him — our hands are free and his bound. When others are bound by evil or sin we are still free to pray. And we should pray for the other person without censorious judgment. After all, we don’t understand why or how they ended up in this condition — even though it may seem obvious. The only thing “obvious” according to Teresa is we should pray for them.

We should be cautious not to turn our opportunity to destroy or contain evil through prayer into self-condemnation for not praying enough. We’re not the problem. And the other person is not the problem. The problem is with evil. We are, however, part of the solution. And our prayer of faith adds considerable value in the fight against evil. This is true whether we pray once for a situation or person or we pray consistently. However, the belief that we’re in control and have to pray obsessively is a lack of faith and ultimately gives evil another foothold.

So when we see someone trapped by sin or evil, what should we do? Teresa says, “The answer is obvious.” Pray.  This doesn’t exclude practical help and advice, but we need to begin with God and that begins with prayer.

 

For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.

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