A Final Tour of the Interior Castle

I have completed blogging through the Interior Castle. I still plan to revise and organize this site along with occasionally adding new material.

Attached is a summary of the book with links to key subjects and sections. 

Teresa of Avila: A Summary of the Interior Castle

Even those devoting much of their life to studying spiritual literature find the Interior Castle a complex book. Richard Foster, author of the classic spiritual formation book Celebration of Discipline, said, “For some reason, Teresa of Avila has always been difficult for me to read.” (Devotional Classics. Edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryant Smith. HarperOne.) The late Dallas Willard was a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Philosophy. He wrote a number of influential Christian books including The Divine Conspiracy and The Spirit of the Disciplines. Willard said, the The Interior Castle, “It is not a model of easy reading . . . and must be approached as if you are mining for treasure–which you are.” (The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Teachings On Discipleship. 2006. HarperCollins Publishers.)

But it’s worth mining for the treasure. Others have recognized this as well. The Interior Castle is on several lists of “great books”. It’s included in Notre Dame’s Great Books Seminars. Eugene Peterson lists it as one the “basics” of spiritual reading in his book Take and Read. It’s also included in 25 Books Every Christian Should Read (Edited by Julia L. Roller).

Teresa provides an immense amount spiritual insight in the Interior Castle. Studying this book will certainly be rewarded, but its  also possible to get lost in the vastness of her ideas. To track her ideas, I keep an outline/summary of The Interior Castle. I’ve added hyperlinks to easily find various topics.

Summary of the Interior Castle

The Interior Castle is our soul. According to Teresa of Avila, our soul is like a single diamond in which there are many rooms. At the center of the Castle is where the King (Jesus) resides. The soul has great dignity and beauty and is a paradise in which God takes great delight. Teresa asks, “what do you think a room will be like that is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good?”  

We enter the Interior Castle through prayer and mediation. Our destination is the center of the castle where the most “secret things pass between God and the soul”. This is the interior journey. Teresa says, “You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means.” 

The Foundation

  • The Interior Castle: Teresa’s uses the Interior Castle metaphor to help us understand our souls. She describes our soul as a castle made of a single diamond in which there are many rooms. Christ dwells at the center of this castle.
  • The Image of God: Being created in the image of God is our core identity. Teresa says, being “made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty.” We hold this to be true while at the same time accepting the great distinction between creature and Creator.
  • The Indwelling Trinity: The indwelling Trinity validates the beauty and dignity of our souls and the importance of the interior journey. At the center of the castle is where the most intimate exchanges take place between God and the soul.
  • The Beauty and Dignity of our SoulsTeresa says, “I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity.”

The Basics

  • Self-Knowledge: Teresa says we should learn self-knowledge and humility. It is important to understand who we are and the capacity of our souls for God. Progress through the Interior Castle requires even the most spiritually mature to spend time in the rooms of self-knowledge and humility. She returns to these themes often and reminds us again near the end of the book: Humility is the foundation on which the whole building rests.
  • Spiritual Favors: Spiritual favors shatter complacency and fuel spiritual growth. Properly applied, they lead to good works, humility, virtue, praise, love, and fortitude. With spiritual favors, the progress of our souls takes place with less effort. While spiritual favors are important and add substance to our spiritual lives, Teresa says, “perfection consists not in consolations (spiritual favors) but in the increase in love”. We do not earn these favors nor are they a measurement of our goodness.
  • Prayer and Meditation: Prayer and meditation are the entry point to the Interior Castle. While we do not earn God’s favors, we can be attentive to him and his works. We can practice ascetic prayer and may experience mystical prayer. Ascetic prayer is action we initiate with God. Mystical Prayer is action God initiates with us.
  • Reptiles: Reptiles are preoccupations or “worldly attachments” keeping us anchored in the courtyard and restricting us from exploring the castle.
  • Sin: We are a Tree of Life. When planted in the “living waters of life” we thrive spiritually and bring renewal to a battered world. When we plant ourselves in or by the polluted waters of sin, we limit our spiritual progress and miss opportunities to give life to others.
  • Spiritual Warfare: The devil excels at three strategies: (1) Getting us to believe lies – especially about ourselves (2) Distracting us from what is important and (3) Undermining love.

Additional Tools to Help Us Navigate the Interior Castle

  • Listen to God: He speaks to us through conversations with others, sermons, books, trails, and prayer.
  • Develop Spiritual Habits: Establish sustainable “spiritual habits” especially around prayer and meditation. Start Small, Repeat Daily.
  • Rely on Your Faculties Your reason, faith, memory, will, and understanding are reliable guides. Use them.
  • Perseverance: We drive the devil away when we resolve not to be defeated.
  • Increase Velocity: Teresa says we must avoid “this habit of always serving God at a snail’s pace!” and spending our time refining “our carefully ordered life”.
  • Avoid Distractions: We cannot live virtuous lives and still cling to wealth or reputation. Distractions will keep us from surrendering all to follow Jesus.
  • Find a Spiritual Director: When I talk about spiritual directors, I’m talking about wise guides with a holistic approach to life and spirituality.
The Interior Journey 

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. This is also called “purgative prayer” because of the cleansing effect on our lives. 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 then 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 a deep and intimate relationship with Christ “where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.” Unitive prayer covers 2/3 of the Interior Castle and is the focal point of the book.

Unitive Prayer: When we explore Mansions Five, Six, and Seven the marriage metaphor becomes essential for our understanding of the Interior Castle. This metaphor is common in the Bible and other spiritual writings. The marriage metaphor helps us better understand the potential intimacy we can have with God. Teresa reminds us that this metaphor has limitations and is completely spiritual: “The spiritual joys and consolations given by the Lord are a thousand leagues removed from those experienced in marriage.” 

Teresa explains Unitive Prayer using the marriage customs of her day. This includes:

  1. Brief Meetings: A brief time in which we see our future Spouse. (Fifth Mansion)
  2. Betrothal Period: The promise to marry and learning to love Christ. (Sixth Mansion)
  3. Marriage: Union with Christ. (Seventh Mansion)

The Sixth Mansions of the Interior Castle

In the Sixth Mansions, we come to a critical juncture in our Christian life. The potential for deep spiritual union with Christ is within reach. But the devil wants to prevent this union. He wars against us. And this time he makes the poison seem so harmless. Some of us have gotten close to the Sixth Mansions and been tricked. Additionally the Sixth Mansions comes with Intellectual Visions, Imaginative Visions, Ecstasy, and Suffering.

The Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle

In the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle we find our Union with Christ through Spiritual Marriage.

  • Chapter One focuses on the Indwelling Trinity. I encourage you to read Indwelling and The Room.
  • Chapter Two centers on being One Spirit with Christ. I suggest reading The River.
  • Chapter Three focuses on the “outcomes” or the Effects of Spiritual Marriage. While there are trials and suffering — there is no “dryness” or “interior disturbances”. I recommend: How to Conquer the World
  • Chapter Four provides us a the merging contemplation and service and the integration of Mary and Martha. I recommend: Contemplation and Service.
 Thanks for reading Teresa of Avila Turns 500.
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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Posted in Summaries

Castles in the Air

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Book Four

Teresa of Avila’s accomplishments are impressive. She was a great theologian, a reformer in the church, and a prolific author which included writing one of the classic books of Christianity. About 400 years after her death, Teresa was recognized as one of the “Doctors” of the Catholic Church. This recognition has gone to fewer than 40 individuals.

Teresa didn’t set out to accomplish these things. Her results flowed from a way of life. She had a relentless focus on her vision while daily completing seemingly insignificant tasks with love. She says, “The Lord doesn’t look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done.”

Teresa’s “success” was a: A clear vision + execution. Her method of achieving goals included the following:

Focus on the Task at Hand Instead of Building “Castles in the Air”
Teresa says one of the tactics of the devil is to give us “great desires so that we will avoid the task at hand”. We then become “content with having desired the impossible” instead of “serving our Lord in possible things”. Teresa says we “need not be desiring to benefit the whole world but must concentrate on those who are in your company”. The best expressions of love are local: home, work, and community. We can feel like we’re not doing enough, but Teresa says, “In sum, Sisters, what I conclude with is that we shouldn’t build castles in the air.” 

Don’t Underestimate the Impact of Small Acts of Love
Teresa asks a rhetorical question about loving those nearest us: “Do you think such deep humility, your mortification, service of all and great charity toward them, and love of the Lord is of little benefit? The fire of love in you enkindles their souls, and with every other virtue you will be always awakening them. Such service will not be small but very great and very pleasing to the Lord.” Simple acts of love and kindness may seem insignificant, but it will enkindle the soul of others, awaken virtue in their lives, and transform institutions. Love people. Love your work.

Don’t Assume a Lack of Need in Others
We may assume the love we can share with others may not be needed because these individuals are already doing well. But all people need love. Teresa says, “You will say that such service does not covert souls because all the Sisters you deal with are already good. Who has appointed you judge in this matter? The better they are, the more pleasing their praises will be to our Lord and the more their prayer will profit their neighbor.” 

Practice Resilience
Big events and big needs can give us adrenaline for a period of time, but it fades. What we need is the daily resilience to stay centered on our vision. Resilience builds momentum. Teresa also cautions, life may be shorter than what we think. This is all the more reason to stay centered and begin right away. “And if we do what we can, His majesty will enable us each day to do more and more, provided that we do not quickly tire. But during the little while this life lasts — and perhaps it will last a shorter time than each one thinks — let us offer the Lord interiorly and exteriorly the sacrifice we can.” 

Anticipate God’s Action
When we stay resilient: “His majesty will join it with that which he offered on the cross to the Father for us.


  1. Find a big vision grounded in love. Avoid wandering from idea to idea without execution. A list of dreams without execution are only “Castles in the Air” that will crumble soon enough.
  2. Love people and love your work.
  3. Act with urgency. Act today. A life used poorly will always be too short.
  4. But even urgency requires patience: Execute the tiniest details of your vision with great love.
  5. Practice resilience: Momentum builds over time and God will join our work

Annie Dillard captures some of these same ideas in her book An American Childhood. She observes:

How many filaments had Thomas Edison tried, over how many years, before he found one workable for incandescence? How many days and nights over how many years had Marie Curie labored in a freezing shed to isolate radium? I read a biography of George Washington Carver: so many years on the soybean, the peanut, the sweet potato, the waste from ginning cotton. I read the biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Daniel Boone.

It was all the same story. You have a great idea and spend grinding years at dull tasks, still charged by your vision. All the people about whom biographies were not written were people who failed to find something that took years to do. 

Dillard goes on to say:

“When little George Westinghouse at last figured out how to make air brakes, Cornelius Vanderbilt of the New York Central Railroad said to him, ‘Do you mean to tell me with a straight face that a moving train can be stopped with wind?'”

You want a vision big enough where people ultimately ask you, “Do you mean to tell me with a straight face . . . ?” And then you want to add that vision the daily execution and resilience to bring it to reality. This vision doesn’t have to meet anyone’s approval. It doesn’t have to look important. It doesn’t have to earn you awards or promotions. It just needs to come from within — from the Interior Castle.


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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An Unfamiliar Path

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

Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. (Luke 6.12)

Some of us may have stumbled across the famous line by Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Taking the “Road Less Traveled” has now become sacred. And in a sense it is. We don’t thrive in the status quo or with a closed mind to new ideas. But, if “Road Less Traveled” means nothing more than “trying something new”, “changing for change sake”, or most concerning — rejecting time-tested wisdom simply because it’s “old”, we will miss the wonder of new discoveries.

When we remove essential elements from any enterprise in the name of progress or efficiency, we lose the essence of our endeavor. This is Teresa’s point about prayer and spirituality. For some spiritual leaders and churches, prayer has become peripheral. Teresa calls spirituality, ministry, or life without prayer “The Unfamiliar Path”. It’s a path unfamiliar to Jesus. It’s a path unfamiliar to Abraham, to David, to the Apostles, and to the great saints of history. The “Unfamiliar Path” is life and spirituality with minimal prayer.

But who needs prayer? Many take “The Unfamiliar Path” of peripheral prayer and are highly successful.

  • Without prayer, large churches develop marvelous programs segmented to meet every possible need. (Why spend time in prayer?)
  • Without prayer, Christians do outstanding good works and change lives. (So why pray?)
  • Without prayer, people donate millions to help others? (Why waste time in prayer?)
  • Without prayer, pastors deliver powerful sermons. (If they don’t need to pray, why should we pray?)

Teresa says, “This is what I want us to strive for . . . let us desire and be occupied in prayer not for the sake of our enjoyment but so as to have this strength to serve. Let’s refuse to take an unfamiliar path, for we shall get lost at the most opportune time. It would indeed be novel to think of having these favors from God through a path other than the one he took and the one followed by all his saints. May the thought never enter our minds.”

Prayer gives us:

Strength of Body and Mind to Serve
Teresa says through prayer “strength flows back to the weak body”. Prayer couples bodily strength with strength of mind:  “Thus the soul has its share of misfortune while it lives. However much it does, the interior strength increases and thus, too, the war that is waged; for everything seems like a trifle to it.” Teresa notes, this is the strength of Mary, of Martha, of Elijah, of St Dominic, and of St. Francis.

Protection Against Deception and Evil
Teresa says we can be “lost at the most opportune time”. In this case “the most opportune time” is a negative. It’s the “opportune” time for the devil. The devil strategizes to destroy. He uses minor attacks as a set-up, but his ultimate goal is the most cumulative damage — in some cases, the damage lasts for generations. We only see the ruins retrospectively. The devil gets you to think your spiritual life is strong, your family is safe, and your spiritual community is thriving. And then he strikes! While it appears to be an invisible set-up, it’s actually happening in plain sight. But we don’t see it, because we don’t pray. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “If you don’t pray, your presence will have no power, your words will have no power. If you pray, you will be able to overcome all the tricks of the devil. Don’t believe all the thoughts that he puts into your mind.”

I encourage you to “Take the Road Less Traveled”. It’s typically the only worthwhile road to take. But beware of the “Unfamiliar Path” of a life without 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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Calm in the Chaos

As we increase our skills in any endeavor, we’re typically handed more challenges. This is true in leadership: You succeed and your manager gives you additional opportunities and challenges. You perform well in sports and you may draw a more difficult opponent. These are the rewards of continued growth and execution: Tangible benefits, increased confidence in our skills, and more difficult assignments. The same is true spiritually.

A Problem-Free Life
I’ve encountered Christians with a simplistic view of life. They “follow God” and believe they should be rewarded with minimal conflict and, for all practical purposes, a difficulty free life. They believe disruptive things shouldn’t happen to “good Christians”. They see the conflict and challenges of ordinary life as a consequence for sin, something lacking spiritually, or some form of “spiritual warfare” disrupting their convenient life.

Christian communities reinforce “the difficulty free life” idea with their stories. “I prayed and God opened parking spot opened up in front of the building.” Obviously God must listen to them! We measure their spirituality – and our spirituality – accordingly. Rarely do people say, “I prayed and had to park eight blocks away, walk through the rain, and was late for the meeting. God must listen to me!” We do this collectively as well: The sound system at church doesn’t work. “It must be spiritual warfare.” Why else would it happen if we’re doing great things for God?

The underlying teaching of this approach is that our external disruptions, trials, and chaos happen because we are less spiritual or spiritual beginners who can grow their way out of trials and external chaos. Teresa says, “It will seem to you that I am speaking to those who are beginning and that after this beginner’s stage souls can rest.” It doesn’t work that way.

The Inverse Relationship Between External Chaos and Interior Calm
Teresa explains there can be an inverse relationship between external chaos and interior calm: The “calm these souls have interiorly is for the sake of their having much less calm exteriorly”. This interior calm propels us into a more complex and chaotic life. In fact, Teresa says, the souls that experience this interior calm have “much less desire to have exterior calm”. I’m oversimplifying, but here are several formulas:

  1. Ordinary life with limited “spiritual” support: External Chaos = Internal Chaos
  2. Spiritually centered with quality support: External Chaos = Interior Calm
  3. Teresa of Avila modifies formula two: The Inevitable Increase in External Chaos = An Exponential Increase in Internal Calm.

The spiritually mature person is immersed in external chaos. They just learn not absorb it internally.* Then “the soul wages more war from the center than it did when it was outside suffering with them”. We learn the external chaos is not where the actual battle is. Through a calm center we launch an “assault” on the powers of evil and chaos through inner peace and joy. And then we find spiritual rest, not through external circumstances, but in the Interior Castle of our souls.


*Note: Interior calm doesn’t mean a mature person is exempt from experiencing suffering, struggles, or mental health issues as if they’re non-human. In addition to centering, prayer, and meditation — counselors, spiritual guides, quality reading, yoga, solitude, and friendships can be catalysts to finding a calm interior. We also need to learn to establish boundaries with some people and/or their behaviors.


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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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 4

All You Need is Love

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

Love is all you need. (The Beatles)

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (Jesus)

Anyone who fails to go forward begins to go back, and love, I believe, can never be content to stay for long where it is. (Teresa of Avila)

Teresa of Avila says, “you must not build upon foundations of prayer and contemplation alone”. We must also “strive after the virtues and practice them”. Without these virtues we stunt our spiritual growth. Central to “the virtues” are humility and love. Humility is the central character trait of the Christian. Love is the central behavioral trait.

Love is Enough
If love is the central behavioral trait of the Christian and it fulfills the requirements of “the law”, why are there so many other “commandments” in the Bible? The list of rules seems endless. Sometimes these commandments seem pointless and/or unloving.

Love is enough. Biblical commands, properly understood and practiced, always express love. Two key points:

  • The commandments provide definition to love.
  • The commandments only provide definition to love.

In the first bullet: The commandments provide an expansive view of love to help us understand the scope and possibilities of love. Restrictive commandments exclude behaviors that dehumanize self or others.

In the second bullet: The operative word is “only”. God did not design commandments to create rules of behavior apart from love. Behaviors that do not express love misunderstand the intent or context of the commandment.

Teresa says we must “strive after the virtues and practice them”. Virtues don’t develop automatically. Cultivating virtue is a combination of learning a particular skill of love and practicing it in changing circumstances over a period of time.

Take Paul’s phrase, “Love is patient”. We find this partial definition of love in I Corinthians. We can intellectually understand patience. Then we begin to practice it, but realize it doesn’t work in every situation (at least not in the way we understand it). What if our understanding of “patience” becomes the acceptance of the despicable behavior of others? Does our patience still meet the criteria of love? Is exasperation (instead of patience) ever an appropriate response? Jesus expressed exasperation on occasion. We realize exasperation may be carefully included in the overall theme of patience and love. But if we begin rationalizing chronic impatience and exasperation, now our habit of exasperation may not express love.

This may sound complicated, but it doesn’t need to be. We can process this thinking more quickly and intuitively than it takes to read the previous paragraph. But some of us have been so weighted down with religious dogma and rules that it interferes with common sense. One thing dogmatic religion strives for is absolute rules that can be applied to every situation at the exclusion of good judgment and love. This leads to self-righteousness, shame, and unloving behaviors.

The Beatles said, “Love is all you need”. In fact, I think they said it 15 times in one song just to make sure we got it. They’re right – “love is all we need”. Of course, it takes some work to better practice love in a way that actually loves the other person. So let me leave you with a few tools to connect biblical commandments and love.

  1. What is the commandment when we properly understand it in context?
  2. If I practice this commandment in the way I understand it, is it loving to others and self. Or am I just following a “rule”?
  3. Are there exceptions to my understanding of the commandment. (Without these exceptions, the commandment becomes unloving.)
  4. Would I find it loving if I were the recipient of how I’m applying this commandment?
  5. How would Jesus practice this commandment in today’s world? (Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.)
  6. Do my actions have credibility in a larger community (not just church) as the “way of Jesus”? (By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.)

You can make significant contributions to your families, workplaces, and neighborhoods. All you need is love. 






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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 4