The Now!

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

When we reach the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle, God reduces or eliminates spiritual raptures and ecstasy. Teresa says, “I am amazed as well to see that when the soul arrives here all raptures are taken away. Only once in a while are they experienced and then without those transports and that flight of the spirit. They happen very rarely and almost never in public as they very often did before.” 

Those who equate spiritual growth with ecstasy attempt to reproduce something from their spiritual past. But as C.S. Lewis says, “And how should the Infinite repeat Himself? All space and time are too little for Him to utter Himself in them once.” Past ecstasy and raptures only can provide revelation and reference points to be applied to a “different self” in a new context. The previous context no longer exists. Our previous “self” no longer exists. The community we once loved no longer exists. It’s gone! We must enter the “Eternal Now”.

The Now! It’s “Here an abundance of water is given to this deer that was wounded. Here one delights in God’s tabernacle. Here the dove Noah sent out to see if the storm was over finds the olive branch as a sign of firm ground discovered amid the floods and tempests of this world.” Your discipleship, your friendship with God, your intimate relationship with him can only be a present event. The “Now” is the only forward movement to the future. Trying to recapture past emotions or a previous context damages our spiritual health. Nostalgia and regret separate us from God and invite spiritual warfare. Teresa warns, “the first war could return if we were to withdraw from God” who lives in the present.

Isn’t this what the author of Hebrews hints at: Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”

When we live in the now, we embrace humility and God’s mercy instead of self-righteousness and judgment. Teresa says, “their sins [the dehumanizing of others] become more serious to them”. And “in everything concerning themselves they trust in his mercy” instead of absorbing self-condemnation and the censorious judgment of others.  In the Now, we simplify our lives: “for they fear that just as a ship too heavily laden sinks to the bottom they will go down too.” In the Now, we gain peace even though we suffering and experience setbacks: “I tell you, Sisters, that the cross is not wanting but it doesn’t disquiet or make them lose peace. For the storms, like a wave, pass quickly. And the fair weather returns, because the presence of the Lord they experience makes them soon forget everything. May he be ever blessed and praised by all his creatures, amen.”

That past is gone. The future does not exist. So what will you do — Now?

 

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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Trying Too Hard

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

The house was built with stone finished at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple while it was being built. (I Kings 6.7)

Our soul is the Interior Castle. Teresa explains it is like a single diamond in which there are many rooms.  At the center of this Castle is where the King (Jesus) resides. Our 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 meditation. 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.” 

Our destination is the center of the Interior Castle (Seventh Mansions) where the most “secret things pass between God and the soul”.  We begin the journey to the center of the castle by responding to God’s grace with our effort (ascetic prayer). But in the latter stages of the journey, the work is initiated by God (mystical prayer). In mystical prayer we “surrender” to his work. This “surrender” in our relationship with God also becomes mutual as he surrenders himself to us as well: “It is by humility that the Lord allows himself to be conquered so that He will do all we ask of Him”.

“Surrender” to God comes with peace and contentment. Teresa says, “There are almost never any experiences of dryness or interior disturbance of the kind that were present at times in all the other dwelling places, but the soul is almost always in quiet.” This peace cannot be counterfeited by the devil: “There is no fear that this sublime favor can be counterfeited by the devil, but the soul is wholly sure that the favor comes from God”. And we’re protected from the devil’s deception in the Seventh Mansions: “His Majesty reveals himself to the soul and brings it to himself in that place where, in my opinion, the devil will not dare enter, nor will the Lord allow him to enter.”

This peace with God and protection from the devil incentivizes us not waste time in our spiritual journey. The sooner we move to the center of the Castle, the more peace and protection we have because “the devil does not dare enter” this part of the Castle. Teresa says, We must avoid “this habit of always serving God at a snail’s pace!” or wasting our time refining “our carefully ordered life”.

Near the center of the Castle, spiritual development has a “surrendering” quality to it verses active accomplishment. An analogy of surrender is found in yoga. We surrender to the yoga pose rather than pressing for a result. The more we strain, the less we accomplish. Straining too much can become counter-productive with risk of injury. Teresa says, “Nor does the Lord in all the favors he grants the soul here, as I have said, receive any assistance from the soul itself, except what it has already done in surrendering itself totally to God.”

And surrender produces astounding results and quietness of soul. Teresa uses a metaphor from the building of Solomon’s Temple*:  “Every way in which the Lord helps the soul here, and all he teaches it, takes place with such quiet and so noiselessly that, seemingly to me, the work resembles the building of Solomon’s temple where no sound was heard. So in this temple of God, in this, his dwelling place, he alone and the soul rejoice together in the deepest silence. There is no reason for the intellect to stir or seek anything, for the Lord who created it wishes to give it repose here and that through a small crevice it might observe what is taking place. . . . In my opinion, the faculties are not lost here; they do not work, but remain as though in amazement.” 

Quietness of soul is not inertia. It’s releasing the idea that we only accomplish things through our own planning and activity. We recognize surrender and non-action can take us beyond our own limits. We become part of something bigger than ourselves – God’s creative work. And our faculties will look with amazement.

I encourage you to quit trying so hard spiritually and begin surrendering and responding to the work already being done by God.

 

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.

*Rodriguez and Kavanaugh note I Kings 6.7

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Touches of Love

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

Certainly, if there were no other gain in this way of prayer except to understand the particular care God has in communicating with us and beseeching us to remain with him . . . it seems to me that all the trials endured for the sake of enjoying these touches of his love, so gentle and penetrating, would be well worthwhile. (Teresa of Avila)

Negligence in any relationship, including our relationship with God, will cause us to drift away. Negligence comes in two forms: An absence of attention and an absence of response. To further our spiritual development we must cultivate attentiveness and take decisive action.

Attentiveness

God is passionate about us. He loves us and likes us. He asks us to “remain” with him even through trials. When we do, he communicates to us with gentle “touches of love” marked by care, kindness, and penetration into our spirit. Teresa says, “When this impulse comes to you [these touches of love and the concurrent personal revelation], remember that it comes from this interior dwelling place where God is in our soul . . . . For certainly that note or letter is his, written with intense love and in such a way that he wants you alone to understand it and what he asks of you in it.”

We note three things about personal revelation:

  1. The Location of the Revelation: God’s revelation “comes from this interior dwelling place where God is in our soul”. The indwelling Trinity communicates directly to us and within us.
  2. God’s Passion for Us: This “note or letter” from God is “written with intense love”. This reflects the value he places on our relationship with him and his communication to us.
  3. Comprehension and Response: It’s for us “alone to understand” what he is asking us to do. Learning and advice from others have their place, but ultimately God’s guidance is not “out there” (advice) it’s “in here” (our hearts).

Decisive Action

In some cases, this personal revelation happens “publicly”. Teresa references the Apostle Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road. Sometimes this revelation comes in through trials in a public context: A job loss, a family crisis, illness, or betrayal.  And, almost always, this revelation comes when we have too much to do to attend to the revelation. Yet this revelation still calls for immediate and decisive action. (Luke 9.57-62)

The ultimate response to revelation is articulated in the words of the Apostle Paul: “Lord, what will you have me do?” From there, “he will teach you there what will be pleasing to him and the acceptable time.” The acceptable time does not suggest procrastination. But the acceptable time is strategic. Once we discern the direction and timing is set, we strip away the “unessentials” from our life and drive forward with “resolute will” powered by the “intense love’ that produced the revelation.

 

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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Great Detachment

Great Detachment
Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Three

In the Seventh Mansions, we are at the center of the Interior Castle (our souls). This is where the King resides. This is where the most intimate exchanges take place between God and the soul. In the other Mansions we desired “consolations or spiritual delights” or moments of ecstasy because it provided revelation from God and/or an experience of closeness to God.

In the Seventh Mansions, the soul no longer seeks these consolations “since the Lord himself is present with these souls and it is His Majesty who now lives” within them. The absence of temporary consolations is replaced with a fortitude and “great detachment from everything”. This “great detachment” actualizes itself in two different ways.

  1. It desires to be alone to enjoy the presence of God and to praise him.
  2. Or, it desires to do something “that will benefit some soul.”

This can sound like a barren or unfulfilled life, but here “there are no interior trials or feelings of dryness”. Instead, “the soul lives with a remembrance and tender love of our Lord” which fills us with peace and confidence.

We still may become distracted at times, but “the Lord himself awakens” the soul to return to this interior peace. “In this dwelling place, these impulses are experienced most gently, but they do not proceed from the mind or the memory, nor do they come from anything that would make one think the soul did something on its own.” This call from distraction “is an ordinary and frequent one” and “this interior movement proceeds from the center of the soul [where Christ dwells] and awakens the faculties.”

In the Seventh Mansion, the starting point is not our faculties (reason, faith, memory, will, and understanding). The starting point is the ongoing, direct impulses of the Trinity at the interior of our soul. How we use our faculties distinguishes ascetic prayer from mystical prayer. In ascetic prayer, we use our faculties (by grace) to draw closer to Christ. In mystical prayer, the use of our faculties flows from the inner promptings of the Spirit and explodes into life.

 

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.

Photo: Norway May 2017 – Dave Small

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How to Conquer the World

Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Three

What surprises me most of all now is that they have just as great a desire to serve him and that through them he be praised and that they may benefit some soul if they can. (Teresa of Avila)

We can compare the Western mind with an oak tree that stands firm and rigid against the strong wind. When the wind becomes stronger, the oak tree cracks. The Chinese mind, on the other hand, is like the bamboo that bends with the strong wind. When the wind ceases (that is, when it goes to the extreme and changes), the bamboo springs back stronger than before. (Bruce Lee – Artist of Life)

As a Christian, we center ourselves in love, humility, and ordinary life.  We actualize these principles through service. We serve God and our primary way of serving God is serving others. In our service, the Holy Spirit brings grace, mercy, and empowerment to others.

In John 13, Jesus teaches us several things about service. In this passage he washes the feet of the disciples. In his time and culture, washing the feet of another person was considered humiliating. Jesus took on this “humiliation” to foreshadow the cross (the humiliation of a criminal’s death). After completing the foot-washing, Jesus encouraged his disciples to also serve and love others in humility.

The Core Principles of Service

  1. Service Should Flow From Love: John explains Jesus’ motive behind the foot-washing and the cross: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus then instructed his disciples to love: “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 first washed the feet his closest companions. Service always begins at “home”. Doing great acts of charity in the world (or church), but using “power” or “force” with your family, friends, and co-workers is not the Jesus way.
  2. Service Centers Itself in Self-awareness and Strength: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God”. We can also serve in strength and self-awareness knowing all things are in his hands and the indwelling Trinity will guide us.
  3. Service Follows the Example of Jesus and Serves Others: “‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord— and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.”
  4. Service Results in Blessing: “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
  5. Service Requires Risk:  After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ But, Jesus’ ultimate answer to the possibility of betrayal is to love anyway. Those who try to exploit us should not drive us to a risk-averse life, a shrinking life, or diminish our ability to be in relationship with others.

The “Power” of Humility and Service
We live in a world of “powers”. There is, of course, spiritual forces not always seen. These powers control and manipulate human powers. Then, there are “neutral” powers like governments, businesses, media, schools, and even churches. They also use or try to use force. And when we respond with power or force (even seemingly innocent behaviors like defensiveness), the “powers” become competitive. They need to win and we will likely lose.

So what do we do? The answer is the cross (humility, service, suffering, and joy). Paul writes, that through the cross Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.” The powers were/are defeated through the cross. When we use power or force, we incite the competitive nature of the powers and their desire to win. When choose love, service, humility, and non-violence, we ultimately disarm these powers because Jesus has previously brought them in subjection. This is why the non-violence of Gandhi and Martin Luther King ultimately brought empires to their feet. The “powers” of this world have no answer to the Jesus way.

The Apostle Paul wrote:

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

“For he (Jesus) was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

I encourage you to choose the way of the cross. And then you will conquer the world.

 

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: Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha. Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (Bruce Lee Library). Tuttle Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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