To put it briefly, worldly joys (spiritual sweetness) have their source in our own nature and end in God, whereas spiritual consolations have their source in God, but we experience them in a natural way . . . . (Teresa of Avila: Fourth Mansions: Chapter One)
I run in the way of your commandments, because you enlarge my understanding. (Psalm 119.32)
The satisfaction from spiritual sweetness and spiritual consolations are similar to good things we experience in natural life. Teresa gives examples: “a person suddenly acquires some valuable property; or equally suddenly meets a person whom he dearly loves; or brings some important piece of business or some other weighty matter to a successful conclusion, so that everyone speaks well of him; or when a woman has been told that her husband or brother or son is dead and he comes back to her alive. I have seen people shed tears over some great joy; sometimes, in fact, I have done so myself.” Likewise, in the spiritual life, we also experience fulfillment and happiness.
There are differences between spiritual sweetness and spiritual consolations. The first difference is their source:
- Spiritual Sweetness begins with us (our prayer and meditation) and leads to God.
- Spiritual Consolations begin with God and we experience them in a natural way.
A second difference between spiritual sweetness and spiritual consolations is consolations expand our understanding. While spiritual sweetness leads to God, it does not “enlarge the heart” or illumine our understanding the way spiritual consolations do.
We find that our relationship with God works both directions. We pursue God and experience love, fulfillment and happiness. God also initiates action, apart from any effort from us, and we experience love, fulfillment, and happiness — but consolations have the added benefit of illumining our understanding and expanding our hearts. This illumination renews and transforms us and then gives us a “spiritual vision” to bring change to the world.
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