When His Majesty wishes the working of the understanding to cease, He employs it in another manner, and illumines the soul’s knowledge to so much higher a degree than any we can ourselves attain that He leads it into a state of absorption, in which, without knowing how, it is much better instructed than it could ever be as a result of our own efforts, which would only spoil everything. (Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Fourth Mansions: Book Three)
We gain wisdom by practicing spiritual disciplines and exercising our faculties (reason, faith, memory, will, and understanding). But God occasionally suspends our understanding and illumines our minds through mystical prayer. This gives us insight unattainable through natural processes.
In search of spiritual ecstasy, some attempt to manufacture mystical experiences. This creates several problems:
- They try to do things only God can do and neglect other spiritual responsibilities.
- They damage themselves spiritually by neglecting their faculties and embracing ignorance as a virtue.
- Their imagination attributes things to God He never communicated.
- Their “spiritual” life becomes self-focused instead of God-focused.
Let the mystical understanding come when the time is right. In the meantime our focus should be on humility, love, spiritual disciplines, and the use of our faculties. Teresa says, “God gave us our faculties to work with, and everything will have its due reward; there is no reason, then, for trying to cast a spell over them — they must be allowed to perform their office until God gives them a better one.”
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