Teresa of Avila says, “Our Lord awakens the soul” and “fills it with fervent desire” for Him. This flows from the “very depth of the heart” where Christ resides. To describe this experience, Teresa uses the phrase “delectably wounded”. We experience a great pain, but there is also great tranquility in our soul. We experience distress, but we also feel His immense love. Teresa says, “He is present but will not manifest Himself in such a way as to allow [us] to enjoy Him, and this is a great grief, though a sweet and delectable one”. When afflicted with this wound, we never want to be healed because we are “consumed with desire” for Him. In this phase of our relationship with Him, He “never completely enkindles the soul; for, just as the soul is about to become enkindled, the spark dies, and leaves the soul yearning once again to suffer that loving pain”.
Teresa provides additional details of her experience in her autobiography: I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love for God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying. (The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus)
The Bernini sculpture pictured below: Ecstasy of St. Teresa captures this yearning and introduces the final two Mansions of the Interior Castle. I encourage you to click on the photo and explore the details; you should be able to zoom in on different parts of the picture. A few things to notice:
- The spear/arrow the angel is holding noted in the text above.
- Teresa’s face.
- She is floating on a cloud.
- Her foot highlighting she a discalced (barefoot) Carmelite.
Photo Copyright: Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
(Jastrow) – used with permission.
I highly recommend a short video from Kahn Academy about the Bernini sculpture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKcJvjP9zgY (Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker)