Most of what I know about . . . God speaking to us, I learned from studying and putting into practice what Teresa says in Dwelling Place Six, Chapter Three. It is still, I think, the best treatment ever written of what it is like for God to speak to his children. (Dallas Willard: The Great Omission)*
Chapter six of the Interior Castle is an important chapter on hearing God. Teresa introduces us to the term “locutions”. This term is related to hearing direct messages from God. Interior Castle commentator, Dennis Billy, summarizes Teresa’s description of these locutions as “another way that God speaks to someone in the state of spiritual betrothal. It is not uncommon for such a person to receive direct messages from God, experienced through one’s ears, imagination, or spirit (intellect).” **
In Teresa words, the “awakening of the soul is effected by means of locutions, which are many kinds. Some of them seem to come from without; others from the innermost depths of the soul; others from its higher part; while others, again, are so completely outside the soul that they can be heard with the ears, and seem to be uttered by a human voice.” Since God sends locutions or direct messages to us in multiple ways, we need to learn how to hear them.
Teresa says locutions are, “in some respects it seems a greater favor than the others” but “may also be more perilous.” In learning to hear God speak, we need to learn how to separate the locutions from God from the activity of a “feeble imagination” or the deceptions of the devil. Our emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being is also important in avoiding deception.
If you are a spiritual guide to someone prone to a “feeble imagination” and they say God is speaking to them — you “should advise them to pay no heed to the matter, because the service of God does not consist in things like these”. Your influence, however, must be indirect. The more you argue with them, the more “They will simply swear they see and hear things, and really believe that they do.” Instead, encourage them to spend less time in prayer and more time on ordinary life responsibilities, service to others, and the cultivation of love, humility and virtue.
Of course this raises the question: What if you advise someone to ignore a legitimate locution from God? Don’t worry about this since it is still good advice. God will not be limited by your cautions. Teresa says, “it is always better for them to dispense with such things at first, for, if they are of God, dispensing with them will help us all the more advance, since, when put to the proof in this way, they [the locutions] will tend to increase.” Authenticating locutions is wise and pleases God. God certainly speaks to us. But let’s make sure it’s Him instead of our imagination or the devil.
*Dallas Willard: The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Teachings On Discipleship. 2006. HarperCollins Publishers.
**Dennis Billy C.Ss.R.: Interior Castle. Published by Ave Maria Press, Inc. Notre Dame, IN.