In Chapter Four of the Sixth Mansions we learned about “raptures of the soul”. Teresa says these raptures “carry the soul out of its senses”. She also refers to these raptures as ecstasies or trances. In chapter five Teresa talks about another kind of rapture called the “flight of the spirit”. Here the soul is transported with such rapid motion the soul can be filled with fear. This type of rapture only happens to those who have already offered themselves fully to God. Teresa says faith, confidence, and resignation are required in this rapture so God can do His work in our lives.
To help us understand the “flight of the spirit” Teresa references the “two fountains” analogy from earlier in the Interior Castle. Each of these fountains has basins that fill with water. But the basins are filled in different ways:
- “The water in the one comes from a long distance, by means of numerous conduits and through human skills.” Teresa called this “Spiritual Sweetness”. Spiritual sweetness comes from God but involves our effort (ascetic prayer).
- “But the other [fountain/basin] has been constructed at the very source of the water and fills without making any noise.” This is called “Spiritual Consolations” or “The Prayer of Quiet”. This filling comes solely from God and does not involve our effort (mystical prayer). The “basin becomes completely filled, and this water overflows to all the mansions and faculties, until it reaches the body.” This is “accompanied by the greatest peace and quietness”.
The “flight of the spirit” is more like the second basin. It is filled with no effort on our part. However, instead of being filled “gently and quietly” like the “Prayer of Quiet”, the water rushes in “with tremendous force” and “there rises up so powerful a wave that this little ship — our soul — is lifted up on high”.
Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez note the words from the Apostle Paul as the “biblical passage that supports Teresa’s explanation of this experience” of the flight of the spirit:
I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person . . . was caught up in Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. (2 Corinthians 12 – NRSV)
Or as the Message Bible says it: “I know a man who . . . was seized by Christ and swept in ecstasy to the heights of heaven.”
Thanks for reading Teresa of Avila Turns 500. I hope you’ll join me for the upcoming posts as we learn more about the “flight of the spirit”.
The Interior Castle Study Edition by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C.