Teresa challenges spiritual experiences governed by emotionalism and excessive crying.
People cry. Crying is a normal emotional response. Some people cry more than others. Crying is not a sign of weakness, in fact, some people with great emotional strength cry. Teresa is not criticizing crying in this section of the Interior Castle. She is, however, concerned about what she calls “false tears“. These are contrived spiritual experiences or emotional displays for attention or manipulating others.
Teresa possesses immense knowledge and experience in the spiritual life. Her experience taught her intolerance for emotionalism. She says God may bring tears as part of spiritual experiences, but these tears come with inner peace and God’s timing. She also warns, “But believe me, I do not speak without having seen that these false tears can be experienced by some persons; although not by me, for I am not at all tender. Rather, I have a heart so hard that sometimes I am distressed; although when the inner fire is intense, the heart, no matter how hard, distills like an alembic. You will indeed know when this fire is the source for tears, for they are then more comforting and bring peace, not turbulence, and seldom cause harm. She further says, “it won’t be wrong to be suspicious about tears.”
A good spiritual guide may be skeptical at times and occasionally have an edge to them. Teresa says, “I am not at all tender” and I have “a heart so hard that sometimes I am distressed”. The Christian community needs more skeptics. I’ve seen too many people go from anger and gossip to a “public Jesus moment” marked by tears. But nothing changes in their heart. A few days later they’re angry again and blaming others. We’re right to be “suspicious about tears”. They rarely change anything.
Emotionalism leads to self-deception, the deception of others, and deception by the devil: “A thousand times they will be led to think they weep for God, but they will not be doing so.” Instead of emotionalism we should focus on the work of spiritual formation and cultivating virtue. “Let’s not think that everything is accomplished through much weeping but set our hands to the task of hard work and virtue. These are what we must pay attention to; let the tears come when God sends them without any effort on our part to induce them.”
God will engage us emotionally, but we must “let him give us what he wants, whether water [tears] or dryness. . . . With such an attitude we shall go about refreshed, and the devil will not have so much chance to play tricks on us.”
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C.