Interior Castle: Sixth Mansions: Chapter Six
Teresa distinguishes between meditation and contemplation. Meditation is ascetic: We initiate the action with God and engage or chew on the source material of meditation. Contemplation is supernatural: God initiates the action with us and we absorb or gaze in contemplation. Both these methods provide value to our spiritual life. But once we experience contemplation, meditation can become more difficult. It is best to accept the transition of less meditation and increased contemplation while not losing site of the essential content of meditation.
Teresa describes meditation. “By meditation I mean prolonged reasoning with the understanding, in this way. We begin by thinking of the favor that God bestowed upon us by giving us His only Son; and do not stop there but proceed to consider the mysteries of His whole glorious life. Or we begin with the prayer in the Garden and go on rehearsing the events that follow until we come to the Crucifixion. Or we take one episode of the Passion–Christ’s arrest, let us say–and go over this mystery in our mind, meditating in detail upon the points in it that we need to think over and try to realize, such as the treason of Judas, the flight of the Apostles, and so on. This is an admirable and a most meritorious kind of prayer.
A person who has been “raised to supernatural things and to perfect contemplation” may subsequently find the practice of meditation nearly impossible. So, Teresa says, if they “labored hard at meditation in the way I have described, this would indeed be a hindrance–in fact, I believe such labor is impossible for a person who has attained great heights.” Continuing to force meditation when it’s not working hinders our spiritual growth. Instead, we should make a shift to reduce mediation and increase contemplation. That being said, we should never neglect meditating on life and passion of Christ.
Essential Meditation and Contemplation
While it may be difficult to meditate in the way we once did, Teresa says it is impossible that “a soul that has received so much from God should forget all these precious signs of His love, for they are living sparks that will enkindle the soul more and more in its love for Our Lord.” She says, “No one, however spiritual, will persuade me that to neglect these mysteries can be profitable for him.”
According to Teresa, the soul having already experienced supernatural prayer should not forget these “mysteries” of His life and passion but they may understand “them in a more perfect way”. God works through the memory to picture them to the mind and brings the will into action. The contemplative approach will involve less emotion than typical meditation on the life and death of Jesus, but will probably include “a desire to make some kind of return for this great favor” (His suffering) and may include a desire to “suffer something for One Who has suffered so much Himself.”
Avoid Shame and Judging
We grow and make transitions in our spiritual life. We can learn from others, but it’s a mistake to assume the spiritual disciplines of one person or group is the way you should practice your spiritual disciplines. This leads to shame and discouragement when we invest so much time and energy with such little return.
It’s also a mistake to try to constantly recapture past practices. They had tremendous impact on us at the time, but it may not be the most profitable practice for the future. God may have a new path for you.
There are meditative ways of approaching the mysteries of Christ and contemplative ways of approaching the mysteries of Christ. Both are valuable. We should not condemn or judge others for the path they are on.