Teresa of Avila: Sixth Mansions: Chapter Nine
Imaginative Visions: Part Eight
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. (Jesus)
The habit of having to have things we don’t need, is likely greed. Greed can also infest our spiritual lives. We need to be at the best conferences, have the best worship, be at the best church, and have the best preaching. Application of our learning declines into platitudes. We stifle godly voices through condescension. Love and humility fade.
The pursuit of mystical prayer experiences can also be spiritual greed. We ignore the path God has given us and pursue spiritual ecstasy. Teresa says I “advise you strongly that when you learn or hear that God grants these favors to souls you never beseech him or desire him to lead you by this path.” Spiritual experiences do not measure the quality of our spiritual lives. Teresa says, “There are many holy persons who have never received one of these favors, and others who receive them but are not holy.”
Teresa advises us to receive mystical prayer experiences if God gives them to us. But she also warns us not to pursue spiritual ecstasy for the following reasons.
- When we must have something, we open the door to the self-deception. “The imagination itself, when there is a great desire, makes a person think that he sees what he desires and hears it”.
- When we must have something, we open the door to the devil’s deception. The person pursuing mystical prayer experiences “will very certainly be deceived or in great danger because the devil needs nothing more than to see a little door open before playing a thousand tricks on us.”
- When we must have something, we neglect more important things. “The desire to be given what you have never deserved shows a lack of humility, and so I believe that whoever desires this path will not have much humility. . . . I believe that these favors will never be given to those who desire them, because before granting them God gives a deep self-knowledge.” Self-knowledge and humility are central to our Christian life — spiritual ecstasy is not.
- When we must have something, we become ignorant about what’s good for us. “It would be extremely bold to want to choose a path while not knowing what suits me more. Such a matter should be left to the Lord, who knows me – for he leads me along the path that is fitting – so that in all things I might do his will.”
- When we must have something, we don’t count the cost. “Do you think the trials suffered by those to whom the Lord grants these favors are few? No, they are extraordinary and of many kinds. How do you know you would be able to bear them?”
- When we must have something, we don’t (or can’t) anticipate the outcomes. “By the way you think you will gain, you will lose, as Saul did by being king.”
Teresa reminds us to pursue what God wants, not spiritual ecstasy. She says, “Sisters, besides these reasons there are others; believe me, the safest way is to want only what God wants. He knows more than we ourselves do, and he loves us. Let us place ourselves in his hands so that his will may be done in us, and we cannot err if with a determined will we always maintain this attitude. And you must note that greater glory is not merited by receiving a large number of these favors; rather, on the contrary the recipients of these favors are obliged to serve more since they have received more. The Lord doesn’t take away from us that which, because it lies within our power, is more meritorious. So there are many holy persons who have never received one of these favors, and others who receive them but are not holy. And do not think the favors are given continually; rather, for each time the Lord grants them there are many trials. Thus, the soul doesn’t think about receiving more but about how to serve for what it has received.”
Trials accompany mystical prayer experiences. If you pursue spiritual ecstasy, the words of Jesus apply: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” If you’ve already received mystical prayer experiences, you know well the connection between ecstasy and trials. Your goal shouldn’t be a return to ecstasy, but to act on what you’ve already received along with cultivating deeper levels of love, service, and humility.
All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version. NRSV Harper Bibles (2011-11-22). NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Locations 59043-59045). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
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. Kindle Edition.