Thus you will understand how important it is for you not to impede your Spouse’s celebration of this spiritual marriage with your souls, since this marriage brings so many blessings, as you will see. (Teresa of Avila)
As we enter the Seventh Mansions, Teresa dives deeper into the subject of Spiritual Marriage. She tells us spiritual marriage brings many blessings, but we must not “impede” these blessings.
The topic of “impeding” blessings seems simple on the surface, but quickly becomes a complex discussion. Do blessings come through good behavior? Can we reduce or impede our blessings if we behave poorly? Will we suffer even if we behave well? Do blessings (or lack of blessings) occur apart from our behavior altogether?
We’ll briefly explore the role of behavior related to blessings and intimacy with God. We begin by dividing this topic into two approaches to the spiritual life:
- The Earning-Centered approach to the spiritual life.
- The Grace-Centered approach to the spiritual life.
The Earning-Centered Approach
Those adopting an Earning-Centered approach to the spiritual life believe God rewards and punishes us based on behavior. They have rigid standards about the way they and others should behave in order to earn God’s blessings and avoid punishments. They say they believe in grace, but they practice an “earning-centered” approach that includes:
- Seeing themselves as an isolated entity with an extreme cause and effect view of their own “godly” behavior: “I behave therefore I am or will be blessed.” This limits their ability to see the collateral damage and the long-range consequences of their own decisions or the decisions of others.
- Seeking to obtain their blessings by attempting to control personal relationships or exert excessive control in the church, at work, or in politics.
- Tending not to cultivate healthy relational skills like setting boundaries and appropriate self-care. They assume their “godly” behavior will transcend the inappropriate behavior of others and their lack of wise choices.
When these individuals fail to meet their own behavioral code, you would think it would produce humility and love — the central behaviors of Christianity. Instead, it produces a strange mixture of shame, spiritual pride, hypocrisy, dogmatism, and censorious judgment.
The Grace-Centered Approach
The Grace-Centered approach falls into two categories:
- License: Behavior disconnected from blessing. Those who hold this view tend to accept, excuse, defend, or minimize the damaging behavior of others (unless that behavior affects them). They’re judgmental of others who don’t hold similar views. They’re defensive when challenged. The long-term consequences of this kind of “grace” are idealism, rejection of responsibility, and spiritual impotence.
- Responsibility: God consistently blesses us, but we can “impede” God’s blessings through lack of faith and lack of love. In this view, God’s commandments help define how to love others, act in faith, and receive discernment. If a commandment is not loving, faith-producing, and revelatory we’ve misunderstood the commandment. This kind of grace believes in effort and responsibility, but not in earning and rigidity.
The central problem with the Earning-Centered approach to the spiritual life is lack of faith. It focuses on earning rewards and guarantees by following a proscribed set of rules. It’s a contract. If I obey the rules, I’ll be blessed. The rules are the rules regardless of the damage they do.
The Grace-Centered approach to the spiritual life understands the commandments and the example of Christ as ways to have intimacy with God, love others, and hear the Holy Spirit.
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.