The Presence of the Trinity: Part III
The Constant Presence of the Trinity
In the previous post Teresa of Avila talked about the continual presence of the Trinity in our soul in contrast to the intermittent presence of the Trinity referred to in the earlier mansions of the Interior Castle. Of course, we may not recognize this continual presence of the Trinity. And this is why we read a book like the Interior Castle: To learn from the “spiritual masters” how to develop our relationship with God. For example, I benefitted from going to Bible College and Seminary. My teachers were, for the most part, effective in teaching me theology and hermeneutics. What they didn’t teach me is how to hear God. Teresa teaches us to hear God. Other authors do this as well: Thomas a’ Kempis in the Imitation of Christ or Francis de Sales in the Introduction to the Devout Life. Modern day authors like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Eugene Peterson also teach us how to hear God.
Learning and Mystical Prayer Experiences
Teresa notes our “lack of learning” related to mystical prayer experiences. Mystical prayer flourishes in the interchange of learning and experience. As I’ve studied Teresa’s book, I’ve discovered several approaches to mystical prayer:
- Teresa explains in detail experiences I’ve already had with God. Before studying her work, I didn’t have the words or perspective to make full use of what God was doing or saying. I was also in a Christian community that didn’t accept mystical prayer experiences. I can now use my new understanding to apply previous mystical experiences to current situations.
- In some cases I hadn’t experienced what Teresa talks about, but now can recognize the fresh activity of God in my life.
- I’ve also learned to listen with discernment when others talk about mystical prayer experiences that are outside my experience. Because I’ve learned through the Interior Castle that God works in these ways, I can recognize their experience as rooted in God. I can appreciate and learn from the experiences of others without feeling the need to reproduce it.
- I can also better discern what is not from God, but invented by the imagination or the devil.
The Presence of the Trinity and Ordinary Life
God doesn’t intend for us to have every mystical prayer experience. However, a few of these are so closely linked to intimacy with Jesus he would like us all to experience them. One of these experiences is recognizing the continuous presence of the Trinity. Now you might think this would require unrealistic amounts of time and can’t be aligned with ordinary life. But Teresa says, You may think that as a result [of the presence of the Trinity] the soul will be outside itself and so absorbed that it will be unable to be occupied with anything else. On the contrary, the soul is much more occupied than before with everything pertaining to the service of God; and once its duties are over it remains with that enjoyable company. If the soul does not fail God, he will never fail, in my opinion, to make his presence clearly known to it. It has strong confidence that since God has granted this favor he will not allow it to lose the favor. Though the soul thinks this, it goes about with greater care than ever not to displease him in anything.
Four things to note there:
- The continuous presence of the Trinity is compatible with ordinary life.
- The continuous presence of the Trinity makes us more attentive to our responsibilities.
- We must be obedient to Christ to enjoy this continuous presence of the Trinity.
- The company of the Trinity is so “enjoyable”, we will take greater care not to displease God.
Metaphor: The Room
We experience the presence of the Trinity two ways. The first is episodic or a temporary period of ecstasy. The other is the continuous presence of the Trinity. Teresa says, “Let’s say that the experience resembles that of a person who after being in a bright room with others finds himself, once the shutters are closed, in darkness. The light by which he could see them is taken away. Until it returns he doesn’t see them, but not for that reason does he stop knowing they are present. It might be asked whether the soul can see them when it so desires and the light returns. To see them does not lie in its power, but depends on when our Lord desires that the window of the intellect be opened. Great is the mercy he shows in never departing from the soul and in desiring that it perceive him so manifestly.”
The room metaphor helps us understand mystical prayer:
- God “appears” to us. This creates a mystical prayer experience.
- These moments of ecstasy are episodic. The expectation of continuous ecstasy misses the point of the spiritual life and mystical prayer.
- God is with us in a “bright room” (the ecstatic experience) and then God turns off the light. Since the light is off, we can no longer “see” him. However, turning off of the light hasn’t changed anything about his presence in the room. His presence still remains.
- We don’t have the power to turn on the light. We need to quit trying to create mystical prayer experiences and, instead, enjoy his continuous presence.
But God is still preparing us for more: “It seems that the divine Majesty desires, through this wonderful company, to prepare the soul for more.” Teresa says, “Clearly, the soul will be truly helped in every way to advance in perfection.” She provides an example from her own life of how being in The Room transformed her life: “Such was the experience of this person (Teresa), for in everything she found herself improved, and it seemed to her, despite the trials she underwent and the business affairs she had to attend to, that the essential part of her soul never moved from that room.”
- We can experience the continuous presence of the Trinity in the midst of the ordinary activities and trials of life.
- God uses episodic mystical prayer experiences to bring us revelation and guidance.
- The episode ends, but the power and presence of the Trinity remain.
- Chasing spiritual episodes as a new way of life misses the point of mystical prayer.
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.