How Power Works

Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it — always. (Gandhi)

Fix your eyes on the Crucified and everything will become small for you. . . . Do you know what it means to be truly spiritual? It means becoming slaves of God. Marked with his brand, which is that of the cross, spiritual persons, because now they have given him their liberty, can be sold by him as slaves of everyone, as he was. He doesn’t thereby do them any harm or grant them a small favor. And if souls aren’t determined about becoming his slaves, let them be convinced that they are not making much progress, for this whole building, as I have said, has humility as its foundation. If humility is not genuinely present, for your own sake the Lord will not construct a high building lest that building fall to the ground. Thus, Sisters, that you might build on good foundations, strive to be the least and the slaves of all, looking at how or where you can please and serve them. What you do in this matter you do more for yourself than for them and lay stones so firmly the castle will not fall. (Teresa of Avila)

The slave metaphor used by Teresa (and the Bible) creates difficulty in light of the atrocities and oppression connected to that term. Replacing it with the term servant may help a little, but not much. This metaphor may be hopelessly and understandably lost to many readers. The point of “slave” metaphor is humility. Humility, in a biblical sense, links us to self-knowledge, inner strength, and freedom. Ultimately, humility has it’s own kind of power superior to the authoritarian, oppressive, and violent power we see in our world.

The Gospel
To understand power let me start with the gospel. I find it humorous many Christian leaders “preaching the gospel” don’t know what the gospel is. In simplest terms the gospel is: Jesus is Lord, not Caesar. Caesar was a reality in the first century, but we can apply the metaphor to anyone in power. Jesus is Lord, not the President, the Prime Minister, the King, or some other political person. Jesus is Lord, not some business leader, manager, or supervisor. Jesus is Lord, not the media or technology. Jesus is Lord, not (and you get to fill in the blank).

The Problem
If Jesus is Lord, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? My simple answer is God gave and continues to give rational beings significant freedom. This includes freedom to do evil and inflict suffering on self or others. It also gives us the power to do good and heal. To Jesus’ credit, when we ask the question, “If Jesus is Lord, why is there evil and suffering?”, we’re assuming better things of him and his “rule” than what we see from much of the current leadership in the world.

What Do We Want God To Do?
Many people want God to fix everything. This includes eliminating evil, death, and suffering. But most people don’t want to be “robots” programmed to do everything a certain way, even if that programming is done by a loving deity with perfect results. God doesn’t want robots either. He wants partners and friends that love him and others as a product of their own free will. But we can’t have it both ways: Guaranteed freedom and guaranteed good (at least not yet).

So What God is Doing?  
Jesus is Lord and not Caesar shifted the power differential. True power no longer resides in the hands of the powerful, the rich, the famous, or the violent. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” Jesus said this and lived this. This culminated with the cross (i.e. humiliation and suffering). Through the cross he gained control of “all power”. He then distributed this power. But he did not distribute power equally. He put it in the hands of the rejected, the outcasts, the “weak”, the persecuted, the poor, the discriminated against, and with those people who aligned themselves with those other groups.

Actualizing This Power
This is where it gets complicated. Because Jesus is Lord and not Caesar, the old ways of power have been destroyed and replaced with the power of love, humility, and virtue. The old ways of power only maintain their power when we respond to them with like kinds of power. If we use violence, oppression, manipulation, or authoritarianism we actually increase their power. If we compete with them using their weapons, we also get devoured. There will always be people and systems bigger and stronger than us. And even if we “win” using violent or manipulative ways, we ultimately lose “for all who take the sword will perish by the sword”. This not only applies to the “big stuff” of violence and oppression, it’s also the stuff of daily life. If we use criticism, judgmental attitudes, defensiveness, and other passive aggressive behaviors, they’re included in the old ways of power. You will also “perish by the sword” of those very activities.

We actualize the new power by embracing the tools of Jesus: Humility, love, gentleness, prayer, virtue, joy, wisdom, and truth. The old system ultimately crumbles or transforms. By the way, I’m not promoting naivety. Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Our conflict is still strategic; it’s just not done according to the traditional rules of power.

Teresa of Avila
When Teresa says, “Fix your eyes on the Crucified and everything will become small for you.” She’s shifting our focus to the new power. Do you know what it means to be truly spiritual? It means a life of humility. Another metaphor: “This whole building, as I have said, has humility as its foundation.” She further says, “If humility is not genuinely present, for your own sake the Lord will not construct a high building lest that building fall to the ground.” You are not going anywhere meaningful without humility. You’re in an old power structure and, at a minimum, it will sap your strength and energy.


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.

Jesus Follower, Blogger, Public Speaker.

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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 4
2 comments on “How Power Works
  1. Christy B says:

    “Jesus is Lord and not Caesar…” You explain the power and many issues well here, Dave. As you say, there’s no guaranteed good, at least at this point.

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