Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Chapter Four
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. (Luke 6.12)
Some of us may have stumbled across the famous line by Robert Frost: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Taking the “Road Less Traveled” has now become sacred. And in a sense it is. We don’t thrive in the status quo or with a closed mind to new ideas. But, if “Road Less Traveled” means nothing more than “trying something new”, “changing for change sake”, or most concerning — rejecting time-tested wisdom simply because it’s “old”, we will miss the wonder of new discoveries.
When we remove essential elements from any enterprise in the name of progress or efficiency, we lose the essence of our endeavor. This is Teresa’s point about prayer and spirituality. For some spiritual leaders and churches, prayer has become peripheral. Teresa calls spirituality, ministry, or life without prayer “The Unfamiliar Path”. It’s a path unfamiliar to Jesus. It’s a path unfamiliar to Abraham, to David, to the Apostles, and to the great saints of history. The “Unfamiliar Path” is life and spirituality with minimal prayer.
But who needs prayer? Many take “The Unfamiliar Path” of peripheral prayer and are highly successful.
- Without prayer, large churches develop marvelous programs segmented to meet every possible need. (Why spend time in prayer?)
- Without prayer, Christians do outstanding good works and change lives. (So why pray?)
- Without prayer, people donate millions to help others? (Why waste time in prayer?)
- Without prayer, pastors deliver powerful sermons. (If they don’t need to pray, why should we pray?)
Teresa says, “This is what I want us to strive for . . . let us desire and be occupied in prayer not for the sake of our enjoyment but so as to have this strength to serve. Let’s refuse to take an unfamiliar path, for we shall get lost at the most opportune time. It would indeed be novel to think of having these favors from God through a path other than the one he took and the one followed by all his saints. May the thought never enter our minds.”
Prayer gives us:
Strength of Body and Mind to Serve
Teresa says through prayer “strength flows back to the weak body”. Prayer couples bodily strength with strength of mind: “Thus the soul has its share of misfortune while it lives. However much it does, the interior strength increases and thus, too, the war that is waged; for everything seems like a trifle to it.” Teresa notes, this is the strength of Mary, of Martha, of Elijah, of St Dominic, and of St. Francis.
Protection Against Deception and Evil
Teresa says we can be “lost at the most opportune time”. In this case “the most opportune time” is a negative. It’s the “opportune” time for the devil. The devil strategizes to destroy. He uses minor attacks as a set-up, but his ultimate goal is the most cumulative damage — in some cases, the damage lasts for generations. We only see the ruins retrospectively. The devil gets you to think your spiritual life is strong, your family is safe, and your spiritual community is thriving. And then he strikes! While it appears to be an invisible set-up, it’s actually happening in plain sight. But we don’t see it, because we don’t pray. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said, “If you don’t pray, your presence will have no power, your words will have no power. If you pray, you will be able to overcome all the tricks of the devil. Don’t believe all the thoughts that he puts into your mind.”
I encourage you to “Take the Road Less Traveled”. It’s typically the only worthwhile road to take. But beware of the “Unfamiliar Path” of a life without 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.