Teresa of Avila: Interior Castle: Seventh Mansions: Book Four
Teresa of Avila’s accomplishments are impressive. She was a great theologian, a reformer in the church, and a prolific author which included writing one of the classic books of Christianity. About 400 years after her death, Teresa was recognized as one of the “Doctors” of the Catholic Church. This recognition has gone to fewer than 40 individuals.
Teresa didn’t set out to accomplish these things. Her results flowed from a way of life. She had a relentless focus on her vision while daily completing seemingly insignificant tasks with love. She says, “The Lord doesn’t look so much at the greatness of our works as at the love with which they are done.”
Teresa’s “success” was a: A clear vision + execution. Her method of achieving goals included the following:
Focus on the Task at Hand Instead of Building “Castles in the Air”
Teresa says one of the tactics of the devil is to give us “great desires so that we will avoid the task at hand”. We then become “content with having desired the impossible” instead of “serving our Lord in possible things”. Teresa says we “need not be desiring to benefit the whole world but must concentrate on those who are in your company”. The best expressions of love are local: home, work, and community. We can feel like we’re not doing enough, but Teresa says, “In sum, Sisters, what I conclude with is that we shouldn’t build castles in the air.”
Don’t Underestimate the Impact of Small Acts of Love
Teresa asks a rhetorical question about loving those nearest us: “Do you think such deep humility, your mortification, service of all and great charity toward them, and love of the Lord is of little benefit? The fire of love in you enkindles their souls, and with every other virtue you will be always awakening them. Such service will not be small but very great and very pleasing to the Lord.” Simple acts of love and kindness may seem insignificant, but it will enkindle the soul of others, awaken virtue in their lives, and transform institutions. Love people. Love your work.
Don’t Assume a Lack of Need in Others
We may assume the love we can share with others may not be needed because these individuals are already doing well. But all people need love. Teresa says, “You will say that such service does not covert souls because all the Sisters you deal with are already good. Who has appointed you judge in this matter? The better they are, the more pleasing their praises will be to our Lord and the more their prayer will profit their neighbor.”
Big events and big needs can give us adrenaline for a period of time, but it fades. What we need is the daily resilience to stay centered on our vision. Resilience builds momentum. Teresa also cautions, life may be shorter than what we think. This is all the more reason to stay centered and begin right away. “And if we do what we can, His majesty will enable us each day to do more and more, provided that we do not quickly tire. But during the little while this life lasts — and perhaps it will last a shorter time than each one thinks — let us offer the Lord interiorly and exteriorly the sacrifice we can.”
Anticipate God’s Action
When we stay resilient: “His majesty will join it with that which he offered on the cross to the Father for us.
- Find a big vision grounded in love. Avoid wandering from idea to idea without execution. A list of dreams without execution are only “Castles in the Air” that will crumble soon enough.
- Love people and love your work.
- Act with urgency. Act today. A life used poorly will always be too short.
- But even urgency requires patience: Execute the tiniest details of your vision with great love.
- Practice resilience: Momentum builds over time and God will join our work
Annie Dillard captures some of these same ideas in her book An American Childhood. She observes:
How many filaments had Thomas Edison tried, over how many years, before he found one workable for incandescence? How many days and nights over how many years had Marie Curie labored in a freezing shed to isolate radium? I read a biography of George Washington Carver: so many years on the soybean, the peanut, the sweet potato, the waste from ginning cotton. I read the biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Daniel Boone.
It was all the same story. You have a great idea and spend grinding years at dull tasks, still charged by your vision. All the people about whom biographies were not written were people who failed to find something that took years to do.
Dillard goes on to say:
“When little George Westinghouse at last figured out how to make air brakes, Cornelius Vanderbilt of the New York Central Railroad said to him, ‘Do you mean to tell me with a straight face that a moving train can be stopped with wind?'”
You want a vision big enough where people ultimately ask you, “Do you mean to tell me with a straight face . . . ?” And then you want to add that vision the daily execution and resilience to bring it to reality. This vision doesn’t have to meet anyone’s approval. It doesn’t have to look important. It doesn’t have to earn you awards or promotions. It just needs to come from within — from the Interior Castle.
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.