Death of the Butterfly: Part I

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

Earlier in the Interior Castle we saw the Death of the Silkworm and its transformation into a butterfly (moth): “You must have already heard about his marvels manifested in the way silk originates, for only he could have invented something like that. The silkworms come from seeds about the size of little grains of pepper. . . . When warm weather comes and the leaves begin to appear on the mulberry tree, the seeds start to live, for they are dead until then. The worms nourish themselves on mulberry leaves until, having grown to full size, they settle on some twigs. There, with their little mouths, they themselves go about spinning the silk and making some very thick little cocoons in which they enclose themselves. The silkworm, which is fat and ugly, then dies, and a little white butterfly, which is very pretty, comes forth from the cocoon. Now if this were not seen but recounted to us as having happened in other times, who would believe it?” 

The silkworm “died” and became a butterfly. Now, the butterfly dies and becomes one with Christ. Teresa says, “Now, then, we are saying that this little butterfly has already died, with supreme happiness for having found repose and because Christ lives in it. Jesus used the death/new life metaphor to describe his own life/death/new life and then applies it to his disciples: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

So the Christian spiritual journey can look something like this:

  1. By God’s grace and intervention we seek Christ.
  2. We grow spiritually by entering the Interior Castle and practicing “ascetic prayer” and other spiritual disciplines.
  3. We (the silkworm) spin a cocoon, “die”, and are transformed into a butterfly (new life).
  4. God initiates further transformation in our lives through mystical prayer.
  5. The butterfly dies and lives as one spirit with Christ (spiritual marriage).

Each of these stages produces effects or outcomes. The Death of the Butterfly is no exception. In Chapter Three of the Seventh Mansions, Teresa says, “Let us see what life it lives, or how this life differs from the life it was living. For from the effects, we shall see if what was said is true. By what I can understand, these effects are the following.”

Teresa occasionally begins enumerating things and doesn’t always continue her pattern clearly. She gets there, but it’s not always easy to follow.  Keirnan Kavenaugh and Otilio Rodriguez in their translation of the Interior Castle suggest the effects of the butterfly dying are as follows:

  1. Forgetfulness of self
  2. Desire to suffer
  3. Deep interior joy in persecution
  4. Desire to serve
  5. Great detachment
  6. No fear of the devil’s deceits

This may not seem like an encouraging list of what it means to be one with Christ. Who wants to suffer, endure persecution, and serve others? We want to actualize self and conquer the world. But the point is, as we become one with Christ we cease to be a prisoner of self and others. While we may suffer, endure persecution, and be subjected to humiliation — these things no longer victimize us. On the contrary, we become more “powerful”. We also cease to be deceived by the devil into living an inferior life. Everything we do — everything we experience brings great fruit because we are one spirit with Christ.

For an additional post on this topic see: The Most Christian Person I’ve Ever Met.


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.

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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 3

The Most Christian Person I’ve Ever Met

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

[She] has now died, full of joy at having found rest, and within her lives Christ. Let us see what her new life is like, and how different it is from her earlier one. (Teresa of Avila)

He worked the soul like he worked the land
He spoke in ways that anyone could understand 
Simple words of simple faith 
And when it came to love 
He would go out of his way
A helping hand 
A soothing chat 
And he practiced what he preached imagine that  (Michael W. Smith)

The metaphor of death and new life is common in spiritual literature. In order to have new life, we must die to our previous existence. Sometimes this death is nearly imperceptible, other times it’s significant events like a book, an illness, or a person that catalyzes our transformation.

About twenty years ago, I went to a two-day conference on hiring employees. The speaker, Vic, was illustrating character and generosity. He shared a story about growing up in the 50s in a tiny town — 110 people as I write this — called Cannon City, Minnesota. When Vic was in eighth grade, he desperately wanted to play the trumpet. But his family was too poor to afford the instrument.

There was a senior in high school that would often be on the tractor as Vic walked by. Vic would occasionally stop and talk with this older boy.  One day, Vic mentioned his desire to play the trumpet. The older boy said, “I’m leaving for the military soon — you can have my trumpet.”

This story caught my attention because my wife attended church in Cannon City when we were dating. I met some of the people she went to church with, including the school teacher who preached on Sundays.

At the break in our conference, I stopped and talked to Vic. I said, “It’s possible we could have a mutual acquaintance. Did you by any chance know a Bix Nauman when you grew up in Cannon City?” Vic said, “That’s the boy who gave me the trumpet!” He asked me how I knew Bix. And then Vic said, “Bix Nauman was the most Christian person I ever met.”

I saw Bix a few years later. We talked for a short time. As I walked away, he stopped me. He pulled a folded piece a paper from his pocket and handed it to me: Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (John 12.24-26) 

Bix understood the Christian life was about dying. Dying to self and selfishness — and dying to our previous existence and following Christ into new life.

Is Bix the most Christian person I ever met? Probably. Some may suggest his pastoral talents weren’t fully used by preaching to less than a 100 people on Sunday and teaching science during the week. I disagree. From what I’ve seen — from what I’ve heard — the seed fell into the ground and died and bore much fruit.

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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 3


This blog is small by blogging standards. But, I didn’t expect my observations about the writings of a 16th century Carmelite nun to generate a lot of mainstream interest. Nevertheless, I have now reached 20,000 views for this blog. There have been visits from 94 countries including places like: Mauritius, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Isle of Man. I also had a blog visit from Vatican City (I wonder if it was the Pope?).

Here are a few favorite posts from the 235 I’ve published so far:

  • The topic generating the most interest: Intellectual Visions.
  • The marriage metaphor as it relates to spirituality is important to understanding the Interior Castle and many other spiritual writings. For a detailed discussion see Prayer, Poetry, and Sex.
  • Teresa has brilliant metaphors to illustrate spiritual truth. In The Room she provides an excellent metaphor about the continuous presence of the Trinity.
  • The late Dallas Willard was a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Philosophy. He wrote a great summary of the Interior Castle. I captured highlights in a post called Dallas Willard and Teresa of Avila.
  • An overview of this entire blog can be found in the Tour of the Interior Castle.

Most people reading my blog are looking for technical information about The Interior Castle. But I’ve also written other posts to highlight various aspects of the spiritual life. Examples include:

Merry Christmas and thank you for taking the time to read Teresa of Avila Turns 500.

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A Tour of the Interior Castle

A Tour of the Interior Castle
Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle

Even those devoting much of their life to studying spiritual literature find the Interior Castle a complex book. Richard Foster, founder of Renovare and author of the classic spiritual formation book Celebration of Discipline said, “For some reason, Teresa of Avila has always been difficult for me to read.” (Devotional Classics. Edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryant Smith. HarperOne.) The late Dallas Willard was a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Philosophy. He wrote a number of influential Christian books including The Divine Conspiracy, The Spirit of the Disciplines, and Hearing God. Willard said of the The Interior Castle, “It is not a model of easy reading . . . and must be approached as if you are mining for treasure–which you are.” (The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’s Teachings On Discipleship. 2006. HarperCollins Publishers.)

But it’s worth mining for the treasure. Others have recognized this as well. The Interior Castle is on several lists of “great books”. It’s included in Notre Dame’s Great Books seminars. Eugene Peterson lists it as one the “basics” of spiritual reading in his book Take and Read. It’s also included in 25 Books Every Christian Should Read (Edited by Julia L. Roller). Teresa provides an immense amount spiritual insight in the Interior Castle. Studying this book will certainly be rewarded, but also possible to get lost in the vastness of her ideas. To track her ideas, I keep an outline/summary of The Interior Castle. I’ve added hyperlinks to easily find various topics.

To add to the challenge of the Interior Castle, I face cultural barriers. Teresa was single and lived in a convent in the 1500’s. I live in a modern context. I’m married with children and grandchildren. I work outside of the church. And Teresa was Catholic and I’m not, so, I no doubt, miss some of the religious context assumed by Teresa.

A Tour of the Interior Castle


The Interior Castle is our soul. According to Teresa of Avila, our soul is like a single diamond in which there are many rooms. At the center of the Castle is where the King (Jesus) resides. The soul has great dignity and beauty and is a paradise in which God takes great delight. Teresa asks, “what do you think a room will be like that is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good?”  

We enter the Interior Castle through prayer and meditation. Our destination is the center of the castle where the most “secret things pass between God and the soul”. This is the interior journey. Teresa says, “You will have read certain books on prayer which advise the soul to enter within itself: and that is exactly what this means.”


The Foundation

  • The Interior Castle: This is Teresa’s metaphor to understand our souls. She describes our soul as a castle made of a single diamond in which there are many rooms. Christ dwells at the center of this castle.
  • The Image of God: Being created in the image of God is our core identity. Teresa says, being “made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty.” We hold this to be true while at the same time accepting the great distinction between creature and Creator.
  • The Indwelling Trinity: The indwelling Trinity validates the beauty and dignity of our souls and the importance of the interior journey. At the center of the castle is where the most intimate exchanges take place between God and the soul.
  • The Beauty and Dignity of our SoulsTeresa says, “I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity.”

The Basics

  • Self-Knowledge: Teresa says we should learn self-knowledge and humility. It is important to understand who we are and the capacity of our souls for God. Progress through the Interior Castle requires even the most spiritually mature to spend time in the rooms of self-knowledge and humility.
  • Spiritual Favors: Spiritual favors shatter complacency and fuel spiritual growth. Properly applied, they lead to good works, humility, virtue, praise, love, and fortitude. With spiritual favors, the progress of our souls takes place with less effort. While spiritual favors are important and add substance to our spiritual lives, Teresa says, “perfection consists not in consolations (spiritual favors) but in the increase in love”. We do not earn these favors nor are they a measurement of our goodness.
  • Prayer and Meditation: Prayer and meditation are the entry point to the Interior Castle. While we do not earn God’s favors, we can be more attentive to him. As we go into other rooms of the castle we may practice ascetic prayer and experience mystical prayer. Ascetic prayer is action we initiate with God. Mystical Prayer is action God initiates with us.
  • Reptiles: Reptiles are preoccupations or “worldly attachments”. They keep us anchored in the courtyard inhibiting us from exploring the rooms of the castle.
  • Sin: We are a Tree of Life. When planted in the “living waters of life” we thrive spiritually and bring renewal to a battered world. When we plant ourselves in or by the polluted waters of sin we limit our spiritual progress and miss opportunities to give life to others.
  • Spiritual Warfare: Three strategies in which the Devil excels are: (1) Getting us to believe lies – especially about ourselves (2) Distracting us from what is important and (3) Undermining love.

Additional Tools to Help Us Navigate the Interior Castle

  • Listen to God: He speaks to us through conversations with good people, sermons, books, trials, and prayer.
  • Develop Spiritual Habits: Establish sustainable “spiritual habits” especially around prayer and meditation. Start Small, Repeat Daily.
  • Rely on Your Faculties: Your reason, faith, memory, will, and understanding are reliable guides. Use them.
  • Perseverance: We drive the devil away when we resolve not to be defeated.
  • Increase Velocity: Teresa says we must avoid “this habit of always serving God at a snail’s pace!” and spending our time refining “our carefully ordered life”.
  • Avoid Distractions: We cannot live virtuous lives and still cling to wealth or reputation. Distractions will keep us from surrendering all to follow Jesus.
  • Find a Spiritual Director: When I talk about spiritual directors, I’m talking about wise people with a holistic approach to life and spirituality.
The Interior Journey 

The Interior Castle is about Prayer. Prayer can be separated into two categories:

  1. Ascetic Prayer: In ascetic prayer we initiate interaction with God through vocal prayer and meditation. This is also called “purgative prayer” because of the cleansing effect on our lives. The first three Mansions of the Interior Castle cover this material.
  2. Mystical Prayer: God drives the activity in mystical prayer. Teresa writes about this in Mansions four through seven.

We can then separate mystical prayer into two categories:

  • Illuminative Prayer: Through illuminative prayer God enlightens our will and understanding. Teresa explains this in the Fourth Mansions. This section includes several posts on the Prayer of Quiet.
  • Unitive Prayer: In Mansions five through seven Teresa writes about unitive prayer. Unitive prayer leads us to a deep and intimate relationship with Christ “where the most secret things pass between God and the soul.” Unitive prayer covers 2/3 of the Interior Castle and is the focal point of the book.

Unitive Prayer: When we explore Mansions Five, Six, and Seven the marriage metaphor becomes essential for our understanding of the Interior Castle. This metaphor is common in the Bible and other spiritual writings. The marriage metaphor helps us better understand the potential intimacy we can have with God. Teresa reminds us that this metaphor has limitations and is completely spiritual: “The spiritual joys and consolations given by the Lord are a thousand leagues removed from those experienced in marriage.” 

Teresa explains Unitive Prayer using the marriage customs of her day. This includes:

  1. Brief Meetings: A brief time in which we see our future Spouse. (Fifth Mansion)
  2. Betrothal Period: The promise to marry and learning to love Christ. (Sixth Mansion)
  3. Marriage: Union with Christ. (Seventh Mansion)

The Sixth Mansions of the Interior Castle

In the Sixth Mansions, we are at a critical juncture in our Christian life. The potential for deep spiritual union with Christ is within reach. But the devil wants to prevent this union. He wars against us. And this time he makes the poison seem so harmless. Some of us have gotten close to the Sixth Mansions and been tricked. Additionally the Sixth Mansions comes with Intellectual Visions, Imaginative Visions, periods of Ecstasy, and intense suffering.

The Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle

In the Seventh Mansions of the Interior Castle we find our Union with Christ through Spiritual Marriage.

  • Chapter One focuses on the Indwelling Trinity. I encourage you to read Indwelling and The Room.
  • Chapter Two centers on being One Spirit with Christ. For a great metaphor from Teresa, I suggest reading The River.

Thanks for reading Teresa of Avila Turns 500.

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.
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Posted in Summaries

Peace and Power

For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but . . . we will live with him by the power of God. (2 Corinthians 13.4)

In Seventh Mansions (Spiritual Marriage), we can still experience severe trials and suffering — yet our souls remain in perfect peace. Teresa says, “That there are trials and sufferings and that at the same time the soul is in peace is a difficult thing to explain. We’re also protected from humans or demons that would lure us from the center of the Interior Castle. And we cannot be sidetracked by distractions and lose our way. “The King is in his palace and there are many wars in his kingdom and many painful things going on, but not on that account does he fail to be at his post [the center of the castle/soul]. So here, even though in those other dwelling places there is much tumult and there are many poisonous creatures and the noise is heard, no one [human or demon] enters that center dwelling place and makes the soul leave. Nor do the things [distractions] the soul hears make it leave; even though they cause it some pain, the suffering is not such as to disturb it and take away its peace.”

Our Spiritual Marriage with Christ also creates a certain type of suffering. We can now see with fresh eyes the possibilities and responsibilities available through our intimate relationship with Christ. But we have little strength to accomplish these new desires. Teresa says this is the “habitual pain and confusion at seeing the little it [the soul] can do and the great deal to which it is obliged. This pain is no small cross but a very great penance.” The pain of not being able to fulfill these spiritual obligations and desires actually become its own penance: “The true penance comes when God takes away the soul’s health and strength for doing penance.”

We must then draw from a deeper source of vitality. Peace and power come directly from being one spirit with Christ and flows from the center of our souls. “All these things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted. The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit. What is there, then, to marvel at in the desires this soul has, since its true spirit has become one with the heavenly water we mentioned?”


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.

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Posted in 7th Mansions - Chapter 2