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)

Metaphor
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.

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Christ the Redeemer

Resa publishes one of my favorite blogs. Her blog features “Street Art” punctuated by her outstanding photography.

Graffiti Lux and Murals

Lucky shot! The rays & light arc are due to the sun coming up from behind the building.

This piece of street art is based on the Mount Corcovado, Brazil, statue of Christ the Redeemer.

   Built in the 1920s by Heitor da Silva Costa, it is an  art-deco statue designed by Paul Landowski.

Considered a symbol of Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer is the 5th biggest statue of Jesus in the world.

This was truly a challenge to capture. The dead end alley is very narrow, and filled with a host of debris and machinery. I shot from below.

I zoomed in.

I shot from across the street, which is why there are wires in the shot below..

I stood on a 2 foot high pile of collapsed, waxed cardboard boxes.

When I stumbled out of the alley, a car had parked in the entrance. Yay…

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The One I Will Become

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

It benefits me little to be alone making acts of devotion to our Lord, proposing and promising to do wonders in his service, if I then go away and when the occasion offers itself do everything the opposite. I was wrong in saying it profits little, for everything having to do with God profits a great deal. (Teresa of Avila)

She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all (Bob Dylan)

We commit to do something “big” for God — “proposing and promising to do wonders in his service”, but “when the occasion offers itself do everything the opposite”.  Teresa begins by saying “It benefits me little” to make these resolutions if I don’t follow through. But then corrects herself saying, “I was wrong in saying it profits little, for everything having to do with God profits a great deal.”  

Resolutions
Teresa approaches resolutions from two points of reference. (1) We make resolutions to God. (2) We make resolutions with God. The resolutions “with God” develop through a variety of ways (e.g. prayer, reflection, reading, conversations, and mystical prayer). “With God” implies some sort of revelation and includes friendship and partnership with God. Since these resolutions develop in partnership with God, they’re significant. But, sometimes we fail to carry out our resolutions – or as Teresa says, we “do everything the opposite” of what we intended.

Failure and Success
What you do for God “profits a great deal”. This is true even if we fail or partially fail. Yet, the ultimate completion of our resolutions is still critical. With the passing of time, our “failed” resolutions are likely to evolve and take new shape. Instead of downgrading the challenge because we “failed”, God gives us something better, more complex, and more rewarding.

Trials
Then to support our ultimate success, God may also intervene with “trials”. The trials are not a punishment from God. They’re designed to remove fear and build resilience, clearing the path toward our objectives. I was reading a book from the insightful Dani Shapiro yesterday. She led with this quotation from Baal Shem Tov: “Let me fall if I must fall. The one I will become, will catch me.”

Embrace your failures and trials. They will shape you into the person who can achieve your resolutions.

 

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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Simplicity

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

The Interior Castle is a book about prayer and the intimacy we can have with Jesus Christ (“Spiritual Marriage”). The details of ascetic and mystical prayer can be complex theology. Therefore, Teresa of Avila periodically brings us back to the central practices of the Christian life: Love and humility along with their corresponding good works.

Every skilled theologian or exceptional leader learns to find (and consistently recapture) the “core issues” of his or her venture. In fact, an unwillingness to do so indicates a self-serving agenda that seeks to control others and their time. They also encumber their “followers” with unrealistic and unprofitable demands. Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned: Is it the Churches concern to erect a spiritual tyranny over men, by dictating to them what must be believed and performed in order to be saved, and by presuming to enforce that belief and behavior with the sanctions of temporal and eternal punishment? (Who put the church in charge your life anyway?)

Teresa mastered the “core issues” of the faith. This is why she was an exceptional theologian, reformer, and leader. She said, “I only wish to inform you that in order to profit by this path and ascend to the dwelling places we desire, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so do that which best stirs you to love.” This is not anti-intellectualism, but it does warn about retreating into learning as a substitute for love. The same is true of prayer. Certainly prayer cultivates valuable intimacy with God and a peaceful life. Yet, it should also produce wisdom and good works in the daily activities of our life – particularly with our key relationships.

Bruce Lee, another master of “core issues”, said: It is not daily increase, but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity. It is the half-way cultivation that runs to ornamentation. So it is not how much fixed knowledge one has accumulated; rather it is what one can apply alively that counts.” 

I encourage simplification and the mastery of core issues. Do we center our key relationships in love and humility? Does our prayer produce wisdom and good works? Does our learning supply actionable content? Or, is our life running the way of “ornamentation”? It looks good. It impresses people. But it adds little value to self or others.

 

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.

Bruce Lee: Artist of Life (Bruce Lee Library) Tuttle Publishing. Kindle Edition.

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The Sword

Much of our thinking revolves around a work and reward system.  If I work hard, I’m rewarded. If I don’t work hard, I deal with the consequences. We generally believe the work/reward system governs life – or should. If the work/reward system doesn’t work, we experience injustice. If we don’t get something we’ve worked for or someone else gets something they didn’t work as hard for, we believe it to be unfair.

The work/reward system also gives us the “imposter syndrome”. We’ve worked hard and get rewarded, but more reward than we believe we deserve. We see our shortcomings and wonder when everyone else will find out we’re an imposter (even though we’re not). We don’t believe we’re everything others believe us to be. This may be shame-based thinking, but the mindset is still the work/reward system.

The Judeo-Christian tradition, up to a point, accepts a work/reward premise. If we do right, God will bless us. Read Psalms. Read Proverbs. Read the book of Job. This is why Job was confused: “I lived right and now I’m suffering.” This was also the mindset of Job’s friends: “Bad things are happening to you, therefore you must have some sin.” Repent! We ultimately find at the end of Job, there were more complex things happening than the simple work/reward system related to Job’s behavior.

So if we follow Christ, live right, and our motives are right — we will be blessed. Right? Probably. But here’s the caveat. We will also suffer and this doesn’t fit neatly into the work/reward system. Teresa of Avila has an interesting observation about our blessings (“spiritual favors”). “Thus I hold for certain that these favors are meant to fortify our weakness . . . that we may be able to imitate him in his great sufferings.” So my very blessings from God may also be his way of strengthening me for future suffering (which in turn brings blessing, renewal, and redemption to others).

Teresa appeals to the biblical saints and their suffering. Mary, mother of Jesus, was blessed, but suffered. The Apostle Paul was blessed with visions, but suffered. And Peter, Teresa says, “Went straight to his death. And it was no small mercy from the Lord that Peter found someone to provide him with death.”

Let’s dig deeper into Mary’s blessing and suffering. In Luke 2, “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.'” (Blessed) Later in the birth narrative Luke introduces Simeon: “Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple . . . Simeon took him [Jesus] in his arms and praised God saying” this child would ultimately become “a light for the revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Blessing, renewal, and redemption.) Simeon continues: “And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them . . .”

But then, Simeon says to Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed”. (Mary, there will be an immense amount of chaos and opposition around your baby.) The blessing of Jesus comes with suffering. Simeon concludes by saying to Mary, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

If you follow Jesus, you will be blessed (i.e. it will be worth it). But, like Mary, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 

 

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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