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Teresa wrote reluctantly and felt that she had little to offer that had not already been said. She believed that "Our Lord will be granting me a great favour if a single one of these nuns should find that my words help her to praise Him a little better." She focuses on the beauty of the soul and laments that we spend so much attention on our physical body and so little on the divine spark that is within.
Teresa focuses on gaining self-knowledge, but not in the way we in the 21st century interpret that term. For her, self-knowledge means coming to know the soul within. It means understanding our dependence on God and gaining humility by acknowledging that we are nothing without Him. The route to self-knowledge and entry into the interior castle comes through prayer and meditation. As one progresses through the mansions, one comes to know and long for God more and more and to reject the world and its attractions. Teresa encourages the beginner in prayer "to labour and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conforming with the will of God." She also offers encouragement: "If, then, you sometimes fall, do not lose heart or cease striving to make progress, for even out of your fall God will bring good."
As one makes her way ever deeper into the heart of the castle, increased spiritual consolations and trials become par for the course. Many (perhaps even most) do not reach the most inner mansions in this lifetime. Teresa is quick to point out, however, that "the Lord gives when He wills and as He wills and to whom He wills, and as the gifts are His own, this is doing no injustice to anyone." Indeed she cautions her readers to never believe that they deserve any gift that the Lord bestows upon them, nor should we set out to obtain any consolations or mystical experiences because "the most essential thing is that we should love God without any motive of self-interest."
Teresa was truly granted amazing gifts of insight and experience from God. While we may not share in her experience, "Interior Castle" offers a unique perspective into the divine within each of us. It offers a portrait of our souls and invites us into a deeper relationship with God.
Sr. Teresa is a tour guide through the mansions of prayer with the utmost reverence for our Lord, obedience, and charity for the faith. She gives practical insights to scripture, and how to know what is really from God, and what is from the deceiver. I loved it, and found it highly comforting. I couldn't put it down and took so many notes that I've referred back to. Highly recommended.
Teresa lived at time shortly after the explusion of the Jews from Spain (which occurred in 1492). Her own family was a converso family; hence, there were different dimensions to the wariness of the powers in the culture toward her activities. Being a woman at the time didn't help matters, either, as she defied the stereotypes in several ways, by seeking education and leadership opportunities, all the while being part of the discalced Carmelites, who strive to cultivate humility and poverty.
Teresa's life was not an easy one; she suffered physical ailments and political difficulties. However, she was also a sought-after advisor, spiritual leader, and fairly prolific author. Her various writings made her famous in her own day, but the towering achievement that has lasted over time is without doubt 'Interior Castle'. This text shows a spiritual journey on the inside, developing different walks through aspects of spiritual life and prayer developed in seven stages, or mansions.
The life of prayer is the castle, with seven stages of development. The first three stages are pieces that humankind can practice with their own efforts; the final four stages are those which are given from God, and God alone - no human effort can reach these places. The first mansion looks to the striving toward perfection of the human soul. The second looks to different pieces that give spiritual edification; sermons, readings, prayer practices, conversation, etc. The third mansion sets forth discipline and penance, striving toward good works while reaching for self-surrender. These are not easy stages, but are within the realm of human possibility.
The fourth mansion begins the mystical journey in earnest at the behest of God. Here Teresa uses a metaphor of water and a fountain to explain the soul, and explores graces as spiritual consolations. Here is the Prayer of Quiet. The fifth mansion continues the theme of water, looking toward a Prayer of Union, which leads naturally to the sixth mansion, where the soul is prepared for a marriage of sorts, as intimacy with God increases in the soul. The seventh and final, most interior mansion, which is heaven itself; metaphors here used include two candles joining as one, and the falling rain merging to become one with the river.
These mansions are based on visions; Teresa was compelled to write them down at the order of her ecclesiastical superiors, for she herself thought to keep them to herself. Her writing was done very late in her life, but even so, she took care to be humble and as non-threatening as possible; modern readers might be a bit taken aback by the self-deprecation of Teresa, and the general stance she seems to take towards women. This may have been an attempt to make an authoritative text written by a woman more acceptable to the male-dominated hierarchy of the time. However, not all of Teresa's humility should be dismissed or argued away in this manner. She is reputed to have said, 'There are more than enough books on prayer already,' in response to being told to write her visions. This might have been true (then and now), but few reach the power that Teresa's 'Interior Castle' achieve.
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