Friday, February 20, 2015

Teresa of Ávila - on Perseverance - The Second Mansions

Teresa of Ávila's, Interior Castle

There is only one chapter to this section on the second Mansions.  She talks about the importance of perseverance and continuing on from the first Mansions, even if we fall.  In the first Mansions she mentions that the souls could not hear nor speak.  In the second Mansions souls can hear, but still can not speak.  When she talks of hearing, she means we can hear God calling.  He calls continuously.  I find that comforting, actually, because I for one am slow.  It means that He does not give up on us and is extremely patient.  "His appeals come through the conversations of good people, or from sermons, or through the reading of good books; and there are many other ways, of which you have heard, in which God calls us."  (1)  She says they come through sicknesses and trials too, or truths God teaches us when we are praying.  Have you ever gotten insights and answers to your problems while praying?  I am not sure how sickness is a way of God calling us, but I do know that I called on him when I was sick with ovarian cancer.  I depended on him to show me the way out.  She says that, "He calls us ceaselessly, time after time, to approach Him" (1).

She discusses how earthly things have no value compared with what they are seeking in the castle.  These earthly things come to an end, and prosperous people with many things end up in the ground in a grave.  This reminds me of the saying, "You can't take it with you."  I think that the nuns had to deal with the choice to live differently than other people, giving up not only material things, but the chance of marrying and having a family of their own.

It is hard to imagine nuns having difficulty in prayer, but she talks of it here.  If you meditate, have you ever noticed how distracting our busy thoughts and lives are, and how it interrupts our quiet time?  She tells us something I don't want to forget.  "All that the beginner in prayer has to do - and you must not forget this, for it is very important - is to labour and be resolute and prepare himself with all possible diligence to bring his will into conformity with the will of God."  She goes on to say, "this comprises the very greatest perfection which can be attained on the spiritual road."  (1)  I notice that her words imply action, and what we do.  She does not seem to talk about just reciting words; it seems to me that our whole life is a prayer and that carrying it out is a form of prayer.  I imagine that if it is in alignment with God, it can be a very powerful form of prayer.

(1) Teresa of Ávila.  Interior Castle:  Teresa's Masterpiece of Mystical Literature In it's Most

          Celebrated English Translation.  Trans.  E. Allison Peers.  Ed.  E. Allison Peers.  New York:

          Image, 2004.  Print.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Teresa of Ávila - on Self Knowledge, Humility, The First Mansions

Thoughts on The First Mansions, Chapter II -

Teresa of Ávila's "Interior Castle"

     I recently had a discussion about humility with someone who recently had a monumental accomplishment in their lives.  Their personality is hard working and unassuming, and after many years accomplished a long time prestigious goal.  We were celebrating, and they told me about a story of how people laughed at a perceived less than humble remark.

     That very night as I picked up the Book, Interior Castle, the first thing I see is St. Teresa doing her bit on humility.  She writes, "so long as we are on this earth, nothing matters more to us than humility." (1)  Aaaah!  -Another one of those coincidental things I seem to have the knack of running into.  Growing up, humility meant don't toot your own horn or go around saying you are better than everyone else.  St. Teresa seems to talk here of self knowledge and connects it with humility.  She almost sounds like a new age writer from our times.  Except her definition of self knowledge is less self centered.  She believes we can only know ourselves by seeking to know God.  By noticing the vast differences between Him and us we gain a perspective of who we are and how much we are dependent on Him.  She goes so far as to say that any good we do has its source in God, not ourselves - that light in the center of the castle, our soul. - "in that sun which sheds its radiance on our works." (1)  At first I was a little disappointed that it sounds as if we can't take credit for a good decision or good deed, but when I thought a little more about it I remembered all good things come from God, and God created us to begin with.  It is starting to make a little more sense.  The self knowledge she speaks of is not about figuring out what we like to do in our lives or what our talents are, but is much more basic.  It is recognizing the Source of all, of everything, and giving proper credit where it is due - to God.

     Some of her writing seems to be for the benefit of the Inquisitors she had to deal with at the time to protect herself.  Her words are strong, "by looking at His purity we shall see our foulness." (1)  for example.  I say this because on the next page she seems to write what she really means to say and explains what she meant.  If we turn our attention away from ourselves and towards God, we naturally will embrace all that is good.

     Here is one of the most interesting and amazing things she has to say on the subject.  She warns about misunderstanding what humility is.  She actually says that the devil has ruined many souls.  People think that the following misgivings are from humility, but they are really a lack of self-knowledge.
"-so long as we are buried in the wretchedness of our earthly nature these streams of ours will never disengage themselves from the slough of cowardice, pusillanimity and fear.  We shall always be glancing around and saying: "Are people looking at me or not?" "If I take a certain path shall I come to any harm?" "Dare I begin such and such a task?" "Is it pride that is impelling me to do so?" "Can anyone as wretched as I engage in so lofty an exercise as prayer?" "Will people think better of me  if I refrain from following the crowd?" "For extremes are not good," they say, "even in virtue; and I am such a sinner that if I were to fail I should only have farther to fall; perhaps I shall make no progress and in that case I shall only be doing good people harm; anyway, a person like myself has no need to make herself singular."" (1)

     These are limiting thoughts and worries of today!  Not much has changed since the 1500's.  How many people never undertake a task, because they think they are not good enough or are afraid?  How many times do we worry what others will think about us?  Will people think I am bragging?  Will they think I am a show off if I use my talents or let them shine?  What if I fail?  I don't want to stand out?  I hate to say it, but many are taught some of these limiting thoughts often in the guise of humility when children by our culture and influencing adults.  As St. Teresa says, "we get a distorted idea of our own nature" (1).  We don't stop thinking of ourselves.

     People mistake this for humility and never achieve their full potential.  Think how much good could be done for humanity if people were not afraid to "go for it?" (1)  What problems could be solved?  St. Teresa wants us to get out of our own smallness and set our eyes upon Christ where we can learn true humility.  Self knowledge will not make us fearful.  St. Teresa herself was a woman of action and a very capable person.  She accomplished a great deal.  She founded several monasteries and reformed the Carmelites in the face countless obstacles,  and persecution from jealousy and opposition.

(1) Teresa of Ávila.  Interior Castle:  Teresa's Masterpiece of Mystical Literature In it's Most

          Celebrated English Translation.  Trans.  E. Allison Peers.  Ed.  E. Allison Peers.  New York:

          Image, 2004.  Print.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Thoughts From The First Mansions, Chapter 1 -Teresa of Ávila's "Interior Castle"

     I will attempt to write down my thoughts about certain things St. Teresa talks about that I want to remember.  I am no authority.  They are just my own thoughts.   I hope you find it interesting, comment, and be inspired to read the works of this great saint.
     St. Teresa begins by describing the soul as if it were a castle made of one diamond or clear crystal, which has many rooms or mansions.  She says that it is up to us to pay enough attention to understand ourselves and know who we are.  When she talks about who we are it is on a very deep level (not the what we want to be when we grow up level).  She states how incredibly stupid it is to make no attempt to discover what we are and just go on in our bodies with just a vague idea that the soul exists.  She is a direct saint and calls us out right away by comparing it to not knowing your own name.  "All our interest is centred in the rough setting of the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle-that is to say, in these bodies of ours." (1) 
     "Let us now Imagine that this castle, as I have said, contains many mansions, some above, others below, others at each side; an in the centre and midst of them all is the chiefest mansion where the most secret things pass between God and the soul." (1)  This is the most wonderful description I think, because we can all relate to the concreteness of the castle.  A castle is real, strong, and solid.  The soul seems to be something of a mystery to me, especially when I was little.  It is exciting that she lets us know that it is actually something that we can get to know about.  How does one go into oneself?  She takes care of this question by saying, "But you must understand that there are many ways of "being" in a place.  Many souls remain in the outer court of the castle, which is the place occupied by the guards; they are not interested in entering it, and have no idea what there is in that wonderful place, or who dwells in it, or even how many rooms it has."
     Now my interest is peaked.  I want to know how to get in.  I think many people in our times want to go into the castle and find their souls.  In fact I believe that is why the motivating spiritual speakers are so popular.  We keep searching for a way in, to commune with God.  She tells us, "As far as I can understand, the door of entry into this castle is prayer and meditation: I do not say mental prayer rather than vocal, for, if it is prayer at all, it must be accompanied by meditation." (1)

(1) Teresa of Ávila.  Interior Castle:  Teresa's Masterpiece of Mystical Literature In it's Most

          Celebrated English Translation.  Trans.  E. Allison Peers.  Ed.  E. Allison Peers.  New York:

          Image, 2004.  Print.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

On the Introduction -Teresa of Ávila's "Interior Castle"

     The introduction discusses some history from various sources of how "The Interior Castle" came about.  It mentions that she was commanded to write a treatise on prayer.  At this time, the book of her life was in the hands of the Inquisition.  This was also a time  period when she was ordered to not start any more reformed convents.  Before she begins her book, she takes three pages as what in our times would be called a disclaimer.  It is a disclaimer with a capital D.  She makes it clear she has been commanded to write.  She says that she has neither the spirituality nor the desire for it.  She says she has nothing new to add that has not already been covered and if something does come to her it is from God alone.  She herself can not take credit for it.  She goes on to say that if there was anything not in line with the Holy Roman Catholic Church, it was because of ignorance and not malice.  She states her audience is her nuns, since "it seems ridiculous to think that I can be of any use to anyone else"(1).  Yet she writes a profound book, which is still here today in print.  In fact this year marks her 500th birthday.  I can't imagine how scary it was to go about normal business back then.  She wanted to go back to a simple life of prayer, but the establishment did not want to change their ways.  They wanted to continue on the way they wanted to, and the fact that she had success in founding new convents and that people followed her was threatening to them.  Hmm ... seems not much has changed in our world.  St. Teresa moved ahead in obedience and trust in God, however.

(1) Teresa of Ávila.  Interior Castle:  Teresa's Masterpiece of Mystical Literature In it's Most

          Celebrated English Translation.  Trans.  E. Allison Peers.  Ed.  E. Allison Peers.  New York:

          Image, 2004.  Print.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Exploring Teresa of Ávila's "Interior Castle" in a Modern World

     There are so many great thinkers and writers out there.  Where does one begin?  I decided to begin with Teresa of Ávila's "Interior Castle" translated and edited by E. Allison Peers, because it simply caught my eye, and I thought comparing the soul to a castle with many mansions/rooms was fascinating.  A common theme in humanity of every culture is a desire for union with God, the Divine, the Source of it all.  Isn't this where we all are heading?  Also, I admit I like castles.  I always have and I am curious to see how she compares a castle to our soul.  As I read, I will think about what was happening in her life at the time it is written.  What was happening in history?  Her audience is her fellow sisters.  How can the path she describes apply to modern times and my own life?  Her "Interior Castle"  describes the soul's seven stages of union with God by passing through seven chambers/mansions.

     Perspective, I believe is a big part of understanding someones writing, because people can only write about what they know.  They write from their own experience and perspective.  So who was St. Teresa of Ávila?

     This Spanish nun was born in 1515 and considered one of the great mystics and religious women of the Roman Catholic Church.  Also, she was a leader of the Carmelite Reform, which brought back the austerity and contemplative character to the order.  Along with John of the Cross, she is considered to be a founder of the Discalced Carmelites.  She was canonized in 1622, and declared the first woman Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970.  Here is a link to find out more about St. Teresa of Ávila.

     Reading about the life of St. Teresa of Ávila is actually rather scary.  Her life was not an easy one.  I think what most saints experiences are scary.  Her life is a radical difference to mine.  I am not a cloistered nun.  -I actually had the privilege to know a modern Discalced Carmelite nun fairly well.  Her name was Mother Mary Joseph of Carmel of Port Tobacco, living in the first Carmelite monastery in the United States.  I taught harp to the novices there for several years.  After the lessons were over, Mother Mary Joseph would sit and talk with me while I ate my tuna sandwich and fruits one of the nuns carried over in a nice basket.  She genuinely wanted to know how I and my family were doing.  She was interested and her eyes sparkled.  Have you ever met someone like that?  She was wise and shared her thoughts.  We talked about many things.  I learned about her life as a girl growing up in Chicago, the same town as me.  How she became a nun, and proceeded to have a very active career as a religious.  She was also an amazing artist who designed stained glass windows, painted, and sculpted.  She shared her spiritual wisdom and was concerned in a motherly way.  Now in heaven, I pray she helps me understand a little bit about the cofounder of her order.

     Below are some pictures of Kenilworth castle, one of the largest ruined castles in England.  It is the first one I ever saw and happens to be my favorite.  I still see the strength and beauty here in its many buildings.  Now for exploring the "Interior Castle".