St. Teresa de Avila, “The Interior Castle”

 

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One of Teresa’s confessors, Fray Diego, wrote that God revealed to her:

“…a most beautiful crystal globe, made in the shape of a castle, and containing seven mansions, in the seventh and innermost of which was the King of Glory, in the greatest splendour, illumining and beautifying them all. The nearer one got to the centre, the stronger was the light; outside the palace limits everything was foul, dark and infested with toads, vipers and other venomous creatures.”[6]

Even better is Teresa’s own description. She describes the soul as “a castle made of a single diamond . . . in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.”

Teresa describes the exploration of the castle’s many rooms, leading to the center where she finds union with God.

But in my vision, the castle is still unfinished. My role here is not to explore, but to create. I like to believe that this interior castle is what I am devoting my life to build. Each room is a world I have set aside in my own heart. Every corner is filled with experiences I have collected on my travels, the walls covered with paintings I have thought and felt into being.

I’m not sure the construction on this castle will ever be completed. As I learn every day, there is something to be done: a new room will be built, a wall will come up, an entire wing  is demolished.

Unlike Teresa, who finds an end to her explorations in union with God at the center of her castle, I don’t perceive any end in sight. My castle is illuminated by a diffuse divinity, ruled by a God outside time and space, which cannot be touched but is always felt.

Anyway, I’ll admit, it’s been difficult reading. A Catholic nun in the 16th century wouldn’t seem to have much in common with me. And indeed, I do find her constant reflections and appeals to the personal God of judeo-christian tradition cause me some intellectual/spiritual discomfort.

There’s a lot for me to disagree with here, but I believe I can still appreciate elements of her work and derive some benefit from her core message. She advocates the importance of meditation and prayer, and emphasizes the value of self-knowledge.

 

Teresa is at her best when she advises us  “not to think much but to love much”. If I could give myself any piece of advice, it would be this! We shouldn’t forget that love, after all, is the key that opens all the doors to the castle.

 

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