St. Teresa of Ávila was a sixteenth-century Carmelite nun who lived during the Spanish Inquisition and wrote The Interior Castle as a guide for spiritual growth. She wrote it, not because she wanted to, or thought she had the skills, but in obedience to her superiors. As a result, it is delightfully self-deprecating and conversational, yet written with powerful certitude and wisdom that can only come from firsthand experience. It is a masterpiece of Christian mystical literature and one of the most wrinkled and marked up of all Betty’s beloved “Rubber Band Books.”
Our 16th century mystic friend begins:
Few tasks which I have been commanded have been so difficult as this present one of writing about matter relating to prayer: for one reason, because I do not feel that the Lord has given me either the spirituality or the desire for it; for another, because for the last three months I have been suffering from such noises and weakness in the head that I find it troublesome to write even about necessary business. But, as I know that strength arising from obedience has a way of simplifying things which seem impossible, my will very gladly resolves to attempt this task…
While I was beseeching Our Lord today that He would speak through me, since I could find nothing to say and had no idea how to begin to carry out the obligation laid upon me by obedience, a thought occurred to me which I will now set down, in order to have some foundation on which to build. I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or a very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions. Now if we think carefully over this, sisters, the soul of the righteous is nothing but a paradise, in which, as God tells us, He takes His delight. For what do you think a room will be like which is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and full of all that is good? I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity.
“The door of this castle is prayer.”
In the interior castle, there are seven mansions that might be very loosely visualized as concentric circles leading inward to the center of the soul. Radiant Light emanates more and more brightly from the innermost dwelling as the pilgrim approaches. Teresa reminds the reader that the only entrance to this glorious dwelling is prayer and that the path is never a straight one. Thoughts will continually distract and divert us, so she insists that we be humble and very patient with ourselves. “Just as we cannot stop the movement of the heavens…we cannot restrain our thought. Then we send all the faculties of the soul after it, thinking we are lost,…yet the soul may perhaps be wholly united with Him in the mansions very near His presence, while thought remains in the outskirts of the castle.”
And this from our twenty-first century mystic friend, Betty:
Now, in the twilight of my years, I feel very pressed to encourage people who are on their spiritual journey to persevere, to trust God, and to not stop short of the goal—the gift of the Giver Himself, Divine union. The gates of heaven are everywhere. Our part is to simply embrace and open to the new seasons of our inner and outer journey as preparation to receive this gift of Love. Divine union is for everyone, and the experiential knowledge of this Love and freedom is everything. At last, we are grasped by the hand of the Spirit and led into a wilderness free of distractions and temptations: a wilderness of trackless mystery, beauty, and sound. This is the ultimate food in the feast of our redemption—a foretaste of heaven. Once we have tasted it, there is no turning back. It gets sweeter and sweeter. It is a freedom that comes from a wisdom that transcends the intellect. It is an unknowing, a letting go of all we have known and falling deeply in love with God in whose heart we will finally find rest. Our soul, then, will finally expand to the point that we draw all humanity into it, and in the process there will be peace in our heart, joy in our life, and reconciliation and healing among our friends and family. This journey is costly, and it is sacrificial, but it is healing and brings with it the gift of sanctity. I can’t explain it, but it is so. ~BettyThe Hidden Life Awakened p205