thoughts on how to have difficult conversations

My denomination is engaged in a difficult conversation. But aren’t we all, and more often than we think? We’re always dancing around possible difficult conversations – with bosses and pastors, tough-to-love family members, obnoxious small group members, pestering employees, unhelpful custom service reps, and more.

As I prepare to facilitate a time to consider how we best have difficult conversations, I’m tapping into some categories I introduced in my book Toughest People to Love. Let’s look at some diagnostic categories for our difficult conversations.

  1. Is this a conversation I need to have? We’ve got to take a bit of time to consider this. Some difficult conversations feel extremely urgent in the moment. Answering this question often requires us to take a good, long look within ourselves first (which, of course, is a good “Jesus practice” – what’s in your heart?). I remember being triggered to near rage when a friend revealed to me a very harsh judgment by a supervisor of mine. I typed twenty different versions of a text blasting this person, but (thankfully) didn’t send one. I talked to a few friends in the days after, and my anger settled into a more sober sense of disappointment. As I transitioned from a more reactive to a more reflective place, I recognized that a conversation could come in time, but it was far more important to examine my own heart and my own reactivity. Principle: Rather than trying to change others, look to take the harder path of inner change.
  1. What do I fear and what do I need? When we relax our immediate ‘triggered’ prompt to react, we can tap in to our hearts where we find the “wellspring of life.” Our hearts tell us what we fear and what we need, and offer the wisdom to discern the path forward. The Spirit dwells within and becomes our conversation partner toward this end. When I learned of my supervisor’s comments, my rage took over my body. I felt blended with it. I could have punched a hole through a concrete wall. But as I descended into my heart and engaged a more reflective conversation, I experienced several fears – losing approval, being misunderstood, and a loss of joy in my work. I allowed myself some time to experience the reality of these fears and the concurrent sadness around the disconnect with my supervisor (all the while tending to the part of me that wanted to circumvent the entire process and rage!). In time, I began to discern the need for a calm and clear conversation with this person. I scheduled a face to face at that point. Principle: Rather than sabotaging relational connection with a quick response, honor your heart and discern what you fear and what you need.
  1. Exercise Curiosity. In Krista Tippett’s new book Becoming Wise, she notes that civil discourse requires that we identify the ‘good’ in the position of the other. This requires a posture of curiosity, a genuine interest in hearing from the other person and, even more, listening to their story. Much of our political and ecclesial discourse tends towards polarization – they are bad, we are good…their position is wrong, mine is right. We cite our authorities quickly – the Bible, the Constitution, the wise thinkers who agree with us. When we identify our fears and needs, we are able to approach a conversation with calm, compassion, and curiosity. I recall sitting down with my supervisor and beginning with conversation about life and family before getting into the tough discourse. When I mustered up the courage to engage, I said, “I’ve heard something about your perception of me that initially triggered great frustration in me, but I’m really curious to hear from you. May I ask you about it?” I didn’t sabotage my supervisor with my my frustrations and suspicions, but offered a chance to engage if my supervisor was willing. Of course, in that moment the other person’s anxiety ramps up, and I want to be aware of how I can cultivate non-anxious presence in that moment. My supervisor appreciated the opportunity to hear from me and respond, and while we did not ultimately come to the place of clarity I hoped for, we maintained a sense of connection and preserved a productive working relationship. Principle: Curiosity does not require us to agree, but invites us to listen non-anxiously and hear the heart of the other.
  1. Exercise Wisdom. Wisdom and folly are important categories when engaging difficult conversations. Folly implies hiddenness (Genesis 3), an inability to live in the light of truth, a tendency toward self-deception. Wise people are not perfect, but are capable of seeing their ‘stuff’ and repenting. Wise people do not tend to scapegoat and blame, but exercise curiosity with themselves and others. Those who tend toward folly blame-shift and deflect. They maintain positions with ultimate certainty and little curiosity and a fragile sense of their own inner authority. Now, I do wish Scripture was more clear and helpful to us on dealing with fools:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
 Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

Even the writer of Proverbs is confused when it comes to have difficult conversations! Maybe that can allow us to practice some self-compassion and receive God’s grace when we find conversations difficult. I do think that Scripture paints, in broad strokes, a movement or continuum from foolishness to wisdom, from being hidden to living in the truth. In Toughest People to Love I offer three categories – Simple Fools, Self-Consumed Fools, and Sinister Fools.

SINISTER FOOLS

Sinister fools have no capacity for self-knowledge, humility, or repentance. Likely deeply hurt at an early age, they have now become the “bully.” They win through intimidation, manipulation, and demanding ultimate loyalty. They are always right, and they claim the backing of Scripture, Polity, the Constitution, or whatever text or person they deem authoritative. Because curiosity and compassion are impossible, it is important to consider carefully how or if you will engage a Sinister Fool. There is no healthy conversation possible when you disagree, only war. And so, more often than not, I counsel people to protect themselves, and to tread with extreme care and caution.

SELF-CONSUMED FOOLS

As the title implies, this kind of folly is marked by an orientation toward self-interest. While not cruel like the Sinister Fool, the Self-Consumed Fool may employ charm, compliments, affirmation and seeming agreement before turning on you. The Self-Consumed Fool is deeply scared and insecure, and so protecting his truth, his position, and his rights is paramount. Sadly, the Sinister Fool is often barely capable of seeing this. Even repentance, when it comes, feels like a form of self-protection. You might experience a kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde effect with the Self-Consumed Fool, and in that you’ll be as confused as the writer of Proverbs as to how and when you should engage. Be wise as a serpent, innocent as a dove as you engage. On the one hand, I have compassion for the Self-Consumed Fool, because it is obvious that there is deep insecurity, shame, and over-compensation at play. I try to connect to his vulnerability and create a safe place to engage honestly. However, depending on how self-protected and hidden the “true self” of a Self-Consumed Fool is behind a false self of charm, competence, and certainty, you may not get very far. Choose what hills you are willing to die on very carefully with this one.

SIMPLE FOOLS

I hope that most of us, with gratitude to Jesus, are Simple Fools. We are simultaneously running toward the light of truth within and unware of ourselves in key ways. Yet, we are receptive, willing to see our blind-spots, eager to confess when we’ve blown it. Simple Fools are not wallflowers; they have deep convictions. However, they hold their convictions with confidence, not certainty (see Lesslie Newbigin’s Proper Confidence). They choose connection rather than certitude because they live from a deeper inner authority and do not need to attach their ego to power or a position. They confess that they could be wrong. They affirm, with John Calvin, that we are all like little children whose theologizing is like baby talk. More so, they long to become like little children – playful, generous, never taking themselves too seriously. It is more important to them to shed their ego than to win an argument, more important to maintain connection than demand affirmation. They hold their convictions with a depth and beauty that is attractive, not coercive. Simple Fools are grateful to engage difficult conversations, and model for the rest of us how it’s done.

Conclusion

We enter difficult conversations with fear and trembling because we long to live in relational harmony, justice, and goodness with one another. We are made in the image of a Trinitarian God whose relational harmony could only be described by early church theologians with the image of a dance. The “perichoretic” perfect choreography of the Trinity is our design, our inheritance, and our destiny. This is why union and oneness is central to the Upper Room discourse of Jesus. Jesus prays that we might be one as he and the Father are one. But oneness takes work.

TyporamaIn my various roles as pastor, therapist and professor over twenty years, I am mindful of how long it takes to move from ego-protective certainty to connection, from “I am right and you are wrong” to “I am curious to hear how you got there.” I see married couples for months in counseling before they can even lower their defenses and take a step toward one another. I see abuse victims whose pains runs so deep that the thought of living in any way except self-protectively feels all-too-vulnerable. I work with victims of racism whose bodies carry decades of hyper-vigilance and trauma, and who have little time and patience to hear the defensive excuses of others. I teach women and men whose theology was crafted in a particular context and with particular certainties who feel like doubt about one issue amounts to the collapse of an entire theological system. There is much that mitigates against wise, healthy, non-anxious, curious conversations.

But what is in us is more powerful than what divides us. The great equalizer is the imago dei. The one you disagree with remains an image-bearer. The one who hurts you, even still, is one whose being is the dwelling place of the Spirit. Our disagreement does not diminish God’s commitment to us. Our attacks against the other do not denigrate the dignity of God’s divine image. We commit to difficult conversations, amidst difference, because the One who dwells in us dwells in the other, because the way, the life, and the truth has taken up residence in each and every one of us – conservative and liberal, gay and straight, citizen and immigrant. God seems quite pleased to disperse his presence amidst difference. God seems quite pleased to cultivate unity amidst disagreement. Perhaps our penchant for uniformity and agreement can even be idolatrous, at times?

I enter into a difficult conversation with a heart to listening to the Spirit in the other. If all truth is God’s, our commitment to connection will allow us, in time, to discern together. It takes time, because the ego is most often in the driver’s seat with all its rightness and certainty and judgment. Committing to difficult conversations and to difficult relationships requires deep discipleship, because we will surely die along the way. The Communion Table became so central to our family because at it we die, we rise, and we return with and in Christ.

I have much more to die to. Do you? Every difficult conversation requires some kind of death. It invites us to the narrow way of Jesus. The easy way is the way of avoidance, judgment, distance, attack, categorization, and separation. The way of the Cross calls us to much, much more.

Additional Resources

Chuck DeGroat, Toughest People to Love

Marshall Rosenberg, Non-Violent Communication

Transforming Church Conflict, Van Deusen Hunsinger and Latini

Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet

Dan Allender, Bold Love

Patterson and Grenny, Crucial Conversations

Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

http://www.restorativecircles.org/

 

ENTERING THE SEVENTH MANSION: HOME

God is our homeland, Augustine once said. It’s we who are not home. God in Jesus and through the Spirit has taken up residence in our “interior castle,” and yet we’re often away, scattered here and there, far from home.

Even amidst our religious practices, we might be distant from home. Our busyness – spiritual, vocational, relational or otherwise – keeps us scattered about going from this appointment to that project to this meeting to that ballgame for the kids. Often, we feel like we’ve got to take care of everything else before checking in with ourselves. We live externalized, disconnected. In theory, we might believe God lives in us but we’ve not experienced that profound union and intimacy in a long time.

Occasionally, there is a hint, an echo. Our memory is triggered, an ache is exposed. Our hearts are stabbed with longing. We see it in a flock of birds ascending, in a sunset over the lake, in the eyes of a newborn. We were made for something more.

I came across this lovely line from a favorite poet of mine, Mary Oliver.

Though Eden is lost
its loveliness
remains in the heart
and the imagination.

Teresa of Avila has been our guide through these mansions to remind us of this. Eden’s loveliness dwells in us. God the Spirit has taken up residence, enthroned in the innermost chamber of the mansion, longing for our return.

Interior CastleThis final ‘destination’ for Teresa is not some high and lofty and unattainable goal. Teresa does not speak down to us in a condescending voice. Humble as ever she says, “I’m worried that people might mistake me for someone who knows these things through experience.” She remains compassionate as ever as she considers those (like me?!) who remain so scattered about that they never come home: “These unhappy souls are trapped in a kind of dark prison with their hands and feet shackled.” This is hell. This is exile. Anything other than union is a living hell. And yet we’re quite adept at prettying up our prison cells and justifying our union-substitutes.

The seventh mansion for Teresa is the consummation of divine love, and I do love Mirabai Starr’s emphasis on “companionship” in her translation. Even in her busyness, she lives in God’s companionship. The soul is “more present than ever before. As soon as she finishes a task, she rests again in that divine companionship.” Any sense of disconnection is seemingly lost in this state. In our coming and going, we’re with God. At the grocery store, we’re in God. While filing our tax returns, the Spirit dwells. We enjoy an easy, conversational intimacy.

She ventures a metaphor that might help. The soul is like a drop in the ocean. Where does the drop end and the ocean begin? Another contemplative says that we are like sponges in the ocean. Sponges are sponges, but immersed in water they don’t really know the difference. Creator and creature are one. The caterpillar dies. The butterfly emerges. In this state, we take flight in freedom and joy.

In this oneness, even suffering and persecution cannot touch the deepest, truest self. The saying goes, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.” For Teresa (who experienced suffering and illness frequently), her body might be beaten but her soul remains unshakable. Her idea is not to dichotomize soul and body. Better language might be “true self” and “false self.” The false self is insecure, fragile and subject to injury. But the true self, because it is the God-self, is steady, stable, centered. In this state, she says that “a special love for her persecutors grows in her.”

I think that there is an especially practical word for us here. I heard a speaker recently say that she grew up spiritually and emotionally repressed. She wasn’t allowed to feel, to have emotion, to be angry. She said, “Now I can be angry and let people see the real me. I say what I need to say. I live from my true self. If I’m pissed, I let people know it.”

Teresa would be grateful that this person has grown in freedom. But she might say – Do not mistake what is quite possibly another compensatory, false self for the true self. The true self lives in love. It is the embodiment of the fruits of the Spirit. It is not simply the raw, reactive person who emerges after being repressed. She’d rejoice and validate the journey, but counsel that we still have much work to do on ourselves. God wants us to die to every false self that attempts to rule in his place. The Beloved wants to remove every obstacle to union in true intimacy.

God is also kind to us in this mansion. Teresa always seems to exhibit great compassion and exercise great self-compassion. The person in this mansion is not some spiritual guru perpetually in a zen-state of calm, but prone to sin, struggle, and distraction. She writes, “Whenever the soul becomes distracted, the Beloved…wakes her up.” She says, “She makes many mistakes. She doesn’t mean to, of course.” What compassion! I realize that I’ve been trying to attain a sage-like state of contemplative perfection, and yet Teresa kindly and gently invites me to back to my humanness, my ordinariness. What grace!

Finally, a word of counsel that sustains her: “Fix your eyes on the crucified and everything else will seem insignificant.” Jesus is first and last for her. Jesus sustains, loves, and matures us. Left to our own, we’re scattered about. Left to our own, we want to save the world. She says, “it’s not necessary to help the whole world. It’s best not to start off exhausted by impossible efforts.” It’s as if she gets us. She knows how prone we are to trying to become the Messiah to everyone rather than living as uniquely you and uniquely me, being God’s very presence wherever God graciously places us. Let Jesus be Jesus. You be you. Keep walking. Keep loving. Do it all in my presence, coram deo, and life will go well.

What wisdom. What grace. What love. What a beautiful journey she invites us into.

I do hope you’ve enjoyed this series on the Interior Castle. Teresa has become a friend to me, a companion, a grace-giver, a challenging prophetic voice amidst my apathy and distraction. I’d love to see her get a much wider reading than she has received. But now you get to be the conduits of her vision and her love. May God bless you in this. And may God grant us all many returns home, many long days in the companionship of Jesus, now and forever.

_________________

Now Available! Chuck’s new book – Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and the Divided Life

Catch up on the series, and join a significant group of people all over who are reading along and processing the journey with the book resources listed below.

Blog Post 1 – Introduction – (Re)Union

Blog Post 2 – Out of Illusions, Into the Depths

Blog Post 3 – Entering the Journey | St. Teresa’s First Mansion

Blog Post 4 – Resources for the Journey | The Second Mansion

Blog Post 5 – Entering the Third Mansion | Facing our Control Strategies

Blog Post 6 – Entering the Fourth Mansion | Grace is Always Flowing

Blog Post 7 – Entering the Fifth Mansion | Transformed for Union

Blog Post 8 – Entering the Sixth Mansion | Suffering Love

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr (I love Starr’s translation of Teresa, John, Lady Julian, etc. She is a fresh new translator of these classic works. Her introduction alone is worth the price of the book.)

Entering the Castle Caroline Myss (this book is the cheapest investment in your own therapy you’ll ever experience, though the emotional and spiritual investment may be costly!)

Into the Silent Land Martin Laird (this is best accessible introduction to the purpose and practice of contemplative prayer I know. Laird is an Augustinian priest teaching early Christian studies at Villanova U.)

 

 

 

FOG by Adam Lorenz

This is a guest post by my friend and former student at Western Theological Seminary (www.westernsem.edu, @westernsem), Adam Lorenz. Here is how Adam describes himself:

Adam Lorenz is a mut of the Church currently looking to find a home. If he had to paint himself into a corner you could label him as a Lutheran-Non-Denom-Baptist-Charismatic-Fundy-Progressive-Emergent-Reformed-Anglican. Social media type? Follow him at @adamlorenz or don’t. 

An inspiring post. Enjoy.

+ + +

Though the sun had risen, I lay in my warm bed struggling to scan across the room because there was still not light enough to see. I dragged my feet to the living room, looked out the window only to see the unusual fog and rain on a January morning. My recent internal wrestling’s seemingly manifested themselves into the external reality this morning.

I am in the midst of the season most avoid talking about. I call this a season because I have fog-man1lived just long enough to see my life change and evolve; yet that has done little to normalize or bring understanding to me.  I am in that time of transition, of being in between stages of completion and new beginnings.  Let me be completely honest, his understanding doesn’t make things any better if any thing my frustration grows.

I thought I was prepared for this. For the first time in my life I have felt the clarity of how I am wired and how that is connected to some vocation. I have fallen in love and have a partner who is committed to journeying with me, and I with her, for the long haul. I have applied and interviewed, been offered incredible possibilities yet knew they weren’t that next, right thing.

From deep in my core, I am haunted by the truth that I’m exactly where I need to be. I can sense that my life is moving forward but as I look out all I see is the fog and rain. It is hard to tell which direction things are heading. This uncertainty is often overwhelming, frustrating, confusing, and extremely discouraging.

I am scared.

Somehow I have come to believe the promise that if I remain to true my faith, true to that inkling and itch the Divine had placed on my heart, that somehow it all would work out the way it should. Or what I actually mean, the way I imagine it should.

Who forgot to tell me that a calling doesn’t mean the ideal or the dream? Job’s words have become my own, “I cry to you but you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me.” At least that is how it feels as I sit in this vocational fog in search of meaning.

Sure, I could throw a youth pastor or two, my generation, culture, or my upbringing under the bus for this. But the reality is – no one actually ever promised that to me. It was certainly not from God. This was a promise I had come to believe in my youth, a belief that I has carried over into my adult years.

I am selfish enough to say that I have believed myself to be just enough a big deal that I have felt I deserve some thing for my loyalty – a clear path and straightforward journey seems all to fair a trade for the commitment of my faith. Yet each and every time I allow myself to believe that I perpetuate and give validity to a lie that masquerades as a promise.

What, then, is truly promised? That potential answer scares me the hell out of me because it means that could the fog might actually be ok, that more of my life might simply hold unknowns rather than certainties.

Wendell Berry wrote, “Faith is not necessarily, or not soon, a resting place. Faith puts you out on a wide river in a boat, in the fog, in the dark.”

So my faith, the thing that I thought would keep me from this type of known, is the very thing that I’ve have been given. It’s a promise but more so it’s an assurance from God that He is always in the midst of it all – with us, with me – even when it seems the most unclear.

Right now, I don’t like that promise. I find little rest and peace in that. It seems and feels trite. So I don’t know how things are going to turn out. I don’t believe anyone who says they do. I do know that my current place in life has nothing to do with any lack of faith. And I’m slowly learning to accept that.

So in the midst of this fog, I choose to join the many in proclaiming ‘Onward!’ to explore what is at hand and whatever is just ahead.

Entering the Sixth Mansion: Suffering Love

As we travel into the depth of the interior castle, I find myself out of my depths. I long to know the experiential intimacy that Teresa speaks of, but I spend the bulk of my life ambivalently living with one foot outside of the castle and one foot in the first mansion. If I’ve stuck my pinky toe in the waters of the sixth mansion, I’m grateful.

Teresa begins with these words:

Here the soul is wounded with love for her spouse and is always looking for space to be alone. In response to her woundedness, she strives to strip away anything that might get in the way of for solitude.

So far, so good. I like alone time. I’d like to strip away things that get in the way of my solitude. This is Chuck’s kind of mansion…the mansion of introverts. But even in this simple passage, she hints at something much larger than my self-serving need for space. What does she mean that the soul is wounded with love? Clearly, we’re entering mystic territory.

In fact, if you take the time to read this lengthy description of the sixth mansion, you’ll see that the mystic sweet communion Teresa experiences is beyond most of our every day experiences. She describes rapturous moments where she experiences ecstasy, feels transported beyond herself, and knows intimacy and communion in her deepest being. She is careful to not make emotion that point. Certainly, these moments are experientially pleasurable and satisfying. But, something else is happening.

The question is: What is being stripped away? For Teresa, this intimacy is experienced because so much is being stripped away:

  • her expectation of how God will show up
  • her need for life to go according to her plan
  • a view of God made in her image
  • an expectation of life without suffering
  • her control
  • an emotion that can be manufactured or duplicated
  • an easily reproducible experience
  • the shame of her sexuality

The surrender can only be described in erotic terms. This is a love affair. It is ripe with longing. The pangs of longing are wounds. We’ve all felt it…that stabbing sensation of love. C.S. Lewis once said, “Joy is the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing.” What does that even mean???

The words don’t come easy for Teresa:

Before fully uniting himself with her, he fills her with burning desire for him. He does this in such a delicate way that the soul doesn’t understand where her longing comes from, nor could I successfully explain it except to those of you who already know from experience what I’m saying. These impulses rise from so deep inside the soul and are so subtle and refined that I can’t find a fitting metaphor to describe them. 

A story. When I lived in Orlando, one of the most lovely and generous people I’ve ever known became a kind of mystic-mentor to me. He recently passed. His name was Bruce.c335bdc2-c981-4b4a-992e-5a3c9a8aca04 He was a PhD mathematician who’d discovered the intimacy of divine union in and through several life-threatening diseases and treatments. His joy was unhinged. At times, it felt as if he was caught up in perpetual delight. He’d come to visit me at Border’s Books on Thursdays and tell me of his ecstasy. Sometimes, people would walk by and overhear our conversation, and I’d hide my face and cringe. What do they think? Who talks like this? Mystics do. And I suspect that Bruce was trying to share with me what Teresa offers to us in the sixth mansion.

The closest approximation we have to this biblically is Song of Songs, the story of two Jewish teenagers. It portrays the stab of longing:

I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer.

And the thrill of reunion and ecstasy.

Take me away with you – let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers. We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine. How right they are to adore you!

Many Christians are unfamiliar with and perhaps even suspicious of this erotic language. I remember preaching a sermon series on Song of Songs years ago and getting pushback from middle school mothers. (Please note: the main characters in Song of Songs were young teens.) We’re more comfortable with the religious language of legal transaction than divine ecstasy. But perhaps, we’ve not traveled into the depths of our interior castle. Perhaps, we’re choosing a substitute intimacy over the experiential union for which we’ve been made.

The Calvin College philosopher and theologian James KA Smith is helpful here:

I suggest that, on one level, Victoria’s Secret is right just where the church has been wrong. More specifically, I think we should recognize and admit that the marketing industry – which promises an erotically charged transcendence through media that connects to our heart and imagination – is operating with a better, more creational, more incarnational, more holistic anthropology than much of the (evangelical) church. In other words, I think we must admit that the marketing industry is able to capture, form, and direct our desires precisely because it has rightly discerned that we are embodied desiring creatures whose being-in-the-world is governed by the imagination. Marketers have figured out the way to our heart because they “get it”: they rightly understand that, at root, we are erotic creatures – creatures who are oriented primarily by love and passion and desire. As Augustine famously put it, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This is not a matter of intellect; Augustine doesn’t focus on the fact that we don’t “know” God. The problem here isn’t ignorance or skepticism. At issue is a kind of in-the-bones angst and restlessness that finds its resolution in “rest” – when our precognitive desire settles, finally, on its proper end (the end for which it was made), rather than being constantly frustrated by objects of desire that don’t return our love (idols). Desiring the Kingdom, 76-77.

In my tradition, we’re quite comfortable in the courtroom of Romans. We’re not quite that comfortable in the bedroom of Song of Songs.

Thanks to St. Bruce and St. Teresa, the invitation is ours. I don’t know about you, but this makes me really nervous. I’ve had tastes of this intimacy…perhaps even more regularly when I was first discovering the mystics in the early 2000’s. Today, I confess a bit of shame even as I write. Who cares? Who talks like this? Or perhaps more acutely…what if I’m just not cut out for the ‘dance’ of intimacy like Bruce and Teresa? What if my fear keeps me on the sidelines, like it did when I was at the middle school dances?

Courage Chuck! And courage friends! Let’s keep presssing into the depths of the castle. So much more is offered! Our cheap substitutes can be stripped away, and new depths of intimacy attained. God’s infinite love in the dance of divine union is ours…if only we’d receive it…

_________________

Now Available! Chuck’s new book – Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and the Divided Life

Catch up on the series, and join a significant group of people all over who are reading along and processing the journey with the book resources listed below.

Blog Post 1 – Introduction – (Re)Union

Blog Post 2 – Out of Illusions, Into the Depths

Blog Post 3 – Entering the Journey | St. Teresa’s First Mansion

Blog Post 4 – Resources for the Journey | The Second Mansion

Blog Post 5 – Entering the Third Mansion | Facing our Control Strategies

Blog Post 6 – Entering the Fourth Mansion | Grace is Always Flowing

Blog Post 7 – Entering the Fifth Mansion | Transformed for Union

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr (I love Starr’s translation of Teresa, John, Lady Julian, etc. She is a fresh new translator of these classic works. Her introduction alone is worth the price of the book.)

Entering the Castle Caroline Myss (this book is the cheapest investment in your own therapy you’ll ever experience, though the emotional and spiritual investment may be costly!)

Into the Silent Land Martin Laird (this is best accessible introduction to the purpose and practice of contemplative prayer I know. Laird is an Augustinian priest teaching early Christian studies at Villanova U.)

An Excerpt from THE JUSTICE CALLING

My friend and colleague Kristen Johnson has co-authored a wonderful new book entitled The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perserverance (with Bethany Hoang). The book has been endorsed by a broad array of great folks – Mark Labberton, Brenda Salter McNeill, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Dan Allender, and more. What I love, particularly as someone passionate about forming young Christians with theological and biblical resources for sustainable ministry, is that Kristen and Bethany root our calling to justice in the big story of Scripture. We live in an urgent moment, and it has perhaps never been more important to have a mind for justice considering  brutal racial violence, a dysfunctional criminal justice system, sinister and  predatorial international child kidnappers like Boko Haram, a worldwide refugee crisis, and so much more. Please read this excerpt and then click the link below to buy this important book. 

***

Mala was trafficked into one of the most brutal brothels that International Justice Mission (IJM) had ever encountered. The lead trafficker was powerful, wealthy, and deeply connected to a wide network of other traffickers in the underground world of profit for rape. He stopped at nothing to keep the girls in his brothel under his power. Mala and the other girls worked around the clock, raped by ten to twenty men every day.  

What hope could we possibly hold on to for Mala? Where do we even begin to look for hope in the face of what she suffers?

And what about Mala’s trafficker? What hope could we possibly hold for him?

Why can we hope in the midst of brutal injustice? Because the story is not over yet. Because we serve a God who in Christ has entered into this broken world and conquered sin and evil, who reigns with justice and righteousness, and who will not rest until his kingdom has finally and fully come to this earth. 

This is not a cheap hope; our hope is often broken, bloodstained, and costly as was Christ’s sacrifice on the tree at Golgotha. This is not a trite hope; in the midst of hope we still need to acknowledge and lament the places in this world that fall short of God’s kingdom vision.

One of the central ways that God forms us into a people of persevering hope is through worship. Worship nourishes and forms us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Through worship we can be shaped into people who share God’s kingdom vision. The Eucharist is perhaps the component of worship that most deeply forms us into people who live with persevering hope.

In the communion liturgy of the church that I (Kristen) worship in, we describe the Lord’s Supper as a feast of remembrance, communion, and hope. Through this meal, God helps us to remember what Christ has done by offering himself in our place as the Passover Lamb so we might be freed from our slavery to sin and become God’s holy people, living the way of justice and righteousness. God enables us to commune with God and one another, receiving the reconciliation that Jesus Christ made possible so that we can live as beloved children of God, united with God and one another.

And God shapes us into people of hope as we receive a glimpse of the abundant feasts all will enjoy and of the fully reconciled relationships that all will experience in the new age, when all will be set right. As we are sent back into the world after receiving the Eucharist together, we do so with Spirit-shaped kingdom vision for who we are and what creation as a whole is to be. God uses this vision to strengthen us to move into this world and its messy and broken places; to be formed into the people of God by the Spirit is to be formed into a justice-seeking people.

  
***

Excerpt from, The Justice Calling: Where Passion Meets Perseverance, written by Bethany Hanke Hoang (@bethanyhoang) and Kristen Deede Johnson (@kdjtheologian).

 To download a free sample chapter, visit http://www.thejusticecallingbook.com/

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Vd-MdsbpQU&feature=youtu.be

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entering the Fifth Mansion: Transformed for Union

Enter union.

Don’t just think about it. Don’t just theologize about it. Experience it.

If St. Teresa was living today, she might say this very thing. If she could scan the bookshelves and see the many books written on union with God, she might say, “Oh, how wonderful. But are you experiencing it?!”

If you’ve been following this blog series (see links below), you realize that Teresa will not let you (and me!) off the hook. From that First Mansion – the addiction treatment center of the soul! – to this Fifth Mansion, she has invited us to remove every obstacle to union. We’ve come to realize that even our thinking about God and about union gets in the way of union. Our spiritual control-and-security strategies get in the way of union.

Oh friends! How could I describe the riches, the treasures and delights to be found inside the fifth dwelling? There is no way of knowing how to talk about such things, and I almost think it would be better to remain silent.

And yet, she is not silent. She tells us that the experience of union is not some dreamy state. No, we are wide awake – to God, to life, to love. The distractions that stir up a frenzy in our minds melt away. The soul is awake. The feeling of alertness and connection is so profound that “the soul can never forget…she never doubts…God was in her and she was in God.

It’s important to remember again that for Teresa, this is not some “emotional high.” This experience transcends mere emotion. If fact, for Teresa, our emotional reactions can become just as much an obstacle as our distracted minds. We need to learn to discern. We must listen beneath transitory emotions for the whisper of the Spirit. Just about anything can become a cheap substitute for real union and communion with God…even our “feelings” of closeness to God.

With that in mind, she paints a picture of the process through which union occurs. It is a cruciform process, imagined through the journey of a silkworm. Transformation, in other words, doesn’t occur without death. Now, the hungry silkworm doesn’t know this at the outset. Like many of us living outside of the castle, the silkworm’s world is an all-you-can-eat buffet. The silkworm is a crawling consumer. Transformation is not on its mind. But ever so subtly, a new vocation emerges from within, as “imaginal cells” begin to whisper within – You were made for something more! A battle ensues in the being of the crawling creature, as its more dominant cells scream – No, you were made to crawl and consume! It’s a battle for a larger life, a more noble vocation.

But transformation will not come easy. It is not available on the buffet line. No, transformation will require death. Does this creature realize it is preparing for its death as it spins the crysalis? Do we prepare for our own cruciform journeys? (This is where I’d love to riff on silkworms and Lent, but that’s for another blog post!) What we do know is that transformation does happen. What goes in crawling comes out flying. We cannot control the speed of this process. We cannot quicken its outcome. We can create space in our hearts and lives for it, and surrender to it. Yes, we are the silkworm, Teresa says.

As I write this, I’m remembering when my girls were young and we lived in Orlando, FL. They’d carefully cut a branch with a crysalis on it from the milkweed in our backyard, and transfer it to a container on our porch where we’d await the transformation. I remember one sunny day when my girls cam4392052093_43b5d8d17be running in to wake me up. “Daddy, daddy…it’s a monarch butterfly!” The beautiful creature had emerged, its wings outstretched before the hot sun, sitting in a posture of praise.

For St. Teresa, we can’t plot or strategize our way to union. It’s not offered on a spiritual buffet. There isn’t a 3-step formula. No, it’s realized…in and through our dying – to our attachments, our false selves, our smaller versions of God, our control strategies, our cheap union-substitutes. And it doesn’t generally happen in our preferred timing. Teresa says, “No matter how hard we try, we can’t get it on our own.” She says that the King brings us into his wine cellar. We wander around looking, but God enters in. We need only make ourselves available in surrender.

Now, you’d think she would end there, with an image of a butterfly, wings spread before its Maker. But she doesn’t. The Fifth Mansion ends with a call to action. But this time, we’re not acting out of a moralistic impulse. Our acting is isn’t inauthentic or arrogant. No it emerges out of love. It is the self-giving love of one transformed.

It is our participation in the Trinitarian dance of eternal giving and receiving, the dance of love. As our desires are aligned with God’s, we can’t help but participate in this Trinitarian choreography. After all, it’s our deepest memory, what we’ve known all along that we were made for. Union and mission go hand-in-hand.

And so, perhaps you’re thinking what I’m thinking – “This is it, right Teresa? The end of the road? The heights of the interior castle?”

Not so fast.

The journey is not yet done. Teresa will invite us into still-deeper union and communion in the coming mansions. It’s almost too good to imagine.

_________________

Now Available! Chuck’s new book – Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and the Divided Life

Catch up on the series, and join a significant group of people all over who are reading along and processing the journey with the book resources listed below.

Blog Post 1 – Introduction – (Re)Union

Blog Post 2 – Out of Illusions, Into the Depths

Blog Post 3 – Entering the Journey | St. Teresa’s First Mansion

Blog Post 4 – Resources for the Journey | The Second Mansion

Blog Post 5 – Entering the Third Mansion | Facing our Control Strategies

Blog Post 6 – Entering the Fourth Mansion | Grace is Always Flowing

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr (I love Starr’s translation of Teresa, John, Lady Julian, etc. She is a fresh new translator of these classic works. Her introduction alone is worth the price of the book.)

Entering the Castle Caroline Myss (this book is the cheapest investment in your own therapy you’ll ever experience, though the emotional and spiritual investment may be costly!)

Into the Silent Land Martin Laird (this is best accessible introduction to the purpose and practice of contemplative prayer I know. Laird is an Augustinian priest teaching early Christian studies at Villanova U.)

 

 

Entering the Fourth Mansion: Grace is always flowing

Living a life of grace can be so exhausting.

Can you imagine hearing this?

I heard this from an older man who’d lived a very devoted Christian life, who’d served as an elder and volunteered to serve and taught a Bible study.

He knew an awful lot about grace. His categories were clear, his convinctions strong. But something was amiss. And so, we sat together as holding_bibleI listened with curiosity to questions he had never, ever dared raise to another human being – questions about God’s goodness and his utterly unacceptable being before a holy God. I was his pastor. I listened. And in the weeks to come, depths of confusion and shame and uncertainty an anxiety and self-hatred poured out of the previously ‘buttoned-up’ elder. “I didn’t know all of this was in there, Chuck,” he said. “I guess I’ve professed a belief in God’s grace, but I never really drank from its cup.”

Can you relate? Do you profess belief in God’s astounding grace, but find yourself exhausted?

++

What the first three rooms of the interior castle accomplish in one’s soul is a kind of holy ‘de-cluttering’ which creates space for grace to permeate every ounce of our being. But the de-cluttering process can be confusing. In Mansion 3, our “control strategies” were exposed – even the seemingly good ones – and this can leave us feeling empty, restless, and unsure. What do we do when the things that gave us power (the beliefs, attitudes, agendas, strategies, theologies) no longer satisfy? What do we do?

Most of us have learned to re-commit, to double-down, even resolving to avail ourselves of the means of grace available to us.

And this is what exhausts us.

Teresa wouldn’t question the sincerity of our motives nor the reality of those means of grace – fellowship or communion, reading Scripture or listening to a good sermon. These are wonderful things. But she would ask us to look at the inner realities that these good, outer things point to.

waterbucket1Her metaphor goes something like this. You’ve treated this life of grace like a project. To avail yourself of grace, you grab a bucket and take it to the nearest grace-source of water. There you fill the bucket and bring it back home for your nourishment. But this grace-bucket gathering is exhausting. In time, you wonder if it’s worth it. Imagine this, however. What if the source of life was within you? What if those external signs pointed to an already-inherited inner reality? What if Life itself was gushing forth from within? What if the Fountain never, ever stopped flowing, offering an infinite supply of love, of life, of grace?

++

We’re often exhausted because we’re distracted. Our minds attempt to apprehend, to understand, to control. Our obsessive thinking leads to anxious living. In time, Teresa says, “they complain of trials, grow depressed, and their health declines.” In other words, this 16th century sage understood the psychological and biological impact of living out of our control strategies. She says that we end up “staying on the periphery” to the point that the “spirit of evil would like nothing better than for us to just give up.” Do you feel this way sometimes?

Teresa says, “Don’t lose heart. Trials and disturbances like these come mostly from not knowing ourselves.”

Like the man I mentioned above. He was a really good man, but he’d never tackled deep questions beckoning from within. Or the pastor who seems to articulate so clearly a theology of grace but confesses to an affair. Or the person whose trauma runs so deep that anger is projected aimlessly onto anyone in the way. Or me. Or you. How many couples have I counseled who say after 20 or 30 years, “I’m not sure I ever really knew my spouse.” Who among us really know ourselves? We all have blindspots.

It seems that Teresa always comes back to a centering theme.

Take a long, honest look within.

And she does this for two reasons.

First, you’ll discover (she hopes) your pattern of self-satisfaction. What does your bucket-carrying look like? She’d invite you to hover in those first rooms of the castle for as long as you need to discover just how you might be sabotaging God’s infinitely-loving grace. What patterns stifle life-giving grace? Slow down and take a look.

Second, you’ll awaken with great surprise and delight to an ever-flowing source of grace, a Fountain within, springing eternal. Perhaps, you’ll say, “Why have I been trying so hard for so long?!” Perhaps you’ll stop long enough (and silence your mind’s inner chatter) to experience the refreshing waves washing over you and in you and through you…which become waves of love given over to the other. Perhaps the means of grace will, in fact, become real conduits of grace too.

This becomes that first inkling of the contemplative life to which Teresa beckons you and me – a life bathed in grace, sourced by the Living Water. This becomes that first hint that sometimes we need only stop and surrender and look within to what is already given over to us as grace upon grace upon grace.

Exhausted? Stop. Pause. Listen within.contmeplation

What patterns (even good ones) do you notice?

Can you relax your hands, release the bucket, and feel the Living Water flow from within?

For Teresa, the Living Water is Jesus who, by the Spirit, awaits deeper presence, deeper intimacy, deeper union. The Spirit who says, “Come home.”

_________________

Catch up on the series, and join a significant group of people all over who are reading along and processing the journey with the book resources listed below.

Blog Post 1 – Introduction – (Re)Union

Blog Post 2 – Out of Illusions, Into the Depths

Blog Post 3 – Entering the Journey | St. Teresa’s First Mansion

Blog Post 4 – Resources for the Journey | The Second Mansion

Blog Post 5 – Entering the Mansion | Facing our Control Strategies

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr (I love Starr’s translation of Teresa, John, Lady Julian, etc. She is a fresh new translator of these classic works. Her introduction alone is worth the price of the book.)

Entering the Castle Caroline Myss (this book is the cheapest investment in your own therapy you’ll ever experience, though the emotional and spiritual investment may be costly!)

Into the Silent Land Martin Laird (this is best accessible introduction to the purpose and practice of contemplative prayer I know. Laird is an Augustinian priest teaching early Christian studies at Villanova U.)

ENTERING THE THIRD MANSION | FACING OUR ‘CONTROL STRATEGIES’

Humility, I say! Humility is the ointment for our wounds

_____________________________________________________

Some years into my Christian life – most likely in high school – I discovered the mind’s power in theological argumentation. This was no fault of my teachers and pastors. It was my own propensity to take beautiful things – like God’s bigness and human fragility and the Spirit’s pursuit – and turn them into hard-and-fast, in-and-out categories that led not to love of others but criticism, debate, and control strategies (like always having the best airtight arguments). My own insecurity coupled with my newness on the journey with God left me vulnerable to make the very ‘truths’ of the Gospel weapons against others.

Our 16th century companion, Teresa of Avila, sees this possibility in her extraordinarily insightful way. Having traversed into the “addiction treatment center” of the First Mansion (which exposed the depth of our attachments) and having enjoyed the graces of good teachers and spiritual books and many consolations of the Second Mansion, we now find ourselves in the Third Mansion with our new faith resources making idols out of the very good things that God was using to grow us. This is the danger with just about anything, but can be particularly acute when the weapons we fashion are faith weapons. 

Of course, we fashion these weapons out of fear. Teresa writes, “It is such a burden to be alive when we have to walk around like men with enemies at their threshold. They live in perpetual fear that their adversaries might discover a weak spot and break through with a surprise attack.”  Always prepared to give a defense, these souls see themselves as God’s warriors, often doctrinal policemen, who have it figured out and are ready to pounce if you cross their lines. She says, “We fear everything and everything offends us.” Oh, how I can relate!

But Teresa is, as always, so kind. She sees the folly in this. She sees it in her, in fact. She cites David and Solomon, mixed souls that they were, reminding us that even if we perceive ourselves as God’s closest friends we might actually be missing the point. She says, “No matter how much we’ve served God, we have also let him down. It’s foolish to walk around thinking we have any special entitlement.” She says, “We would be trudging under the load of our own egos, like mud clinging to our boots and dragging us down.”

Oh, humility. Thank the Lord for Teresa’s gentle but honest way. It is, in fact, always the way of humility. This is whole point of the inward journey. The way of self-knowledge is humbling, as our own folly is exposed time and again, as our own agendas are revealed, our strategies unmasked, our bitterness seen, our fear-based control strategies unveiled. What do we do? Where do we go?

Teresa says, “Humility, I say! Humility is the ointment for our wounds. If we are truly humble, then God, the great Physician, will eventually come to heal us.” In other words, Teresa is showing us how even our best efforts continue to lead us to the end of ourselves, which is the beginning of God…which is, in sum, the Gospel. “Since I cannot un-be what I have been, all I can do is take refuge in his compassion and trust in the excellence of his Son.”

Control-and-security strategies do not discriminate. They are found on the right and on the left, in the Reformed theologian and the liberation theologian, in the pastor and the layperson, in the young seminary student or the wise old prof, in the contemplative and the active. No matter our bent, we are not immune. So, channeling Teresa, here are some helpful things to keep in mind as you let the Third Mansion do its humbling work on your soul:

  1. Do you experience some sense of having “arrived”? How?
  2. Do you experience frustration that others don’t “get it”? How?
  3. When you find yourself in disagreement, is your posture curiosity or correction?
  4. Do you find yourself impatient with the slow process of change in others?
  5. Is your first inclination to think, “What am I missing?” or “What are they missing?”
  6. Do you derive a sense of power from belonging to a group of like-minded folks?
  7. Is there an experience or a belief or a cause that others must participate in before they have your respect?
  8. Do you feel a sense that God has specially called you to inform/correct/rebuke/challenge others?
  9. Do you experience a need to protect, defend, or prove yourself often?
  10. Do you experience a sense that others are trying to take something from you? (whether that is taking away your privilege, your power, your position, etc.)
  11. How do others experience you when you are animated by the ideas you prize most? (humble, certain, arrogant, dismissive, curious…)
  12. Are you in a place of receiving regular honest feedback from others who can and will say hard things to you? How is your posture of receptivity in this relationship?

These are diagnostic questions to begin the journey, but it’s up to you and to me to continue to re-visit the Third Mansion when our control-and-security strategies rear their ugly heads.

If you’d like to read more on security strategies, I wrote this several years ago related to how we become modern day Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. Enjoy.

Until next time, remember the words of St. Teresa: Humility, I say! Humility is the ointment for our wounds.

____________________________________________

Catch up on the series, and join a significant group of people all over who are reading along and processing the journey with the book resources listed below.

Blog Post 1 – Introduction – (Re)Union

Blog Post 2 – Out of Illusions, Into the Depths

Blog Post 3 – Entering the Journey | St. Teresa’s First Mansion

Blog Post 4 – Resources for the Journey | The Second Mansion

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr (I love Starr’s translation of Teresa, John, Lady Julian, etc. She is a fresh new translator of these classic works. Her introduction alone is worth the price of the book.)

Entering the Castle, Caroline Myss (this book is the cheapest investment in your own therapy you’ll ever experience, though the emotional and spiritual investment may be costly!)

Into the Silent LandMartin Laird (this is best accessible introduction to the purpose and practice of contemplative prayer I know. Laird is an Augustinian priest teaching early Christian studies at Villanova U.)

Resources for the Journey | The Second Mansion

If you’ve joined me for this journey thus far, we find ourselves today (on the Feast Day of St. Teresa!) now in the doorway of the Second Mansion. At times, I’ve viewed the Second Mansion as Teresa’s gracious “recovery room” after navigating the “addiction treatment center” of the First Mansion.

If you recall, the First Mansion was a place of spiritual and emotional battle, where your attachments where exposed, your addictions revealed. It is where we’re humbled. It is where we realize that there is much more to both our brokenness and our self-sabotage than we realized. It is also where God initially draws us to something more.

In the Second Mansion, Teresa invites us to see how God is drawing us. I love her kindness and grace in this room. It’s as if she realizes that this inward journey is jolting and startling, because we’ve likely discovered the depths of our inner obstacles to union. She says, “Don’t be overly saddenned if you cannot respond instantaneously to the call of the Beloved.” I’d like to say, “Thank you Teresa, because truth be told I’m always struggling with how half-heartedly I respond!”

Instead of berating us for not making more progress, she tells us (as any good spiritual director might) to be on the look-out for resources to support and quicken our journey. She says,

His voice reaches us by the words spoken by good people, through listening to spiritual talks and reading sacred literature. God calls to us in countless little ways all the time. Through illness and suffering and sorrow he calls to us. 

It seems that God is always calling, always looking, always pursuing. We’re just not attuned to how. And so, Teresa says, “Listen up. And listen well.”

What gets in the way of listening for you? What robs you of attention? What dulls your spiritual senses?

We might begin to pay attention to what distracts us, and then open our senses – all of them – in curiosity and wonder to how God is speaking. Can you take some time to listen today? On this “feast day” of Teresa, might you give yourself the gift of a few moments of silence in which you can see God’s presence in the laugh of a little child, in the rising sun, through a friend’s encouragement or challenge, in the surrender experienced through a moment of suffering, in a favorite Psalm, or a random encounter with an old friend?

Can you relinquish your firm grip on control? Your compulsive need be needed by another? Your exhausting need to achieve?

Teresa says, “God so deeply longs for our love that he keeps calling us to come closer.” And she reminds us, “if you fall sometimes, do not lose heart. Keep striving to walk your path with integrity. God will draw out the good even from your fall.”

Can you receive God’s grace through her?

Take some time in this room to taste and see how God is attending to you. Even if your circumstances are difficult, pay attention to small and surprising ways that God shows up. Dwell in this room as long as you need to. Return to it often for the resources you need, the discernment it provides, the grace your soul longs for.

____________________________________________

Blog Post 1 – Introduction – (Re)Union

Blog Post 2 – Out of Illusions, Into the Depths

Blog Post 3 – Entering the Journey | St. Teresa’s First Mansion

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr (I love Starr’s translation of Teresa, John, Lady Julian, etc. She is a fresh new translator of these classic works. Her introduction alone is worth the price of the book.)

Entering the Castle, Caroline Myss (this book is the cheapest investment in your own therapy you’ll ever experience, though the emotional and spiritual investment may be costly!)

Into the Silent LandMartin Laird (this is best accessible introduction to the purpose and practice of contemplative prayer I know. Laird is an Augustinian priest teaching early Christian studies at Villanova U.)

Entering the Journey | St. Teresa’s First Mansion

“The soul is like a castle made exclusively of diamond or some other very clear crystal. In this castle, there are a multitude of dwellings just as in heaven there are many mansions.” St. Teresa of Avila

At first, Teresa’s description of an “interior castle” with many dwellings sounds like esoteric mumbo-jumbo. Because we live such pragmatic lives in an efficiency-oriented world, Teresa’s inward journey feels strange. But being a kind of spiritual doctor of the soul, she knows what ails us. She knows how exhausted we are. She sees our fragmentation. She knows it personally.

Teresa struggled with spiritual apathy and angst for decades until she picked up a book given to her by her uncle. The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Spanish mystic Francis Osuna awakened her to her inner divisions, inviting her to spiritual “recollection” – literally, to be re-collected. She recognized that her soul was dispersed in a thousand different directions, and she entered into a journey of self-knowledge, as she called it – a journey toward wholeness, undividedness, shalom.

This is our invitation, as well. Busy and scattered, we do not take the necessary time to stop, to pay attention to our hearts, and to gather back our fragmented parts. “What a shame that, through our own unconsciousness, we do not know ourselves,” Teresa writes. Our spiritual laziness leaves us addictively attached to all kinds of “reptiles and vipers” which hound us outside of the castle, frustrating our longed-for peace and impeding our effectiveness in mission.

You see, at our worst we are externalized, seeking satisfaction in things ‘out there’ when infinite joy is already ours. How? Because the King is on the throne, in the castle, at the very center of our being. There, God dwells in inexhaustible light. The warmth of God’s love draws us in. We need not search for it ‘out there’. Union is not acquired, but realized…realized as already ours. And so, Teresa says “Go within!” She says, “The sun at the center radiates to every part.” In a sense, she is saying, “Wake up. Live your life. Live from your center, which is God.” This begins by entering the castle.

Interior CastleHow do we enter the castle? Through contemplative prayer. Contemplative prayer is the doorway. It is a prayer of awareness more than a prayer of words. It requires presence and imagination. It invites us to look within, to the “plains and caves and caverns” of our being (Augustine) in order to notice our dis-order and dis-ease. Often, our wordy prayers get in the way of real intimacy. Think of a conversation with an intimate friend – does incessant talking breed intimacy? Sometimes, our talking gets in the way. We stay up in our heads. We avoid what might be revealed in our hearts.

And so, begin by allowing yourself 20 minutes of silence. Can you do this for yourself? In the silence, tune in to your spirit. This may be the only thing you can accomplish amidst the noise of your soul. Don’t expect some spiritual breakthrough. Just be faithful in the act. Your sincere intention is enough. Teresa might tell you to expect many inner disturbances. As you cross the drawbridge into your inner being, those nasty “reptiles and vipers” of your attachments will rear their ugly heads, attempting to distract. Your old addictions will arise. Racing thoughts. The pull to binge. The distraction of political or sports news. The everyday apathy and laziness of spiritual inattention. That is alright. Just attend. The Spirit is in the depths, drawing you in.

Just attend.

In the first room, three things will happen.

First, you are invited to humility. This is the fruit of self-knowledge for Teresa. Humility, in fact, may come from humiliation – an awareness of just how deep the addiction goes, or just how distracted you are, or how much resentment you live with. You will be tempted to leave the castle and give up. Don’t. Stay attuned. This first stage is a battle. Knowing ourselves naturally breeds humility because we become aware of just how far from God we are.

Second, you will experience a sense of inner chaos. Leaving the security of your attachments is akin to the Israelites leaving Egypt. It’s the only game in town, and it’s the game you know. “Switching stories” is difficult. We are secure in the things we know. Allow for significant disruption. Welcome it. Welcome God, the great disrupter. This will be hard.

Third, listen for the soft whisper of the Beloved. God is drawing you ever further, deeper still, into intimacy. It is what you most deeply long for. It is the only cure for your addictive soul. So, listen. And be drawn in by love.

The first mansion is like an addiction treatment center. Entering requires intention. Staying, however, takes a wrestling match with God. You will suffer withdrawal. You will fight silence. You will abandon the journey. But know this – God is infinitely patient. God longs for intimacy. God will continue to draw you in. The invitation never, ever ends.

Thanks for taking this journey with me.

Resources for the Journey 

Blog Post 1 – Introduction – (Re)Union

Blog Post 2 – Out of Illusions, Into the Depths

Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila translated by Mirabai Starr (I love Starr’s translation of Teresa, John, Lady Julian, etc. She is a fresh new translator of these classic works. Her introduction alone is worth the price of the book.)

Entering the Castle, Caroline Myss (this book is the cheapest investment in your own therapy you’ll ever experience, though the emotional and spiritual investment may be costly!)

Into the Silent Land, Martin Laird (this is best accessible introduction to the purpose and practice of contemplative prayer I know. Laird is an Augustinian priest teaching early Christian studies at Villanova U.)