Month: October 2015

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.)

out of illusions, into the depths | st. teresa’s invitation to you (2 in the series)

I love St. Teresa. I often joke that she’s my favorite 16th century “Reformer,” particularly when I am around friends and students from the Reformed tradition. St. Teresa lived south of Calvin and Luther in Spain during the tumultous 16th century, and her “reform” – while vastly different in form and content than the others – nonetheless was a profound invitation to grace, to freedom, to becoming unshackled during a time of exteriorized, shallow, ritualistic religiosity.

If you read my first blog in this series, I mentioned resources (see below) for you to use to journey with me and others (mostly, a brave group of students at Western Theological Seminary) currently engaging Teresa’s life and journey. In these resources, you’ll read short bio’s of Teresa, and discover that she was no stoic nun.

Teresa was a fierce and wild soul.

As a child, she would have preferred chasing the Moors out of town to studying and playing the role a young woman in a patriarchal Spanish society. She was often brazen and flirtatious, so much so that life in a convent seemed to her father to be the best container for her. But though religious life would change it, it never tamed her.

StTeresaIconInChurchIn fact, her remarkable inner life (seen most imaginatively in her work The Interior Castle) is, well…all the more remarkable…when you consider that it was cultivated during a time of conquest, polarization, and segregation. Consider the fact that she was a woman in a radically patriarchal society, that she was of Jewish ancestry during the Spanish Inquisition (when Jews were being hunted down), and a “reformer” of the order when a counter-Reformation was afoot and you’ll see that she was not your ordinary dull monk. Truth be told (and it’s not a pleasant truth), she might have preferred joining her brothers on their explorations of the new-found-land overseas, as at heart she was an adventurer. And while I have no reason to believe she would have or could have endorsed the genocidal mission they were on, she nonethless took her own journey of ‘conquest’ to her interior world, leaving us a map for our own journeys from slavery to freedom.

In coming blogs, I’ll elaborate more on this. For now, it’s important to see that she is inviting you and me on a journey. A vast “interior castle” is the primary metaphor she uses, and the journey from outside the castle (where many dangers lurk) to its deepest inner center, where God dwells in Christ and by the Spirit drawing us in, ever more intimately, to union. You see, Teresa sees herself (and us) in peril. She sees us living in a world of illusion, of falsity, of appearances but no substance. She does not see the world, itself, as evil, but (like CS Lewis) she sees us desiring far too little. This is, after all, a journey of desire, and she invites us out of our numbing addictions, our anesthetic attachments, and our dumb idols into the “boxing ring” of the interior castle, where we’ll do our real wrestling with God.

You see, the problem is that we’re not in the ring. Teresa sees us fiddling with all kinds of things that capture desire, refracting it in a thousand directions other than the one intended. She sees us as fractured, fragmented, divided. Don’t you feel that way sometimes? Perhaps, she’d see me checked out all weekend on my couch captured by the substitute drama of football and say, “Chuck, looks like’s a perfectly fine sport to me, but it has captivated your whole attention and rendered your heart numb.” St. Teresa becomes our kind, but honest, spiritual director. She calls us out of the illusions and into the depths.

And it is an adventure. You see, the interior journey she invites us on is not about hyper-therapeutic navel-gazing or inner peace. Those are the carictures of those afraid to take inner journeys. No, this journey is central to the mission for Teresa. She did not sit in a room staring into the sky. No, Teresa was often on-the-road, putting her own health in peril, strategizing and conferring in order to build a movement of women and men radically committed to being fully alive, wholehearted. A woman in a man’s world, she conferred with governers and the political elite, often charming her way into good deals that landed buildings and land for her movement. So, let’s dismiss any notion that this journey is anti-missional or new-agey. No, this is an inside-out affair.

It is a journey of desire…from the little-d desires which hijack our attention to Big-D Desire…union with our Beloved. Thoroughy Augustinian, she believed that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God.

This is what I deeply long for. You?

Are you ready for the adventure?

Resources for the Journey 

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.)