St. Teresa of Avila and the Interior Castle
The first time I learned of St. Teresa of Avila, I was 22 years old and studying in Sevilla in Southern Spain for the last semester of my undergraduate studies. I felt a rapid and strong spiritual connection with St. Teresa that took me by surprise. Not only did I learn that she was the patron saint of Spain, but she was also known as a mystic and author of spiritual writings and poems, the foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, and we just so happened to share the same birthday, October 15.
At that time, meditation was not as widely accepted as it is now, and I had never heard St. Teresa of Avila’s mental prayer described as a meditative practice. The only meditation practices I had been introduced to were from yoga classes or books written by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). Meditation was a practice that helped me balance my responsibilities, stress, and the anxieties of carrying a full-time college course load while working full-time. It was just the beginning of a long journey of discovering the different perspectives and practices that essentially aim to meet the same goals; to be in communion with God in such a deep way that rest and discernment come easily, to learn how to control thoughts, and to gain an intimate understanding of how the mind and body are intricately connected.
The original Toledo copy of the rare gem, The Interior Castle, is believed to be made in 15771 (1). How precious it is that we can look to this book centuries later for spiritual consolation and guidance in our deepest needs and desires, especially when we feel disconnected from God on our infertility journey. St. Teresa of Avila reminds us of the nature of our relationship with God, and the importance of steadfast faith and a focused, attentive mind.
So what is the “Interior Castle”?
The Interior Castle consists of seven “mansions” that represent different levels of spiritual development through mental prayer and meditation. Let me walk you through them.For each mansion, I have included below what stood out the most for me from her writings.
The First Mansion
Prayer is the gate to the beauty of the spiritual castle.
“Let us imagine, as I said, that there are many rooms in this castle, of which some are above, some below, others at the side; in the centre, in the very midst of them all, is the principal chamber in which God and the soul hold their most secret intercourse.” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, pg. 19)
The Second Mansion
Meditation kindles love.
“The understanding aids by showing that however many years life might last, no one could ever wish for a better friend than God; that the world is full of falsehood, and that the worldly pleasures pictured by the devil to the mind were but troubles and cares and annoyances in disguise.” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, pg. 28)
The Third Mansion
Consolations and aridities, and mastering over passions.
“The way will be difficult and wearisome without self-renunciation, weighed down as we are by the burden and frailties of human nature, which are no longer felt in the more interior mansions.” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, pg. 36)
The Fourth Mansion
The imagination and the understanding are not the same thing.
“These two basins are filled in different ways; the one with water from a distance flowing into it through many pipes and waterworks, while the other basin is built near the source of the spring itself and fills quite noiselessly. If the fountain is plentiful, like the one we speak of, after the basin is full the water overflows in a great stream which flows continually. No machinery is needed here, nor does the water run through aqueducts.” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, pg. 43)
The Fifth Mansion
The union of the soul with God in prayer.
“God visits the soul in a manner which prevents its doubting, on returning to itself, that it dwelt in Him and that He was within it, and so firmly is it convinced of this truth that, although years may pass before this favour recurs, the soul can never forget it nor doubt the fact, setting aside the effects left by this prayer, to which I will refer later on. The conviction felt by the soul is the main point.” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, pg. 54)
The Sixth Mansion
When God bestows greater favours on the soul, it suffers more severe afflictions.
“What greater good can it seek? I cannot tell: I know that this suffering seems to pierce the very heart, and when He who wounded it draws out the dart He seems to draw the heart out too, so deep is the love it feels.” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, pg. 73)
The Seventh Mansion
The soul and the spirit, and their oneness.
“But spiritual marriage is like rain falling from heaven into a river or stream, becoming one and the same liquid, so that the river and rain water cannot be divided; or it resembles a streamlet flowing into the ocean, which cannot afterwards be disunited from it. This marriage may also be likened to a room into which a bright light enters through two windows – though divided when it enters, the light becomes one and the same.” (St. Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, pg. 120)
Reference: The Interior Castle, 2013. Digireads. Translated by The Benedictines of Stanbrook, Revised by Rev. Fr. Benedict Zimmerman. ISBN 10: 1-4209-4918-7