I’ve been reading Interior Castle Explored by Ruth Burrows, OCD. Sister Ruth, a Carmelite Nun from Quidenham in Norfolk, writes on Saint Teresa of Avila’s teaching on “the life of deep union with God.” She has also written a number of other books on prayer and the spiritual life, a favorite of which is Before the Living God.

As you know from previous posts on Teresa of Avila, I do love Saint Teresa and have read and reread her writings through the years. Yet in the very first chapter on the very first page, I read something in Teresa that I’d never really thought about — so obvious to me now, but had escaped me before.

In chapter one, Sister Ruth discusses the First Mansion of the Interior Castle. (Teresa’s book Interior Castle is about prayer. The “Interior Castle” is a metaphor Teresa uses to talk about the soul. Each mansion with the castle represents a deeper encounter with God, the innermost chamber being the one in which God dwells.) Sister Ruth discusses this beauty of the Interior Castle, that is, the soul, and says that Teresa felt that it made perfect sense that the dwelling place of God (“so mighty, so pure and so full of all that is good”) be “beautiful and resplendent,” “lovely beyond compare”. Writes Sister Ruth,

What we have to do is see what Teresa is really saying about the soul. She is saying that it is for God; it is a capacity for God; he is its centre and all its beauty is because of him. This soul, this castle of immeasureable beauty and capacity is ourselves.” (page 6)

Wow! I’ve always read the Interior Castle as this discreet space within a person — admittedly, a kind of  dualist thinking (soul and body are separate) as if the soul (and therefore relationship with God) exists somehow separate from the “rest” of a person (body, imagination, memory, feelings, etc.). I always felt uncomfortable about this thinking because it is not true to my experience nor to my theological studies. But when I read that one selection above from Sister Ruth, it just shattered that dualism and made Teresa’s words come alive to me in a new way. The beautiful Interior Castle — our soul — is not some little place tucked deep within us … it IS us. We ourselves are the “capacity for God” (this image a classical theological expression which I first learned through my favorite theologian Karl Rahner, SJ).

Sister Ruth writes that the human being comes into existence as a “for-Godness.” You, me, the cashier at the grocery store, the cell-phone-using driver who nearly crashes into you, your child — we are all a “for-Godness.” Again, WOW. This is something we may know intellectually, but when it penetrates our hearts, cuts deep like my experience reading Sister Ruth’s Interior Castle Explored, it feels like it changes everything.

What happens when we begin to look at our whole self as a “for-Godness”? Does it make a difference if we see our relationship with God as one part of us or as all of us? What are your thoughts on this?