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?
deerose July 1, 2008 at 4:54 pm
I tend to be somewhat dualist in my thinking. I don’t feel it was a conscious choice on my behalf though. It’s due mainly to social/religious conditioning. I’m not sure whether this approach is true or good. It’s something that would require some serious reflection. Thanks for the quote and comments.
Believing in the “for-Godness” you discussed could have enormous implications for an individual’s view on themselves and others. If every part of us, i.e., our whole selves, is the “capacity for God”, the “soul”, we would no longer tend to pick and choose what we like about ourselves and others. We must love, or at least accept, everything. At this point, we love our frizzy hair, math ineptitude and expanding waistline as well as our artistic talent, helpful nature and small, straight nose. As a more wholistic expression of God, the “other”, even the “other” of whom we are not particularly fond, becomes more palatable. We can transcend many of our judgments knowing God has put God’s seal of approval on the each and every one of us. We become less driven by ego and more by our identification with the Christ within us. Overall, this possible transformation is a positive development – as long as we keep our feet on the ground, recognize the evil and injustice there is in this world and do what we can to remedy it.
Krista July 1, 2008 at 6:03 pm
Well, deerose pretty much summed up what I was going to say (fine minds and all, eh? ). However, I am going to reiterate just for emphasis: if each one of us were to take this message to heart, we would be much better people for it. We would take care of our bodies, and not spend time being nitpicky about appearance. Instead we would focus on honing the talents we posess, and becoming more holy in our behavior and thinking. Thank-you so much for sharing this message with the world, Sister Julie! I for one am going to put it to practice in my life right now!!!
deerose July 2, 2008 at 7:27 am
Great posts! Krista and others: I do agree that if we are able to live in the wholistic way Sr. Julie proposes, in addition to what I said earlier, we would most definitely have a higher regard for our bodies. It would be SO freeing. Now I’m just reflecting out loud here, but the thought that just struck my mind while writing the above comment is that although we are “whole” human beings, when we die, our “souls” live on but our physical bodies don’t. Any ideas on how to reconcile that?
Hoya and others: I completely relate to what you wrote. For me, the biggest struggle is living the “spiritual” life in a world that clearly takes us away from it. I’d love to live a sort of retreat-like existence but then there is the kid that needs to be driven to the movies, the dinner to cook, the phone calls to make, the article to write, the contractor to negotiate/argue with. We are pulled in so many different directions. Even if we make our work our prayer and live with an awareness of God in our hearts, it’s still difficult. I personally call it the Martha-Mary dichotomy.
hoyasaxa July 2, 2008 at 6:30 am
Hi Sister Julie, thanks for a great reflection!
I’m not sure if this is entirely related or not, but what you wrote got me thinking about how often I divide myself and my life into discreet little categories. I have my family life, my academic life, my work life, my social life, and yes, my spiritual life. At one point I realized that I am (or at least tend to act like) an entirely different person based on which of these settings I happen to be in at the moment. Granted, the spiritual “me” is the one that is most interested in all the other “me’s,” in the sense that I pray about and for my family, friends, work, etc. But still, there are times when I feel all divided up, and it can get to be exhausting putting on all these different shows for all these different people and situations. I think we all might do this subconsciously to a certain extent, but it is certainly much more attractive to think about my life, your life, her life, his life, our life together, as one integrated whole which comes from God and is “for-God,” as you said. The real question is how to live that kind of life in a world which teaches us to categorize, divide, and separate. Any ideas?
Julia July 15, 2008 at 9:25 am
A book that is really helping me to see my whole self as for God – Trustful Surrender To Divine Providence. It’s very small (about 140 pages from Tan) but has taken me days and days to read it because it takes time to ponder the material. NOT a hard read at all – just really makes one think. Thank you for a thoughtful post. Julia