Over the next number of weeks in my letters in the bulletin I will be using the book 'Fire Within' to help us understand more about living a life of prayer. More specifically, using the book Fire Within, I will be summarizing St. Teresa of Avila’s description of the Interior Castle and its seven mansions. My plan in this series of letters is to describe one of the mansions each week. That will begin after this first week, in which I am just going to share sort of an introduction to the seven mansions of the Interior Castle, which serves as a descriptor of growth in the spiritual life.
St. Teresa seeks to help us to understand how prayer “grows beyond the more laborious activities of discursive meditation to a less active effort and more simple communing, until finally reaching the effortless contemplation of the transforming union.” (Fire Within, p.78) This does not mean that we don't have to sit down ultimately to make the time for prayer day after day, but rather anticipates that we are doing precisely that. Our ‘discursive prayers’ are the prayers we have memorized, like the rosary, the Divine mercy chaplet, and our other devotional prayers, in addition to just talking with God. St. Teresa emphasizes the importance of us setting out time to spend each day with the Lord. And if we remain dedicated to that prayer life day after day, then she uses the image of a garden and the work it takes to water a garden to show us the work that prayer takes and the response of the Lord to that dedication.
“The Garden of the Soul, she says can be watered in several mat- ters. The first, drawing the water up from the well by use of a buck- et, entails a great deal of human effort. The second way, cranking a water wheel and having the water run through an aqueduct, involves less exertion and yields more water. The third entails far less effort, for in it the water enters the garden as by an effluence from river or stream. The fourth and final way is the best of all: as by a gentle but abundant rainfall the Lord himself waters the garden, and the soul does not work at all.” (Fire Within, p.78)
This delightful description of the effort it takes to help the soul grow in the spiritual life is a beautiful image of the work we must do and ultimately that God Himself does within us as we open ourselves up to Him in prayer. St. Teresa’s imagery continues as she describes the soul:
“as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or a very clear crys- tal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions. In the center of the crystal castle, the soul, is the Sun. As we grow in prayer we draw closer to this divine Sun and are transformed into Him – nonpantheistically, of course. Living in the soul’s center, the Sun gives it all its splendor and beauty, and the human temple is capable of enjoying Him as is the crystal of reflect- ing the sun.” (Fire Within, p. 79)
The Sun she is referring to is the Lord Himself, who we are meant to reflect in our lives. Over the next few weeks we will travel with St. Teresa into the depths of the soul, towards the Lord, as we look at what each mansion of the castle looks like and how we can move in our spiritual lives ever closer to the Lord who dwells within us through our Baptism.