Prayer. Soul. “The Interior Castle” by Teresa of Avila written in the 1500s. (Dec. 2011)

Susan's Thursday morning note December 1, 2011  
Prayer.  Soul.  Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle.  1500's.

Good morning!  So windy outside, so cozy inside.  Baby trying to make me feel guilty for typing and not holding him (grin), coffee, mess, dust, stacks, child asleep, cats looking at the leaves through the sliding door, lullaby chiming music, wilting plants, did I say perfect coffee?  And, least but not less, a beautiful book that I don’t know how to describe to you open beside me, wanting her words to be typed for you.

I read last week about a woman from the 1500’s who wrote on prayer.  On our soul.  Teresa of Avila.  From the first uninterrupted 3 minutes to the last uninterrupted 4 minutes of stealing her words, I have been mesmerized and given thoughts that I’ve never thought through before on my soul.   On how to pray.  On who I am.  All from her human perspective, but I have found her writings to make sense.  Writings on what is so difficult to comprehend, but what we often speak of.  Our souls.  Who we truly are.  She writes on the soul as if looking into a crystal castle…with the beauty of God being in the center room.  She then writes on the different levels of our prayer life, of our knowing who is in the center of our castle.  The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, written in 1577.  She states that she dreamed of our soul and beheld “a most beautiful crystal globe like a castle in which she saw seven dwelling places, and in the seventh, which was in the center, the King of Glory dwelt in the greatest splendor.”  Just from the beginning of this book I’ll write below some of what I underlined to give you a glimpse of how she writes.  I highly recommend this book to you.  One that can be beside your couch or bed, one that we open just 5-10 minutes when we have quiet.  One that will give us thoughts worth thinking about that are meaningful.  Thoughts that when we lay awake at night we realize were worthy of our time, instead of all of the trite things running in and out of our minds that will not matter in five years.  Thoughts on how to keep life worthy of giving our Creator pride in us.  How to pray.  Our souls.  What make us who we are, but so difficult to comprehend. 

It is that we consider our soul to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places.  For in reflecting upon it carefully, we realize that the soul of the just person is nothing else but a paradise where the Lord says He finds His delight.  So, then, what do you think that abode will be like where a King so powerful, so wise, so pure, so full of all good things takes His delight?  I don’t find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvelous capacity.  Indeed, our intellects, however keen, can hardly comprehend it, just as they cannot comprehend God; but He Himself says that He created us in His own image and likeness…there is no reason to tire ourselves in trying to comprehend the beauty of this castle…

It is a shame and unfortunate that through our own fault we don’t understand ourselves or know who we are.  Wouldn’t it show great ignorance, my daughters, if someone when asked who he was didn’t know, and didn’t know his father or mother or from what country he came?  Well now, if this would be so extremely stupid, we are incomparably more so when we do not strive to know who we are, but limit ourselves to considering only roughly these bodies.  Because we have heard and because faith tells us so, we know we have souls.  But we seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul, or who dwells within it, or its high value.  Consequently, little effort is made to preserve its beauty.  All our attention is taken up with the plainness of the diamond’s setting or the outer wall of the castle; that is, with these bodies of ours.

Well, let us consider that this castle has, as I said, many dwelling place: some up above, others down below, others to the sides; and in the center and middle is the main dwelling place where the very secret exchanges between God and the soul take place.

…Well, getting back to our beautiful and delightful castle we must see how we can enter it.  It seems I’m saying something foolish.  For if this castle is the soul, clearly one doesn’t have to enter it since it is within oneself.  How foolish it would seem were we to tell someone to enter a room he is already in.  But you must understand that there is a great difference in the ways one may be inside the castle.  For there are many souls who are in the outer courtyard – which is where the guards stay – and don’t care at all about entering the castle, nor do they know what lies within that most precious place, no who is within nor even how many rooms it has.  You have already heard in some books on prayer that the soul is advised to enter within itself; well that’s the very thing I’m advising.

…Before going on I want to say that you should consider what it would mean to this so brilliantly shining and beautiful castle, this pearl form the Orient, this tree of life planted in the very living waters of life – that is, in God – to fall into mortal sin; there’s no darker darkness nor anything more obscure and black.  You shouldn’t want to know anything else than the fact that, although the very sun that gave the soul so much brilliance and beauty is still in the center, the soul is as though it were not there to share in these things.  Yet, it is as capable of enjoying His Majesty as is crystal capable of reflecting the sun’s brilliance…It should be kept in mind here that the fount, the shining sun that is in the center of the soul, does not lose its beauty and splendor; it is always present in the soul, and nothing can take away its loveliness. But if a black cloth is placed over a crystal that is in the sun, obviously the sun’s brilliance will have no effect on the crystal even though the sun is shining on it…

That is only a small taste of her thoughts.   A friend once encouraged me to have a child and said, you would have the opportunity to hold the body housing an eternal soul.  The soul given to you for possibly a short time on earth, or possibly a long time.  The soul that will live forever in God’s presence.  I always remembered that.  Helps me realize this little baby looking at me right now wishing I’d stop typing houses an inner crystal castle of many rooms, with God in the center.  He will spend his life getting to know his soul, but will never completely know all until he is in the presence of  God.  All so unimaginable, but this book helps us imagine the reality of eternity.  How short our time here is.  How precious time here and time after death is.  Our soul.  Eternal. 

Thank you for letting me enter your Thursday again.  Thank you for your constant support for our store.  Have a beautiful day.  If it is a hard time for you, know that with only a drop to our knees or a glance to the heavens, there is the promise of a peace that passes our understanding.  Tonight we have the chance to write in stone on our epitaph how we used today.  Will we live a life worthy of stone?  Today.  The moments are a gift.  Looking into each other’s eyes.  Appreciating the leaves blowing.  Life.  Our gift.  Susan

Latin for this week:
Prex Precis - prayer, entreaty, wish, desire, promise to God
Votum - wish, desire, prayer

(I found a link that shows the Lord's Prayer in a lot of languages you may like to see:

Works Cited:
Teresa of Avila: The Interior Castle.  Translation by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D.  New Jersey.  Paulist Press.  1979.