Imagine the soul as a diamond, one which God resides in its center: The center burns brightest, and the surrounding facets are each one step closer to that Light. It’s not linear, but concurrent, as each facet competes with and supports one another.
That’s the concept behind Interior Castle, where St. Teresa of Avila describes the heart of the human soul. As you read (or, travel) through the Mansions, each one gets progressively more supernatural and mystical. Gradually, human effort ceases and God Himself takes over. As a result, I often had to read paragraphs (or entire chapters) several times. Not only because she goes spectacularly off-topic (it’s quite charming, really), but because at its heart is understanding and union with God—which is no small matter.
the first three Mansions are perhaps easiest to understand, as they’re dependent mostly on human labor. We search for God; we strive for good; we set aside time for prayer. But God starts to take over in the fourth Mansion, which was a chapter I read over at least twice. That’s where things start to get more supernatural, when God begins talking to us.
If His Majesty revealed His love to us by doing and suffering such amazing things, how can you expect to please Him by words alone?
It’s natural to go into this sort of work wondering where you reside, where you are in your own spiritual journey. It’s easy to dismiss the earliest Mansions, especially the part where you sit outside the castle. (You are, after all, seeking something by reading this book at all.) But there’s no clear-cut answer. You recognize yourself in each of the Mansions (at least, the early ones), to some degree. There are moments we’re groping in the dark in search for God, and moments where He completely takes over. It wasn’t until halfway through the book that I understood this non-linear, diamond-like description of the soul. It isn’t merely one step at a time, but multiple steps simultaneously. Even in the final Mansion, which is complete union with God, there’s no saying one can’t stray and find herself searching once again.
St. Teresa is often rambling about how much she doesn’t know, or how she’s too stupid to explain any of this. On the contrary! This naked humanity helps to shed light on the topic—because if someone so “stupid” as she can write it, someone like me could begin to understand it.
Anyone who fails to go forward begins to go back, and love, I believe, can never be content to stay for long where it is.