Lately, I’ve been giving myself to a study-exploration of St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle – and commentaries thereof. Hers is a variation of – perhaps, we might say, a forerunner to — current “stages of faith” conversations. In keeping with other mystics of (and before) her time, she defines the contours of the spiritual formation journey from “awakening to God” to “union with God” — via processes of illumination and purgation.
Given my bent towards seeing spiritual themes in film and culture, an evening of watching Frozen 2 with my granddaughter gave way to a time of seeing Teresa and her message—particularly pronounced in a scene when Elsa, the protagonist in the story, advances into an ice cave (or castle) – singing the song, “Show Yourself”:
To make sure I was on target with my impressions, I asked my
(thirty-something year old) daughter, Katie, about the song and it’s meaning. Through no coaching from me, her response was confirming:
“She’s calling to her ‘higher power’ to reveal itself—
only to realize that that ‘higher power’ is within herself.”
(In other words,
as she cries for that which she thinks is out there to “show itself,”
there is the realization that “It” is within.)
Even so with Teresa and her Castle… and her understanding of the journey of spiritual formation. (And here, I draw a few choice snippets from a chief, contemporary translator of Teresa’s works, Mirabai Starr.)
- There’s “a magnificent castle inside our own souls, at the center of which the Beloved himself dwells” (Interior Castle, pg. 21f.) (Is there an echo of this castle in Anna’s “Crystal Cathedral”?!?)
- “The extraordinary thing about this castle where God lives is that it is inside of us. The journey to union with the Beloved is a journey home to the center of ourselves. The human soul is so glorious that God himself chooses it as his dwelling place. The path to God, then, leads us on a journey of self-discovery.” (Ibid)
“There has never been any serious theological quarrel with this ancient Christian understanding,” writes David Benner. But, he continues: “it has been largely forgotten by the contemporary church. We have focused on knowing God and tended to ignore knowing ourselves.” (Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, p. 22)
More positively, he writes:
“Christian spirituality involves a transformation of the self that occurs only when God and self are both deeply known. Both, therefore, have an important place in Christian spirituality. There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self, and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God. John Calvin wrote, ‘Nearly the whole of sacred doctrine consists in these two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves.’” (Ibid)
Important as this affirmation is
(i.e., that soul and God are intertwined),
it is not enough.
It’s another dimension
of Anna’s quest (and ours):
that It takes courage —
to plunge into the interior,
to be more open
God and self.