Before we go on into Teresa’s second mansions, I want to talk about the pattern of change I have noticed in my life. If we want to move on to the next stage of the spiritual life, how can we accomplish this?
A vague awareness of the need for change
The first real conversion in my spiritual life was from praying now and then to praying daily. This is essentially the conversion from the first to the second group of mansions.
In college I began to work on having a daily prayer time. Sometimes I would do quite well. Other times, I would miss prayer for days. I usually prayed last thing at night, because I did not have a set tome for prayer. Often I was too tired to stay awake. Sometimes I completely forgot and didn’t realize I hadn’t prayed for a few days until I looked back.
I had a vague idea that I should pray every day. I knew other people thought so. I put a certain amount of effort into it, but not a great one. Something was missing, and I wouldn’t discover it until a few years later.
Conviction that a change is necessary
The problem was, I didn’t really believe that I needed to pray daily. Not deep down inside. I thought my spiritual life was in a pretty good state (which just proves that it wasn’t). I was a moral person. I tried to love God and my neighbor. So why put in the effort to change?
The movement from a vague awareness to conviction often results from a crisis. For example, a boy who never listened to his mother when she said he needed to learn to swim might be suddenly motivated after he nearly drowns. He realizes she was right!
When I began studying Carmelite spirituality as a Secular Carmelite, the words of Teresa of Avila finally convinced me of the absolutely necessity of daily mental prayer:
He who neglects mental prayer needs no devil to carry him to hell. He brings himself there with his own hands.”
-St. Teresa of Ávila
Wow! I was convicted. I made a commitment to change. But I wasn’t perfect at praying daily yet.
The will to change
Once we become convinced of the need for change, we have to choose it. At first we choose the over-all picture of change–“Yes, I want to start praying daily.” Then we must choose to follow through when temptations or distractions plague us. “I choose to pray now, instead of reading another chapter of this novel.”
Other people can help us with the first two steps. But here we are on own–except of course for grace. Only we can make the choice to change. But we can take steps to strengthen our will.
Prayer is at the root of all true spiritual change, because prayer brings us into God’s presence. In prayer (whether the liturgy of the Church or personal prayer), we meet God. We learn about His goodness. Our hearts are moved to follow His will. And He gives us the grace to say yes.
Meditation on Sacred Scripture is the best type of mental prayer we can engage in with the normal helps of the spiritual life. It informs our minds, moves our wills, and opens our hearts to grace.
Making specific goals
Once we’ve decided to change, we need to choose concrete goals for that change. In the case of prayer, we should set a specific place and time for prayer every day, letting our loved ones know that the time is literally sacred.
We should start small. In Carmel we began with fifteen minutes of mental prayer a day. It’s much better to do a little consistently, than to pray an hour one day and miss prayer the rest of the week. Once we have formed the habit of daily mental prayer, we can extend the time.
We must be patient. Real change does not happen overnight. The start of the road has the roughest terrain. “At the proper time, you will reap a harvest, if you do not give up” (Gal 6:9).
A recurring pattern
I have seen this same pattern with other areas of the spiritual life. Trust and detachment are two changes I am still working on. In Carmel I also learned to live a life of Gospel poverty. With each issue, it took some time for me to become convinced that the change was necessary. But now that I’ve recognized this pattern, I hope that the next change God asks of me does not take me so long! And I hope this helps spur you on as well.
If you need more help in forming a daily prayer routine, please read these two posts:
Please share with us: Have you noticed a similar pattern in your life in regard to change? How have you succeeded in forming new spiritual habits? Do you have more questions about the need to pray?