Getting back to Interior Castle, we’ve been talking about the sixth mansions. Last time we looked at raptures and ecstasy. There are many more types of mystical phenomena that one can experience in the sixth mansions. Among them are what St. Teresa of Avila calls transports, touches, wounds of love, flights of spirit, and even levitation. Teresa sometimes experienced the last of these in community prayer, to her great embarrassment.
All of these are external phenomena that are rooted in the growing union of love between God and the soul.
In the seventh and final mansions, the soul will experience the spiritual marriage. But she is not there yet. Teresa writes:
The soul is now completely determined to take no other spouse; but the Spouse disregards its yearnings for the conclusion of the Betrothal, desiring that they should become still deeper and that this greatest of all blessings should be won by the soul at some cost to itself. And although everything is of but slight importance by comparison with the greatness of this gain, I assure you, daughters, that, if the soul is to bear its trials, it has no less need of the sign and token of this gain which it now holds. Oh, my God, how great are these trials, which the soul will suffer, both within and without, before it enters the seventh Mansion! Really, when I think of them, I am sometimes afraid that, if we realized their intensity beforehand, it would be most difficult for us, naturally weak as we are, to muster determination enough to enable us to suffer them or resolution enough for enduring them, however attractively the advantage of so doing might be presented to us, until we reached the seventh Mansion, where there is nothing more to be feared, and the soul will plunge deep into suffering for God’s sake. (6.1)
Teresa doesn’t speak of a prolonged spiritual darkness in the same manner that John of the Cross does, but she does tell us of many sufferings the soul in advanced prayer has to endure:
- Misunderstanding, fear, and gossip about her spirituality, even among those closest to her.
- Difficulty finding a confessor because of this detraction.
- Human praise, which hurts even more, since she knows she doesn’t deserve it.
- Pain and illness.
- Misunderstanding and bad advice from confessors.
- A feeling of being abandoned by God, deservingly.
- Inability to understand spiritual books.
Surprisingly, Teresa advises a soul in this state not to try to practice mental prayer or spend much time alone, but rather to do works of charity and patiently wait for God to lift her suffering. Mental prayer is impossible now. God leaves the soul completely incapable of helping herself, so that she learns at last that she is completely dependent on Him.
All this is a necessary preparation for the heights of the spiritual life.