It’s release day for A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Choleric Child! Enjoy the slide show on the temperaments I put together for the upcoming Minnesota Home Education and Curriculum Conference. I included lots of photos of my kids to make you smile.
As always, if you buy five paperbacks directly from me, I’ll sign them all and give you a sixth free–with no shipping cost. Email me at crossini4774 at comcast dot net if you are interested.
Within a few weeks many other online retailers should be offering the paperback as well. Visit my Book Table page for updates on availability. You can also easily access the links for all my books at various retailers, and read more details on that page.
Book blog tour and giveaway
Join me over the next week, as I tour blogs by other Catholic moms, spreading the news about my new book series. You’ll read reviews, interviews, and a guest post, plus have a chance to enter a giveaway of a signed paperback. Here is the schedule for the blog tour:
Saturday, May 16. Interview with Macaela Darr at California to Korea. Make sure you enter the giveaway!
Today I’d like to start digging a little deeper into Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle. Specifically, let’s talk about the seven mansions and how each of them is different.
While Teresa divides her book into sections talking about seven different stages of the spiritual life, we should note that she speaks about “first dwelling places,” et cetera, not “the first mansion.” What does this mean? Each stage has several rooms. Not everyone follows exactly the same path to union with God.
You must not imagine these mansions as arranged in a row, one behind another, but fix your attention on the centre, the room or palace occupied by the King. Think of a palmito, which has many outer rinds surrounding the savoury part within, all of which must be taken away before the centre can be eaten. Just so around this central room are many more, as there also are above it. In speaking of the soul we must always think of it as spacious, ample and lofty; and this can be done without the least exaggeration, for the soul’s capacity is much greater than we can realize, and this Sun, Which is in the palace, reaches every part of it. It is very important that no soul which practises prayer, whether little or much, should be subjected to undue constraint or limitation. Since God has given it such dignity, it must be allowed to roam through these mansions — through those above, those below and those on either side. It must not be compelled to remain for a long time in one single room — not, at least, unless it is in the room of self-knowledge.” (Chapter 2, no. 8)
Identifying your present level
I’m a person who never fits into one category on personality and temperament tests. Until last year when my husband brought home material from work on the DISC temperaments system, these tests always frustrated me. They never seemed to ask the right questions, or ask them in the right way, to get at my true temperament.
I find something similar happens when I try to find myself in Interior Castle. Some of the characteristics of one level fit me, but others do not. I find my soul spread out, as it were, among three different groups of mansions. I believe this is a common experience.
While the seven mansions provide an apt vehicle for explaining the development of contemplative prayer, we ought not to imagine them as pigeon holes and the developments as discrete jumps from one stage to another. Living things grow gradually, and communion with God being the supreme of all living things, likewise matures imperceptibly… ‘There is no closed door,’ says St. Teresa, ‘to separate the one from the other’…” (Fr. Thomas Dubay, Fire Within, 80)
Fr. Dubay follows Teresa in saying that this is especially true in the final mansions, the pinnacle of the spiritual life.
A chart to help you
I searched through all my Discalced Carmelite formation material to find a chart I could give you. I found I started filling one out long ago but (typically) never finished it. So thanks, readers, for being the catalyst to help me finish this project!
In each of the dwelling places, we should look at several aspects of the life of the soul:
In addition, it’s always wise to leave a column for miscellaneous notes. Here is the chart for downloading. I have left the “other” column blank for you to complete as we read about each stage in more detail.
On Wednesday the Church celebrated the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, founder of the Order of Discalced Carmelites and Doctor of the Church. The Carmelites are celebrating the 500th anniversary of her birth with an entire year of events beginning this month. Over that time period I hope to have many vibrant discussions here about Teresa, her life, and her teachings.
Sometimes we become interested in a saint when we hear one story about him or her. We don’t always view that story from the total context of a saint’s life and teaching. With my melancholic temperament, I like to look for the unifying principles behind things. This gives me a greater grasp of the meaning of individual facts. For St. Therese, that unifying principle was a childlike trust in God.
So what is the unifying principle behind true Teresian spirituality? Intimacy with Jesus.
Now, you may be asking yourself,”Does Connie really have to point this out? Isn’t this obviously true of every saint?”
But think for a moment about some of the misunderstandings about Teresa’s teachings. The primary one we see today is equating her teaching on contemplation with New Age mysticism. When we recognize that Jesus was absolutely essential to Teresa’s spirituality, we see how far from Buddhist-influenced spiritualities it is.
Remember, although we call her Teresa of Avila, her name in religion was Teresa of Jesus. In some ways, that says everything we need to know about her.
Let’s look at a few choice quotes.
Mental prayer, in my view is nothing but friendly intercourse, and frequent solitary converse, with Him Who we know loves us.” (Life viii)
“Then, daughter [after examining your conscience] as you are alone, you must look for a companion–and who could be a better Companion than the very Master who taught you the prayer you are about to say? Imagine that the Lord Himself is at your side, and, believe me, you should stay with so good a Friend for as long as you can before you leave Him” (Way of Perfection xvi).
“If you are happy, look upon your risen Lord. If you are suffering trials, or are sad, look upon Him on His way to the Garden. Love to speak to Him, not using forms of prayer, but words issuing from the compassion of your heart.” (Ibid. xxvi)
“This method of bringing Christ into our lives is helpful at all stages; it is a most certain means of making progress in the earliest stage, of quickly reaching the second degrees of prayer, and, in the final stages, of keeping ourselves safe from the dangers into which the devil may lead us.” (Life xii)
If we can remember to stay by the side of Jesus as much as possible, whether in our prayer or work or recreation, we will quickly progress along the Way of Perfection. This is the essential teaching of Teresa of Avila.
The title of this post is a bit misleading. I don’t really believe in “accidental” detachment, any more than I believe in accidental holiness. But I’ve noticed something interesting in my life over the past several months. I’m seeing success and growth in areas I haven’t been focusing on, and I believe I am seeing God’s hand at work.
As my longtime readers know, I like to focus on one area of spirituality to work on each year. In 2013, I chose to work on trust. That led to a huge change in my life and my book Trusting God with St. Therese. For 2014 my plan was to work on detachment. I did start the year with a few blog posts on detachment. I also made a habit of turning my mind and heart immediately towards God when I enjoyed or thought about food and drink.
I planned to start working on another small area next, but I didn’t get very far. As the publication of my book came closer, all my mental energy was focused on completing it. I have a hard time entering fully into two projects at once. So I just could not focus my mind on detachment in the way I wanted to.
However, I have been praying for help on detachment, and over the past few days I realized that God has been answering those prayers, even without my noticing it. Here is how it happened.
Naturally speaking, I have wide interests and an opinion about almost everything. If a friend was discussing politics on Facebook, I would jump into the conversation, defending the side I agreed with.
While writing and proofing my book, I had less time for discretionary activities. I had to pare down my interaction with others on social media. I had to pass by all those political posts in my Facebook feed without commenting. I reserved my comments for prayer requests and posts on spirituality. Nearly everything else was filtered out.
Last week I did jump into a political conversation. In the midst of it, I realized I didn’t think I had all the answers any more. I saw issues as more complex than I had in the past. And I suddenly saw that while I still had opinions, I didn’t care much about them now. Defending them seemed a waste of time, even when I had more discretionary time.
As the political season gets into full swing, I find I no longer care much about candidates’ economic policy, or their opinion of how to handle the situation in the Middle East, or states’ rights, or gun rights. I reserve my energy for fighting for life, the family, and religious freedom. All else appears trivial.
So what lesson can we learn here? As we spend less time and less energy on anything, its significance in our lives decreases. If we act like something is unimportant, we begin to see it as unimportant. The same thing happens in the reverse. If we make time for a certain person, activity, or object, we begin to value it more highly.
We’ve probably all experienced this over the course of Lent. At the beginning, giving up sweets for forty days might seem impossible, but if we endure, we find that by Easter our taste for sweets has waned.
When we learn that detachment is necessary for intimacy with Christ, we might want to give up the Christian life before we’ve even begun. We don’t think we can live without all the things we love. We don’t realize that detachment becomes easier as we mature, that things we love now will seem trivial to us when compared with our growing love for Christ.
I could choose now to go back to arguing about politics on Facebook. But I pray I do not. I have a new freedom, a new peace. It is so much easier now to say no.
Thank you, Lord, for your hand on my life. Thank you for the gift of “accidental” detachment.
Note 1: Please pray for me as I give a talk on Trusting God at our parish Council of Catholic Women meeting this evening. God reward you!
Note 2: As you comment on this post, could I ask you to focus on spirituality, not politics? Although I used politics as an example, that is not what this post is about. I’d like to keep it centered on detachment. Thanks for your cooperation.