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‘Whoever has God wants for nothing’

11 July 2014

Elizabeth Ruth Obbard introduces The Interior Castle

Teaching her Sisters: St Teresa of Ávila in a drawing from Elizabeth Ruth Obbard's book.

Teaching her Sisters: St Teresa of Ávila in a drawing from Elizabeth Ruth Obbard's book.

THE Interior Castle, also known as The Book of Mansions, is considered Teresa of Ávila's greatest and most mature explana-tion of the spiritual journey, containing as it does a complete synthesis of her teaching on prayer.

The book was written with her nuns in mind. These Sisters were neither theologians nor particularly well educated - some, indeed, were illiterate; but there was little teaching available for women, and the manuscript was initially intended for reading aloud in community.

The Interior Castle treats of the spiritual journey in a totally original way. Here,Teresa is not theorising from books; instead, she writes and speaks from personal experience and close observation of others. Itis a psychological rather than a theological work.

Instead of a linear progress, Teresa uses the image of an open interior space, a space of integration more like a spiral than a straight line. Within the castle's confines, she will chart her own development, while also emphasising that there are other rooms she has not been in. Each reader or listener must adapt her own experience to a general pattern without any slavish imitation.

For Teresa, growing spiritually is travelling inwards to the centre of our being where God dwells, and yet too few set out with resolution to reach the Divine Presence. We decide to stop journeying some way along the line, and make our home not in Christ, but in some other place, where we feel comfortable and ready to settle down.

Teresa writes to actuate our desire for true fulfilment, making our baptismal grace a reality. We have all received this divine "seed" at baptism, but it needs to germinate and grow in order to reach full potential - total transformation in Christ. Only as we progressively surrender ourselves at ever deeper levels are we able to "become what we were born to be": men and women who are united to God fully and freely.

As she writes, her sole aim is, she says, to praise God, and lead others to do so, too. As always, she emphasises that prayer and life are interlinked, and that writing about prayer must have its parallel influence on daily life. We pray as we live and live as we pray. God and neighbour are inseparable.

Teresa charts a secure path. It is one that anybody can follow, provided there is a growing resolve to give God the whole of oneself, harmonising the love of God and the love of neighbour. The spiritual journey is one of friendship with God, and with those we live with. It means standing and living in the truth, whether in prayer or in life. This is the way to maturity and true inner peace.

Teresa kept in her breviary the following bookmark, which might be termed a summary of her teaching:

Let nothing disturb you,
let nothing affright you,
all things pass away;
God alone remains.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God
wants for nothing.
God alone suffices.

This is the first of four edited extracts from Travelling Inwards: St Teresa's "Interior Castle" for everyone by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard, published by New City at £5.95 (CT Bookshop £5.35); 978-1-905039-21-0.

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