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Center for Action and Contemplation

Seven Mansions

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Exploring the Mystics with James Finley

Seven Mansions
Sunday, October 8, 2017

James Finley, one of CAC’s core faculty members, will be reflecting on two mystics from 16th century Spain in this week’s Daily Meditations. James is attuned to the pedagogy of the mystics and invites us to a different kind of reading. As he puts it, “The mystics are not writing for our logical minds, but to awaken our hearts to what matters most. This requires us to slow down enough to catch up with ourselves. These meditations call us to settle into a quiet, prayerful pondering about who we deep down really are and are called to be and how can we be more faithful to it.”

Jim begins with Teresa of Ávila, author of The Interior Castle, one of the great classical works in the Christian mystical tradition.

Teresa was born in Ávila, Spain in 1515. As a young woman, she entered the cloistered Carmelite convent just outside this medieval walled city. After more than twenty years in the convent, she began to have deep experiences of God’s presence in prayer. A few years before her death in 1582, she was asked to write about what was happening to her.

Let’s look at the first paragraph of The Interior Castle:

While I was beseeching Our Lord today that He would speak through me . . . I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven “there are many mansions” [John 14:2]. [1]

Teresa is saying, in effect, “I’m going to try to share some things with you that are hard to talk about. It’s hard to find words for them. As a matter of fact, at certain levels, it’s beyond words. Therefore, I need something like an overarching metaphor under the auspices of which might be the language with which to speak about these things.”

Teresa was given the metaphor of a beautiful castle inside of us to represent the soul where God dwells. In this castle, there are seven “mansions” or dwelling places, which basically describe different stages along the spiritual journey. Teresa walks her readers all the way through to the seventh mansion, the state of mystical marriage or divine union, where we and God disappear as other than each other.

Teresa says that in the seventh mansion, like watching the rain falling from the sky into the river, you can no longer tell the water that falls from the sky from the water of the river. You and God can no longer tell each other apart from each other. Here even the tribulations of life are realized to be the Beloved flowing endlessly as a kind of intimate gift of being human on this earth. There is nothing missing, because even the experience of the missing of love is the Love. It’s the Love giving itself to you as the intimacy of the yearning for love.

Thomas Merton says there is that in you that no one can destroy or diminish because it belongs completely to God. The whole spiritual life is about grounding ourselves in this invincible preciousness of fragility and becoming someone in whose presence others are grounded in this reality.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall deeper into love.

[1] Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, trans. E. Allison Peers (Dover Publications: 2007, ©1946), 15.

Adapted from James Finley, private retreat on Teresa of Ávila and The Interior Castle, 2016.; and
Intimacy: The Divine Ambush, disc 6 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2013), CD, MP3 download.

Image credit: Mother and Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.
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