by Michelle Newsham
October 30, 2005
As I was sitting in a small group setting one day, apparently caught up in my own thoughts, someone made the comment to me that I was off in “my own little world.” I quickly corrected them, informing them that my inner world was, indeed, a big one.
Perhaps this picture of the large space within is what first drew me to Teresa of Avila’s book, Interior Castle. It is an invitation to enter and understand the castle of the soul, where God dwells. In this castle are several mansions to be discovered, lived in, each mansion representing a deeper and more intimate experience of our relationship with God. “I began to think of the soul,” she writes, “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” (p. 3). Teresa’s picture of the soul as a castle is not so much in reference to different physical or structural rooms, but more about the fact that it is a dwelling place – Someone lives there. This concept always intrigues me – to think that God, Creator, King, Savior of the World, chooses to dwell within created human beings – me.
For what do you think a room will be like which is the delight of a King so mighty, so wise, so pure and so full of all that is good? I can find nothing with which to compare the great beauty of a soul and its great capacity. (p. 4)
Throughout her book she carefully reminds us that it is not just God that needs to be explored and known, but our own interior castle – the soul within, which is large and deep and beautiful. It was encouraging to realize her starting point – that the soul is beautiful, created in God’s image. It is a reminder to me that there are other souls who are also made beautifully, in God’s image, who are waiting to be discovered and explored. To me, this very picture of the soul is an invitation – an invitation to find and know the God within – within me, and within you.
Teresa presents an illustration of two fountains, both having basins which can be filled with water – one, where the water comes to it “from a long distance, by means of numerous conduits and through human skill;” and one, built right at the source of the water “that fills without making any noise” and where “water is flowing all the time” (p. 63). The source of the water is God. It seems Teresa is suggesting we can experience his presence and a certain satisfaction or richness, by means of our own spiritual efforts (the first fountain) or, we can experience his presence “accompanied by the greatest peace and quietness and sweetness within ourselves” that comes, “with supernatural favor,” (p. 64) and that flows into every part of our being (the second fountain).
In reference to the second fountain, built right at the source, she writes:
It is clear that a dilation or enlargement of the soul takes place, as if the water proceeding from the spring had no means of running away, but the fountain had a device ensuring that, the more freely the water flowed, the larger became the basin (p.74).
After reading about these fountains, specifically about her concept that the basin was able to expand, I was struck with wonder, sensing God’s very presence in the room where I studied. Could it be that our capacity for God can be increased? I had thought about this before, but sensed it was maybe happening to me right then, or had happened recently. Reading this book seems to have made me aware of it.
Up until now, it’s like my basin has been small enough that the water in it was easily measured and easily contained. But now it feels like the container is never full, and I sometimes wonder where all the water went. It’s like having a full glass of water – when the glass is full, it’s full. There’s no room left for any more. However, when you pour it into a large bowl, it doesn’t look like much water at all. But there is just as much water, or maybe even more! It’s just that the container is larger, so it doesn’t seem like there’s as much.
Lately I have felt discouraged because it didn’t seem like there was as much to my “spiritual life” as there had been in the past. But maybe my soul has been enlarged so that it feels like less, though indeed it could be more! As I read and reflected on this concept I was amazed at God’s presence and work within me. This expansion of my capacity for him came to me as a complete surprise. It intrigues me that he was able to perform such an act, without me even realizing what was happening – “without making any noise.” It had nothing to do with any of my own efforts or attempts or skills. In fact, in this season, it felt more like I contained and experienced less of God. Like Teresa says, “we creatures go about like silly little shepherd-boys, thinking we are learning to know something of Thee when the very most we can know amounts to nothing at all, for even in ourselves there are deep secrets which we cannot fathom” (p. 64).
I was reading “Interior Castle” here in the library at King’s Fold the night I sensed God show me that my ‘container’ holding the water at the fountain, had been expanded. The peace and understanding that reached deep into my heart could not have reached there by any other means. And it only led me to greater wholeness and deeper worship. I strongly agree with Teresa that, “frequently, not only can words be heard, but, in a way which I shall never be able to explain, much more can be understood than the words themselves convey” (p. 139).
It has occurred to me in a new way that perhaps when God speaks to us, and we know it is him, and we sense it deep in our Spirits, that Jesus is really right there, delivering those words to us. We can’t see him, but he’s there. “For though we know quite well that God is present in all that we do, our nature is such that it makes us lose sight of the fact; but when this favor is granted it can no longer do so, for the Lord, who is near at hand, awakens it” (p. 180). Somehow exploring this interior castle has helped me to visualize his presence in new ways.
I embrace Teresa of Avila’s invitation to enter and explore my own, spacious and intriguing inner world – the castle of my own soul – to discover and know the One who dwells within. It is a journey of experience, of presence, of prayer. At the very least I have recognized that my capacity for God has been enlarged, and there is plenty of room for more water. It flows in even now.
© Michelle Newsham, 2005