I. Interior Castle
The first real day of vacation and the peculiar feel of a Monday away from work. I decided I had to make something of the day, so early I went to the Nature Center to walk. It was before 9:00 when I arrived but already a youth camp was making use of the building replete with its informational displays of animal skeletons and simple write-ups on wetland ecosystems. I had seen these often enough and only had interest in walking anyway, so I made my way to the trail which had only a mother with her two small children as “hikers” as well as a great blue heron who I gave quite a start to and a deer that you could tell was too use to handouts.
Returning home, I gave time to the Olympics and went to Lincoln Square. I also started to read The Interior Castle. It left me with much in the way of thought and perplexity. At one point I decided to watch an online video by a Paulist father on the work to put me in the right frame of mind. I had to do this after only getting to the second mansion as I wanted to get back on track with letting Teresa’s words carry their own weight and not trying to place my experience or distractions into that place.
It is a book that pulls me along. It agitates and excites me and I am not even very far in. It also demands a certain surrender on my part as the spirituality is new to me, though it is also a work of location and the literature and the thought given to place are very powerful to me.
This interior path to the soul’s true desire is that it is not a path one can walk without giving oneself completely over to God. And yet it demands things on our part, at least surrender and giving oneself over to prayer. St. Teresa is the navigator of her sisters and to take The Interior Caste with the seriousness it demands requires the reader to follow her as well. And yet this is a most difficult exercise.
I was in the excited and perplexed state. I could not comprehend all of what she said and often did not want to. It is obvious her path is taking her sisters to a place of total surrender, of an “ecstatic yes” to the divine. But who could do this? Perhaps nuns I thought. Besides I had said yes often. I had said yes to love, parenthood, conflict, even the sacred life to some extent. And to have these yeses become a thing itself is something usually not fulfilled, for those involved (certainly myself) do too easily veer from the path. And Teresa, she is talking of the greater thing, of going on a path to a thing that will necessarily be realized if we do our part, for God unlike either ourselves or our companions in life, does not leave the path we walk with Him. Essentially we get no out other than our own refusal. And if we refuse….I do not even want to think on that thing.
At some point I put down my reading as I was taxed (though in a good way) and watched again part of a film I first saw in my Christianity and Cinema class called “Tender Mercies.” If you have not seen it, you should. It is a Baptist brush country fairy tale about a washed up middle aged country singer and the woman and little boy that bring him redemption. It does not have the power of Teresa’s interior mysticism, but it is a film about saying yes to simple gifts and to be honest it makes sense to men, in a way I am not sure if Teresa will. But I do not know that for sure and I am already looking forward to picking up this book later today.
II. Wide Open Space and Castle Rooms
The first day of vacation and I had walked through a few acres of wetland on the site of the old TB sanatorium. I was hemmed in by trees and accompanied by a mother, two small children, the blue heron, and the not fearful enough deer. It was a simple enough pleasure and it gave me a reason to think only lightly as I thought of the beauty of creation and how beautiful a morning could be, especially evident as I looked out over a lily pond to see the spire of the Felician Sisters’ convent. As I drove home, I noticed two of the aged nuns on the porch of their stately castle like home surrounded by its gardens, which are among the best in the city. They were not in their rooms. I thought even those given to such an interior life could be in the world and perhaps the contemplation in their tiny castle rooms had even given them an understanding and love of the world, which properly belongs to the Father and not us, I could not know. Though I too know this world to be His, at least in some fashion.
I have always needed spaces to roam over. My dreams have been inhabited by the steepes. As I thought this morning of Teresa and the Beresford film, I turned my attention to a song called “The First Time.” It is open to many interpretations, but it says to many that in romantic feeling and Christian friendship there is that great upwelling of love that can invite us to the mansion. The song ends with the narrator throwing away the keys to the mansion’s rooms, however. No matter how close we come to truest love, it is always in our power to walk away from it. It is in some ways the most “free will” song by U2 and its soft strands stands in great contrast to the bombastic deterministic “Magnificent” where the narrator “had no choice but to sing for You.” And I kept thinking the choice must be ours, but who could do Teresa’s terrific thing, though I do know that her journey through the corridors of the soul are not unaccompanied.
The movie was different. Robert Duvall’s character had, through alcoholism and familial estrangement, thrown away the keys already. He was invited into the life of faith not through interior monologue , but external dialogue. The geography too was different. There is no beautiful heavenly castle conceived of in civilized Spain, only the unforgiving and burnt landscape that marks America between its great rivers and majestic mountains. The story’s lead is also without the sacraments and has little in the way of a life of prayer. He too needs a navigator. He finds this and the path is one more of us can relate to than Teresa’s guidance. But the question remains, having been brought to the mansion (which is what Tess Harper’s character does for Duvall) what are we to do? Having come to the life of prayer and being born through baptism, what should our maturity look like?
I do not think it can be like that of the sisters, which have chosen the great and rarely travelled road, that must have challenges that pale the floods and avalanches that border the landscape of “Tender Mercies” on both sides. How much more joyous and painful to look inward and know the burning heart of God! Who could do such a thing?
I do not know, but I am eager to return to the Saint’s work. I will also find those places to roam over as that is the purpose of a vacation. When I tire of that geography, I know there will be the interior one.