Q: Dear Sister Carmen, I feel like I am stuck in mansion somewhere in mansion one or two. Is this normal? Where do most people get stuck in the journey through the mansions and is there any common way you can suggest that we get unstuck? Maybe I am just impatient. I feel like I should be growing but I am not.
A: Teresa posits conformity to God’s will as the first principle of spiritual growth In her Way of Perfection: Chapter 16. She reminds us of the necessity of “keeping our eyes fixed on You; if we were to look at nothing else but the way, we would soon arrive.” Teresa herself had sufficient experience in her own life of a lack of focus due to the many preoccupations which diverted her eyes from the Lord, thus drawing her out of herself and out of her interior center back into the world around her. Because of this struggle she gave up prayer for many years. So too our attention can be drawn away from the Lord and dissipated in many directions so that we are no longer in our own center.
The Lord continued to call Teresa from His Presence in the Center of the Castle of her soul; this entry back into the castle was prayer – that intimate voice – leading her through the gate into the Mystery of divine intimacy. It is only when we assume a posture of loving attentiveness where the Lord’s voice becomes the First Voice that the rest of the pieces of our life fall into place. As children we often delighted in looking through a kaleidoscope to view broken pieces of colored glass falling into new patterns of color. The possibilities seemed endless. The more conformed our lives are to Our Lord’s the more the broken pieces of our lives catch the reflection of Christ thus producing a kaleidoscope of endless arrangements of stunning beauty.
There is a “getting stuck” when we are not serious about our prayer life or intimate relationship with the Lord and thus make little or no effort to climb out of our comfort zone and therefore move forward. This may even result in our slipping backward. But what we term “getting stuck” may also be due to our impatience to move into the next rooms before we are ready. When a butterfly has rested after coming out of the chrysalis, it will pump blood into its wings in order to get them working and flapping – so that it can fly. This time is crucial to the flying phase. If in our impatience we were to “help” the butterfly open its wings, the butterfly’s wings would become useless and the butterfly would die.
These first three mansions are the soil where we grow in the virtues and in order to do that we must, as mentioned above, become more and more conformed to God’s will. It takes our fidelity and determination, with the help of God’s grace, to continue to draw spiritual nourishment from the present set of circumstances in which we find ourselves. Jesus is present in the midst of the joys and sorrows, confusion, trials, successes, failed plans and messiness of our daily lives. This is where we work out our salvation and sanctification. The temptation is to become distracted through either past situations, present preoccupations, or imagined future ones. This pulls us away from the Present Moment in which we find all the graces needed for our interior growth. We know that growth is necessarily often slow. Teresa tells us that most of us will probably spend a long time in the first three mansions. In this sense she takes the first three mansions as a group for this is where we ourselves are most active in our own growth process. This is where we learn humility, advance in the virtues and grow in generosity. Jesus is the Beloved – how much are we willing to give? Can we ever measure our gift against His?
Anything worth doing or worth having requires arduous preparation. We can only receive what we are prepared to receive. God is patient and takes us where we are. He gives accordingly the growth we are ready to embrace. Just as Teresa abandoned prayer for many years before she was willing to detach herself from what was hindering her growth and open herself in abandonment to the Lord, so too we need to take a good look at our “attachments”. God can give much growth in a short time according to the person’s readiness to receive.
In our next post we will provide you with a brief examination of conscience that will help you understand where you might be stuck and a little more about what you can do about it.
PS: To learn more about the Carmelite Sisters visit our web site: http://www.carmelitesistersocd.com and for more information please contact the sisters at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 626-289-1353 Ext. 246, 920 East Alhambra Road, Alhambra, California 91801.