Central Images of Teresa & John: Interior Castle & Interior Mountain

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Part of "St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross and Our Vocation to Contemplative Prayer"

1. Central Images of Teresa & John: Interior Castle & Interior Mountain

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St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross, and welcome also all our friends who are listening in through tape. Why don't we begin with just a second of silence to go a bit towards that center where we do encounter the spouse. For me it's a real joy to talk about John of the Cross and Teresa, a joy and an honor, and also with you who are clearly interested in them and in the contemplative life, otherwise you wouldn't be here. They are two giants of the spiritual way. The little diagram on the board with the Cairo and them within the effulgence, the rays spreading


out, wants to suggest that even in their lifetime they attain to a profound union with God. I think there's just a consensus about that, and we're a little below, perhaps, so they as great teachers can help us attain to a deeper communion with God. So we've got wonderful topics for these gatherings, and I think for the rest of our life, really, one could well spend a lifetime on Teresa or John of the Cross, and certainly on this theme of our contemplative prayer. And it's precisely our contemplative prayer about which they are so insightful and so helpful, and they can get us there towards the center. Of course, both of them are doctors of the Church, both through these centuries have been able to help so many to journey deeper into communion with God.


We're talking about our contemplative life. That's a kind of an exotic phrase. It might suggest something esoteric and almost Gnostic, but what we really want to talk about is just our relationship with God. How do we live our Lord's first commandment to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our minds, all our spirits, that's all. And if we grow in this, it presumably is something that's developmental, then presumably it also can transform us, this communion with God. And presumably, there are better ways to journey into God and ways that aren't so helpful. Well, this is what John of the Cross and Teresa can very much help us with, show us that straight path right into the Divine Presence. It can be argued that contemplative life isn't everything, and so our Lord did add that second


commandment, lichen, to the first. And that gets into interpersonal love and gets into liturgy and social justice issues, etc. We won't say that much in these conferences about those topics, and Teresa and John of the Cross don't say that much about that whole area. We could almost say the horizontal area. Not because we think they're unimportant or they think they're unimportant, but one can't address everything at the same time. But what they do address is clearly of fundamental importance. And just suppose we are able to enter more deeply into communion, indeed into union with God, presumably from there we could love our neighbor better as ourselves. Presumably then, questions of interpersonal relationship or the how of living and praying liturgy or social justice or whatever else we would be more illumined regarding.


So this topic isn't unrelated to the other, but we can't claim that we're exhausting everything in terms of talking about our contemplative life and how these two great masters can lead us deeper into communion with God. They are able to guide us not because they've done lots of book learning and written their doctrines on this topic and can discourse in an erudite manner, but they themselves have made the journey, and this is experiential for them. And not only have made the journey, but they're particularly gifted at then reflecting on their journey, articulating it, being able to spell out stages of that journey, things to avoid, things to do, etc. They're very gifted in this. I think also they're very complimentary. It's fascinating that one is a woman and one is a man, and they're deep friends.


And in one way, John of the Cross was confessor and spiritual director for Teresa, but perhaps in a more profound way, she was teacher and guide for him, and it was she who brought him into the Carmelite reform, etc. But you do have that masculine, feminine, animus, anima approach, so that I think there's a wonderful complementarity to their wisdom and to their teaching. The wonderful good news that they both proclaim, I think, first of all, is that we are called to this deepest communion with God. Christianity isn't just about being respectable and doing proper things and keeping the Ten Commandments, but it's about becoming divinized. It's about becoming God, nothing less. And how? We're interested in so many things. Well, this should be of some interest to us. Well, their central message is, go for it.


It's for all of us. And go for it seriously and go for it in the most solid and direct way, avoiding the kind of paths off into the brush, into the quicksand, etc. They provide two central images that I find very helpful and also very complementary. Of course, for St. Teresa, certainly for her classic, a central image is that of the interior castle. Sometimes she describes it as a golden castle with all these jewels, sometimes as a crystal castle. But that's what our interiority, that's what our heart, that's what our spiritual life can be conceived as. And she says, don't take this literally, obviously. There's not drawbridges in there or parapets, etc. But this is a way to articulate this deep mystery, who am I?


If I do start journeying inside, what do I find? Not only is there this glorious, luminous castle, but she acknowledges all kinds of dark things around. And sometimes these serpents and snakes and vipers, etc. even get into the castle in the first rooms. But her good news is the farther we go in, the more luminous it gets. Because in the central chamber, there's the spouse awaiting us to fill us with his super abundance of love and transforming union. So that's a pretty up message. And John of the Cross has a slight variation on that theme. He says, imagine your spiritual life, imagine your interior life as this sacred mountain with different levels. But at the summit of the mountain, again, is the spouse awaiting us. So if we could only get up that mountain.


And so it's about a journey that both of them propose. You might explore for yourself which of these images works best, or maybe sometimes the one and sometimes the other. But I think, if nothing else in this weekend, really claim one or both of these images. And let it, or them, nourish you, nourish your journey, inspire you on. Because they're both profoundly archetypical, and we'll find both images all the way through certainly Christian mystical literature, and not just Christian. So they're very deep, and they can be very helpful for us. And again, if one ponders that there's such good news, I think if we look at our basic self-understanding that the modern age suggests, it's a pretty dark one. If we go inside, for instance, if you read T.S. Eliot's early poetry before he becomes


a Christian, his classic is Wasteland. And that's about the world and society in our time. It's also about the human heart is simply a wasteland. And his phrase to introduce the whole is that phrase from Conrad, the horror, the horror. And that's what we find in our world, but that's what we find also in our inner life. So I think much of modern life is just fleeing from our own interior self. It's just so horrendous in there. Another image from Alan Ginsberg, who recently died, is Coney Island of the mind, or Howl. But there's just this chaos of stupid, idiotic kind of amusement park within, and it really wants to cover up again the dreadful horror of it all.


If you take the basic Freudian presupposition, if you really get into the depths, you run into the libido and the id and all this horrendously dark stuff, and you try to control it with a superego and an ego, and some of us here can explain more about that than I can. But it's not a very happy, it's a fascinating world to explore, but you don't expect at a certain point to find the divine bridegroom, and you don't expect to be divinized in joy and light and love. But this is what these two are claiming. So, to, okay, even in their lifetime, they attain that, and then they kind of reach down and want to draw us up through their teaching, and now through their prayer, to allow that to happen. That's basically what these days are about, but in an ongoing way, and I think some of you have been studying perhaps for years of this wisdom.


So it's just about as important a task as we could possibly undertake with perhaps, well, certainly two of the best guides that Christianity has to offer. Usually we do a little self-introduction and a little sharing of introduction. I'll start, and then we'll turn off our tape. This doesn't have to be tremendously long, but just so we're not total strangers to each other. Many of us already know each other, but perhaps some. So very briefly, I encountered these two back in college in 1958. Most of you here weren't even born then, but they were very important for me, and they helped bring me into the Catholic Church. I was just excited by this profound contemplative depth. But aside from that, they brought me into New Camaldoli, because I found that what I


wanted to do with my life was to pursue this contemplative path. So our novitiate here had quite a Carmelite shape to it, because our father, Joseph Diemer, who's now one of our two recluses, he was our novice master, and he very much used Teresa and John of the Cross, for which I'm extremely grateful, and then they served me in the many years since. I was for about six years up at Berkeley at our house there teaching at the Graduate Theological Union. In one of the courses, History of Christian Spirituality, it was a great joy to teach these two. Then I came here in 87, and they're not the only teachers of my life, and for some areas I think they don't have that much to say, again, for, oh, liturgy or intercommunion, interpersonal dynamics or social justice, again, to go back to that. But for this, let's say this deepest yearning challenge for us and task and vocation, I


think they're very, very solid indeed.