Top positive review
9 people found this helpful
on 10 April 2015
I have been reading this book slowly. Having regarded spirituality as a form of pietist escapism and regarding the contemporary trend towards spirituality with great suspicion, I have read very little in this area beyond 'The Cloud of Unknowing' which I read too quickly and gained nothing from and some stuff by Thomas a Kempis when I was a teenager and which appealed to me greatly at the time. It came as a surprise, therefore, to see how perceptive Teresa was on many things and I have to conclude that, far from being escapist, there is probably much in 'spiritual writing' that brings us more closely in touch with those parts of our inner selves which we ignore and repress and avoid by overmuch business. Too much 'being' and not enough 'doing' is wrong but so is the other way round.
In the first mansion, Teresa testifies to incarnation and to the importance of 'ordinary people'. That God condescends to dwell in our innermost being affirms our importance because he loves us. We should not look down on those who are not overtly religious - he has different gifts for us all because we ore individuals with differing needs and abilities. I had thought that spiritual types tended to regard themselves as special and I now learn that they do so, but that is because all people are special, in different ways. There is much in the charismatic movement that can go off when the twice-born despise the others and this is a good corrective.
I like Teresa's recogition that prayer changes at different times of life and according to our daily rhythm. Thus I need to be more reflective in term-time as an oasis of stillness amidst busy-ness but also to extend the time spent on it at weekends and in the holidays so as to enlarge my 'space' and make it more accessible when there is less time.
I like Teresa's belief that God's grace seeks us but we can block reception of it by sin - not little acts so much as a way of being. Far from moralising, it seems to me that Teresa is saying something about what it means to become fully human. There s a time when 'becoming human' was a cliche I didn't really understand but I think it is beginning to make sense now. That part of our stunting of our spiritual growth is to be tied to cares in this world still strikes me as escapist but inasmuch as over-busy-ness distorts our humanity (the protestant work ethic for example) I see that she has an important message for this century. A routine spiritual life impresses others but we are often justifying ourselves by religiosity. She says that God will take care of the religious types.
True - I could attend a thousand daily masses with very little feeling, could exalt the importance of routine, and yet be pulled up short by one phrase in the liturgy that challenges my seeking for security in ritualised religiosity.
Making a virtue out of a well-ordered, calculated lifestyle is something I am prone to do. It seems silly to make mistakes and to forget appointments on purpose but I need to free myself from that part of routine which is obssessive rather than enabling. Before reading Teresa, I never would have thought of routine living as a matter for self-examination. The danger in tinkering with the routine once aware of its dangers is that, in Teresa's imagery in the third mansion, we dig a small hole and see light but then the routine returns in a reordered way and the earth collapses in on us again.
By the fourth mansion I begin to flounder because it is getting beyond me. I recognise much about myself and other people in the previous pages but talk of the dark night of the soul becomes 'advanced'. Aridity, deadness in prayer I understated - coupled with doctrinal doubt, with wondering whether God exists anyway, it was not surprising that I used to go for months through barren rituals which, but for anglo-catholic talk of objective prayer I would have given up years ago, but to mistake this for a dark night experience is, of course, wrong, though much of Teresa' counsel for this situation applies in aridity - to keep on with prayer in a disciplined way and ask God for what he is to give and yet -Act worry if feelings and consolations are lacking - he knows best. The seed can grow so secretly inside us that even we do not become aware of it. The testis in what those who live with us can see. Too true - those in convents are bound to know this more than anyone else. On spiritual cloud nines in my youth I was an arrogant so and so; what love and patience those I looked down on had towards me: The seed growing secretly in us is the way in which the kingdom comes. Whatever grand schemes we have to change the world, if the desire is not rooted in the hearts and wills of ordinary men and women, our schemes will collapse as did the Tower of Babel. I rebel against this motion, afraid that it is a cop-out from Christian involvement in politics. The spirituality trend of this decade is fortunately arriving hand in hand with liberation theology becoming more well-known and narrative theology. Maybe the Spirit is correcting imbalances but not by an imbalance on the opposite side but by different movements of thought hitting a complacent, sick Western church.
I like Teresa's imagery of the people in the grounds of the castle but hearing the call of the one within - reapplied as a metaphor of the worker priest, indeed of all those lay people who seek to discern God in the secular world but need to retreat to the citadel of the church - albeit finding it less of a retreat and more of a journey into themselves where they encounter more 'worms', all this seems very true.
The image of the silk worm emerging into a butterfly and its taking nourishment from a leaf while seemingly dead - in the 5th mansion - however much the biology is inept, also makes sense. The routine (which I hitherto identified as potentially harmful) has its uses as a discipline, as a means to an end rather than the end itself. The image also goes some way to allay the fears of what we might become - we were scared of being born and leaving the womb's security and we are surely afraid of where the Spirit might lead us next and of the ultimate growth which is death itself. Whether we have sufficiently died to ourselves to have developed the wings is a better way of looking at judgement than is the heaven and hell thing.
The stuff on visions seems to me to be esoteric but I have read enough material from the Religious Experience Research Unit to convine me that visions are far more commonplace in human experience than many of us realise.
So, there is much that is good here and much that I am not mature enough to understand.