Surrendering to love
Written in 1577, The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila used the illustration of mansions within the interior castle of our soul to explain the path to spiritual growth to her cloistered sisters. While the first three mansions require our intellect and efforts, the soul’s journey becomes more mystical with the Fourth Mansion, as the soul has experiences of God’s grace that don’t come from practices of prayer or meditation but bubble up from within.
The experiences of the Fourth Mansion give the soul the courage to undergo the transformation of the Fifth Mansion. Here, the soul surrenders itself to God’s will. Teresa helps us understand what is involved in this surrender and the indications of whether we have entered this mansion.
While God desires us to surrender our will to him as a step in spiritual growth, this desire is not driven by judgment or anger. God’s goal for our spiritual growth is to bring us back to union with him.
Throughout The Interior Castle Teresa reminds us that God is like the loving bridegroom in the Song of Solomon who desires intimacy with his bride. In the first mansions, God’s gentle voice calls us to draw near, and we begin to experience a connection with his presence. Surrendering to God in the Fifth Mansion is surrendering to love, but it requires us to die to our self-interest.
The cocoon and the butterfly
Teresa explains what happens to the soul in the Fifth Mansion using the illustration of a silkworm’s cocoon. The silkworm willingly builds a cocoon in which it will die by giving part of itself – its silk – to build its tomb. Only by dying to itself can the worm become the beautiful butterfly it was intended to be. Like a cocoon, our life is to be “hidden in Christ” as Paul explains in his letter to the Colossians.
Surrender is the moment our prayers attain “union with Christ”. This union may come through a supernatural surrender of our will. The union may also result from actions we take to tangibly surrender. Teresa says either way we can enter this mansion, but “be sure of this, the silkworm (ourselves) must die.”
Validation of our union
True union with Christ is marked with certainty that the soul has been visited and an elevated feeling of discontentment with the world. Teresa describes the feeling as being homesick. A Fifth Mansion Christian can live peacefully in this world but will have a longing that won’t allow it to fully rest. The soul is still bound to the earth where it can never fully be with God.
Teresa instructs us that many never achieve this union because we may do what we can to avoid sin, but not enough to root out the sin in our life. True union with God is reflected when we try to act in accordance with his will for our life. One of the surest signs of this is when we take action to help our neighbors.
If we neglect God, then we put our union at risk. Teresa advises us to do the work to prepare for union by renouncing our self-love, self-will, and attachment to earthly things. Do you need to spend time in this mansion reflecting on whether your actions reflect union with God’s will? As long as our love remains active, we will continue to travel into deeper mansions. “Ignited by love, run toward Him with our eyes fixed on His Majesty.” In the Sixth Mansion, we are prepared to fear nothing.