Entering the castle of our soul.
In her spiritual guide The Interior Castle or Interior Mansions, St. Teresa of Avila uses the idea of seven mansions within a castle to illustrate the spiritual journey a soul may take during life. In the First Mansion, Teresa introduces the visual image of the soul as a castle at the center of which dwells God - the Holy Spirit. She explains her understanding of entering the First Mansion and the struggles we will face. Teresa teaches us the principle of “self-knowledge,” which will begin to help us understand the work we must do to travel deeper into the castle. The First Mansion contains only two chapters, yet Teresa immediately captures us with vivid illustrations that provide rich sources of reflection.
You may find your comprehension is improved by reading this overview before you read about the mansion. Or, if you read this after, it may provide questions to help you deepen your understanding. Teresa wants us to sit with questions posed by the First Mansion. Have you ever considered how precious you are? What is holding you back from exploring your soul? Do you believe it’s possible to have a deeper encounter with God?
Our soul bears the image of God
In the First Mansion, Teresa introduces us to the image of the soul as a series of mansions within a brilliant, magnificent castle. She begins with this observation, “We make no attempt to discover who we really are.” She believes we spend most of our time maintaining our external bodies while only having a vague understanding of our soul. Does this match your experience?
Genesis 1:26 says we are created in the image of God, and Teresa believes that it’s our soul that bears this stamp. Understanding the wonder of God, this knowledge should help us "comprehend our soul's great dignity and beauty." What makes our souls beautiful and bright is that God is there at the center, as long as we haven’t darkened His radiance by choosing sin over pleasing Him.
Favors in the Mansions of our soul
Teresa introduces the idea that mysterious things pass between God and us within the mansions of our soul. The Castle is spacious to explore, and there’s potential for many experiences with God, giving us a foretaste of heaven. In The Interior Castle, Teresa will guide us through these spiritual favors, which she has experienced personally, and confirmed with others and Scripture.
Teresa knows that many people are skeptical of mystical experiences. She believes spiritual favors are available to those He chooses - whether to demonstrate His power or provide encouragement. Still, she urges an open mind, “Since God has no limits to His work, do not discredit what you have not experienced.”
Entering the Castle
Teresa explains that we must “enter” our soul, for despite it being within us, there are many ways we can be “in” it. Many remain at the Castle’s exterior, not understanding the delights that come from entering. But entry is difficult. Preoccupations or attachments with wealth, prestige, or power distract us from the desire to enter.
Teresa believes that prayer and meditation are the doors to enter. An effort to look inward is required, and a sense of feeling lost may motivate the first attempts. The first rooms won’t be filled with God’s peace because they are far from the center where the light from His presence is most brilliant. Teresa acknowledges the great accomplishment of these first steps to enry since many forces work to prevent them.
The room of self-knowledge
Teresa encourages us to spend time regularly in the “room of self-knowledge,” even after we have journeyed deeper into the Castle. This room is a key to further travel. In this room, we spend time considering our complete dependency on God. Humility comes from this, but given how precious our soul is, it isn’t humility that comes from self-deprecation. She tells us that humility which leads to self-absorption makes us fearful, while true self-knowledge gives us courage as we turn from ourselves to humble dependence on God.
While the journey is only beginning, Teresa gives us many things to consider. Do we truly value our soul and realize how precious we are to God? Are we willing to release some of the consuming cares holding us back from experiencing God more richly in this life? In the Second Mansion of The Interior Castle, God draws the soul deeper.