Experiencing unforced grace
The Fourth Mansion is a significant turning point in the mansions described in Teresa of Ávila’s spiritual guide, The Interior Castle. Here, the journey becomes more mystical. There is less that can be explained by our intellect or controlled by our efforts.
One of the reasons The Interior Castle continues to resonate four hundred years after it was written is because Teresa confirms the mystical experiences many Christians share. “Anyone with personal experience, especially if they have a lot of it, will understand the spiritual favors in this mansion very well.” Teresa’s spiritual guide was well-researched and drew on Scripture, her own experiences, and those of others.
Two Bowls of Water
Souls in the Fourth Mansion begin to release the control that Christians in the Third Mansion feel they have over their life. In helping us understand what happens to souls in the Fourth Mansion, Teresa draws on the image of two bowls of water that are filled in different ways. One bowl is filled noisily with man-made levers and channels. The other bowl is filled quietly from within itself and overflows effortlessly.
The first bowl represents the spiritual “work” we engage in, such as reading or meditation, which can result in experiences with God or “spiritual consolations.” This bowl represents souls in the Third Mansion. Constant effort on our part is required to fill the bowl. Teresa is not saying that we should no longer engage in these activities but uses them to contrast what can happen in the Fourth Mansion.
The Prayer of Quiet
The second bowl represents souls that encounter God in unprompted moments and receive “spiritual delights”. These unforced experiences distinguish a soul that has entered the Fourth Mansion, “The water spreads within us and causes an interior expansion and indescribable blessing.” Teresa also refers to these as the Prayer of Quiet.
Spiritual delights should be treasured with humility as a gift from God. “They are only given to whom God wills and often when the soul is not thinking about them at all.” We are to delight in them and remember how undeserved the gift is. Teresa says when we encounter God without the “work” of a spiritual discipline, we are freer for service and strengthened in our belief in God’s grace.
The Prayer of Recollection
While we can’t control when we receive “spiritual delights”, we can put ourselves in a position to receive them through a spiritual practice Teresa calls the “prayer of recollection.” With a mindset of personal surrender, we re-collect our scattered senses and faculties in prayer, and gently draw them inward to the place in the soul where we can connect with God, like "a hedgehog or a tortoise withdrawing into itself." Teresa says this prayer goes beyond just quieting our soul, but it helps our soul hear the call of the good Shepherd and recovers our position by His side.
Our wandering mind
Always a practical teacher, Teresa addresses our struggle with prayer including the prayer of recollection. Despite our best efforts, our mind frequently wanders while we pray. Teresa explains that the mind and the soul are not the same. In prayer, our soul can remain occupied and focused on God even as our mind wanders. So, while we think our time in prayer is wasted by our wandering mind, our soul has never left God’s presence in prayer.
In the Fourth Mansion of The Interior Castle, Teresa warns that while the soul is gaining in virtue and strength, giving up on prayer at this point can set us back. In this mansion, we are still very susceptible to sin. In the mansions ahead, we gain more sure footing.
As we enter more mystical mansions, can you identify times when you may have experienced the prayer of quiet? Have you considered that God may want to fill your soul in ways that don’t require your effort? Teresa calls what we begin to experience in the Fourth Mansion an “embrace of love” from God. Surrendering to this embrace leads us deeper into the Fifth Mansion.