The decision to turn back or travel deeper
The Second Mansion of Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle is occupied by those who have begun to practice prayer yet lack the determination to avoid sin. Teresa tells us this is both a perilous and agonizing place to be. As we continue the summary of each of the seven mansions in Teresa’s spiritual guide, remember that the castle represents our soul, and each of the mansions contains “rooms” where we can deepen our soul’s experience of God during our lifetime.
The first two mansions are far from the center where God is present. Entering the First Mansion requires prayer and meditation to overcome preoccupations with wealth, prestige, and power. Upon entry, only perseverance and God’s mercy allow people to pass through to the Third Mansion.
Will, Intellect, and Reason
Many early Christian thinkers explored aspects of the soul to understand our spiritual formation. Teresa will begin to refer to them in the Second Mansion as “faculties of the soul,” and they include our will, intellect, and reason. Will is the power of the soul to choose what is good and avoid what is evil. Intellect and reason are our ability to understand, make judgments and tell the will what to choose. The faculties of the soul are important in overcoming the challenges in the Second Mansion.
Trials of the Second Mansion
Teresa tells us that he appearance of the rooms in the First and Second Mansions are the same. These rooms are far from the light of God’s presence and are darkened further by all the flying creatures in the room, representing the distractions of wealth, prestige, and power.
What makes the Second Mansion painful is that prayer is opening the eyes of the soul to the possibility of God’s peace and presence. The soul in the Second Mansion has begun to hear the sweet voice of the Shepherd through people, books, or music. The prayers of those in the Second Mansion are described as precious to God, and He never stops calling them to draw nearer.
At the same time, the soul is attacked with more ferocity than in any other Mansion. This Mansion is a turning point, and progress in character and habits are attacked by reminders of our fears and needs. If you’ve felt this conflict, you’ve spent time in this Mansion. This is a dangerous place, and it’s impossible not to fall in and out of sin. It's also too painful to remain here. What’s at stake is the choice to go back where it's quieter or move forward to the sweet voice of the Shepherd.
Teresa gives us a solution to end this conflict: perseverance of will and reliance on God’s mercy. Teresa tells us that the battles of the Second Mansion can be overcome by reflections on our faith, memories, intellect, and reason that supports our will to choose good. But determination is required, as well as prayers for God’s help and mercy. She also encourages us to consult people with experience if we fail.
Peace at Home
Teresa introduces a major theme for The Interior Castle – the idea of peace in the home of your soul. In the Second Mansion, there is a war within us. Teresa pleads with us to “let this war be ended” and not let the combat turn us back. We could gain peace by returning to the First Mansion, where we are deaf to the Lord’s call. But she urges us to press ahead and use the power of our will and God’s mercy to take us to safety in deeper Mansions. We won’t find great spiritual comforts in these early mansions, but we can overcome trials.
Remember, Teresa tells us that we will continue to visit rooms in the castle of our soul, even if we have progressed from them. When you return to the Second Mansion, can you name the patterns of sin and deception you struggle with? Do you win the war by engaging your will and asking God to have mercy? Have you found spiritually experienced people who can help guide and encourage you?
In the Third Mansion of The Interior Castle, we will begin to experience some of the peace that comes from victory in these early battles.