Preparing the soul to be fearless
In 1577, Teresa was asked by the superiors in her religious order to write a spiritual guide for her sisters. Using the idea of seven mansions within our soul, Teresa explains in The Interior Castle how our soul relates to God in different ways as it travels closer to the presence of God. The soul in the Fifth Mansion of Teresa of Avila’s interior castle has surrendered itself to the will of God. Teresa likens this to an engagement – the bride and bridegroom make a commitment to each other.
When we live in relationship with God in the way of the Sixth Mansion, God increases our love for him through our suffering and spiritual experiences. Because this mansion is deeply mystical, Teresa has gone to great lengths to evaluate her own personal experiences of this mansion and her interpretations by consulting Scripture and spiritual advisors. Teresa acknowledges that not everyone will have the same experiences in the Sixth Mansion.
Teresa spends the most time describing this mansion, but it is difficult to understand. In the midst of suffering, Teresa shows us we can also be overwhelmed by the grace and presence of God. There are eleven subchapters in this mansion. Three relate to trials from suffering caused by circumstances or our mistakes. The other eight sub-chapters explain spiritual experiences in this mansion and how to distinguish if they are truly from God. A modern update of The Interior Castle can help your understanding.
Trials in the Sixth Mansion
Teresa tells us, “In this Mansion, the soul comes to recognize suffering as an undeserved favor and understands that it comes so the soul may enter the final Mansion.” Time in the room of self-knowledge has helped the soul understand God’s undeserved love. This allows it to embrace the suffering of the Sixth Mansion as a way to draw closer and depend more on God.
These subchapters of the Sixth Mansion explain the following types of trials:
1: Physical (exterior) and mental (interior) suffering.
6: Longing for God. Our longing for God can be overwhelming as our love grows deeper.
7: Regret for sin. Teresa explains that regret for sin increases in proportion to the divine blessings we receive.
Spiritual experiences in the Sixth Mansion
While the Sixth Mansion explains many supernatural encounters with God, Teresa tells us this is not something we should feel we deserve or can control. In fact, the danger of desiring them is that our imagination can cause us to believe we have seen something.
Teresa believed there are many reasons why God communicates with souls through spiritual experiences in this mansion. Sometimes it is because we are suffering or are about to enter into suffering. Other times it is “just for the mutual delight of Himself and His beloved.”
Teresa warns us, “A soul who only wants to spend time loving God and doing nothing else may find the flame of love in the will dies if the spark is not fanned.” We spark our will by diligently keeping his commandments and teachings. Meditating on the example of Christ’s humanity reminds us of the importance of our presence on earth.
These subchapters of the Sixth Mansion explain the following types of spiritual experiences:
2: Awakenings to love - delicate and subtle impulses from our soul that help us sense the presence and love of God.
3: Words heard by the soul – heard inside or outside of oneself.
4: Raptures – the senses and faculties are overcome and become alive to spiritual things. While this happens, we may receive an intellectual vision where truths about God are impressed on the soul.
5: Flight of the spirit – the soul feels a rapid sense of motion and is transported to a vision that teaches the soul spiritual truth.
8: Presence of God – a constant sense of God’s presence and love.
9: Imaginative visions – a type of rapture during which visions come in the form of images seen by the eyes of the soul.
10: Vision of God overall – receiving the knowledge that all things are “seen by God and contained by God,” and Vision of God as truth – revealing to the soul that truth is only found in God.
11: The dart – a wound at the center of the soul producing spiritual and physical pain during which the soul may receive a vision or be strengthened not to fear what’s ahead.
How to discern the validity of a spiritual experience
Teresa wants us to understand ways God may speak to us in this mansion so we may discern correctly. Even if we don’t experience this, knowing it is possible for others is an encouragement. But spiritual experiences need to be interpreted carefully. In the Sixth Mansion, Teresa provides detailed principles to determine whether mystical experiences come from God. She tells us to be cautious, consult spiritual advisors, and resist them when in doubt.
First and foremost, spiritual experiences and communications should never contradict Scripture. Teresa tells us they will come when we don’t expect them, and a peaceful memory remains for a long time. True spiritual experiences and communications should produce greater humility and desire to love and serve God. Any words received carry immense meaning and authority in our souls, immediately changing our disposition.
The Sixth Mansion delves into more mystical aspects of the Christian faith, and Teresa knows there will be doubters. While we should be careful in interpretation, she advises others not to doubt what they haven’t experienced. Despite our suffering, we will come to love God more deeply when we lean into a relationship with God in the way of the Sixth Mansion. Teresa tells us that the Sixth Mansion prepares the soul to be fearless and experience the almost uninterrupted presence of God in the final Seventh Mansion.