I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long while—Interior Castle. It’s very old, written in 1577 by a Carmelite nun and mystic, St. Teresa of Ávila.
But, oh. It’s not coming easily.
- Sometimes books (especially old ones) are like that—they don’t come easily.
- Sometimes truths are like that.
- Sometimes life is like that.
We think we want it; we think we’re ready. So we dive in, only to discover we’re in over our heads.
So I’m slowing down in Interior Castle and picking up alongside it, Entering the Castle, a contemporary book that follows the classic.
Reading one chapter at a time in each, I hope the newer book will help me better understand the former.
- Because sometimes we need fresh words to explain old concepts.
- Sometimes we need new containers to hold old truths.
- Sometimes we need changing things to unravel unchanging ones.
St. Teresa wrote The Interior Castle only to her fellow sisters. She wanted to guide them to a deeper spiritual life through a vision she had been given. She had seen the soul as a diamond in the shape of a castle with seven mansions, each one getting closer and closer to union with God.
“He who bids me write this, tells me that the nuns of these convents of our Lady of Carmel need some one to solve their difficulties about prayer: he thinks that women understand one another’s language best and that my sisters’ affection for me would make them pay special attention to my words, therefore it is important for me to explain the subject clearly to them.
Thus I am writing only to my sisters; the idea that any one else could benefit by what I say would be absurd.”
But she was wrong to think her book would benefit no one else.
Almost 440 years later, we are still reading her words, interpreting them anew for our own lives and times.
Another set of her words has also proven to be a classic. This following prayer was originally discovered in St. Teresa’s prayer book after she died in 1582. Often referred to now as St. Teresa’s Bookmark, it says,
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.
— St. Teresa of Ávila
So as I attempt to read the harder, old book with the easier, new book by its side, I ask God to reveal the common thread in them both, the constant foundation that regardless of how much shifts in our world, in our lives, in our hearts, there is One who never changes, who always remains faithful in love and grace, regardless of the year, the culture, the individual.
As St. Teresa says in Interior Castle (this much I understand),
“Believe me, by God’s help, we shall advance more by contemplating the Divinity than by keeping our eyes fixed on ourselves, poor creatures of earth that we are.”
I’m glad this never changes.
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What older classic have you struggled to read? What older book would you recommend to others? Please share in the comments.
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