What Never Changes?

God-alone-suffices-teresa-of-avila

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long whileInterior 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.

Castle-books

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.

Only God.

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. 

* * *

What older classic have you struggled to read? What older book would you recommend to others? Please share in the comments.

34 thoughts on “What Never Changes?

  1. blankMichele Morin

    Lisa, you are such a testimony to me — plowing through that difficult book will become a treasure to you, I’m sure.
    My most recent foray into something tough and old has been reading John Owen’s Mortification of Sin. I read a little snippet of Amy Carmichael each evening, but she’s an old friend, so I don’t really consider her writing difficult. Sometimes a bit cryptic, though!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      You’re braver than me, Michele: I haven’t attempted John Owens yet. 🙂 Maybe one day. I used to read along with Tim Challies when he would offer “Read a Classic Together”–seems like he chose that book once? But I didn’t read it. It does help me when reading with others though. Best of luck to you in your book. I’ll let you know if/when I make it through Interior Castle.

  2. blankJoanne Viola

    Lisa, I loved this post because I am also making my way through an old and difficult book … The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis. It uses old English and my first reaction was it would all be over my head. So grateful to discover the richness that is in his words. I think I will check out the above books for my next difficult reading 🙂 Blessings!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I have an updated version of The Imitation of Christ on my bookshelves but I can’t remember if I ever read it or not (guess it didn’t make an impression on me, huh? I need to read it again perhaps?) Hope you continue forward! I have to remind myself that the classics are such for a reason. We just have to dig through to find those treasures. 🙂

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      The Cloud of Unknowing is also on my long-term to-read list, but I’m not ready yet. I can imagine the kind of heckles you’d get reading it on a construction site. 🙂 Good for you, Andrew.

      1. blankAndrew Budek-Schmeisser

        The nice thing was that most of the guys – who were almost to a man ex-cons – wanted to understand, and wanted something beyond what they’d experienced in this life.

        Funny how those who society looks on at the ‘worst’ can often have the purest yearnings.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Oh, don’t mention War and Peace. ha. I’ve started it before but did not get very far at all. Maybe one day, but not today. 😉 Thanks for sharing, Mary.

  3. blankSharon

    It’s not a Christian book, but without a doubt, it was the hardest book that I’ve ever had to read – Moby Dick. I read it in college for a literature class (my major). The version we had to read was over 1200 pages long. Now, I am a voracious reader, and I read pretty fast, but I slogged through this book. Getting through it became my personal *white whale* – but in the end, I conquered. (I also had trouble with Chaucer and Shakespeare – the language never really clicked with me).

    To be or not to be, or perhaps Mo-by, that is the question. HA!!

    GOD BLESS!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Aack–Moby Dick. I couldn’t make myself read that one either, Sharon. I finally read an abridged version. 🙂 But you conquered–yay! (The Grapes of Wrath is another classic I could never make myself read either.)

  4. blankKathy

    I had a hard time with Interior Castle and did my best to read it and absorb what I could..I’ll go back to it sometime! Caroline Myss is always an engaging author, with lots of wisdom. I’ll have to read her book sometime! Thankfully, the essence of it all is that God never changes!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      So we’re in the same boat with Interior Castle. I think I should probably just start over fresh before I get any further into it and begin with a better attitude this time. ha. Entering the Castle is my first Caroline Myss book to read; I’m enjoying it so far.

  5. blankAnita Ojeda

    Is she the one who wrote from Mexico? I think I read some of her works in Spanish back in the day and they touched me with their tranquility. The whole castle theme got me thinking about Dodie Smith’s (author of 101 Dalmatians) book “I Capture the Castle” (a very good book and not at all like her children’s story). One oldie I struggle(d) with is Les Mis–I finished all but the last 150 pages…I was just so worn out from all the bad things that kept happening…

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I don’t know if Caroline Myss wrote from Mexico or not. She’s really a new author to me. Maybe I’ll find out as I read along….

      I understand your misery with Les Mis. 🙂 That’s one I actually DID finish, but it was very, very difficult. (And took a LONG time). But the ending was so worth it! If you ever go back and read the last 150 pages, I hope you find joy in that part that makes the struggle worthwhile.

  6. blankTiffany Parry

    As amazing as His unchanging ways is how some things in the sisterhood never change. A woman writer over 400 years ago was plagued with same doubt woman writer’s today face – the thought that it would be absurd for anything we write to benefit others. And yet how God has written an incredible legacy over those words. What a beautiful testimony to His ability to do amazing things with humble hearts. So glad to be your neighbor at #tellhisstory today.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Excellent insight, Tiffany. Her issues are the same as ours. 🙂 The nature of the human psyche doesn’t change much on the inside from era to era, even when the the outer circumstances may look drastically different. So thankful God is the constant for us all.

  7. blankKristina

    The Screwtape Letters by C.S Lewis. Oh I have tired! It seems like such a good book to read but I cant do it! But no matter how much books of a long time ago are out there that are hard to read, I am glad that God never changes in all of it. he message is always the same. visiting from tellhisstory #7

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      “His message is always the same” – yes! I’m so thankful for that too. We don’t have to wonder if his nature towards grace or love or goodness will ever waver.

      I guess some books just don’t click with us no matter how much we try. I actually did like The Screwtape Letters, but I do have my own list of books I’ve wanted to read but just couldn’t get through. I tried reading Atlas Shrugged a couple years back, and could just never care enough about the characters to keep going. I need to look it up in SparkNotes and see how it ends. 🙂

  8. blankLux G.

    Beautiful that books of wisdom though written ages ago still holds the message we need to hear today.

    And yes, there are books I’ve been looking for for a while now. They’re just hard to come by. So much like many things in life.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, I love that we can still glean truth from sisters in Christ from hundreds of years ago! It’s so amazing to live in this time when we can so easily access their words.

  9. blankfloyd

    With you on this, Lisa. And yeah, I get that last quote and it still packs a timely punch.

    Oh man, you’ll tackle anything! That’s too much for me, I’m afraid.

    Good thang you ain’t uh-scared uh nothin’! (reaching back to hide behind my roots)

  10. blankJean Wise

    Taking a week long retreat with the Interior Castle opened that book up for me in so many ways. I bought and just got delivered Entering the Castle after you mentioned it. haven’t started it yet. We will have to share our insights with each other about it.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, let’s do share, Jean. I wish you were here in person to be a part of our little book club for Entering the Castle. We hope to meet soon to discuss what we’ve read so far. I’m reading slowly so I can absorb it better, then I want to start over with the Interior Castle and hopefully get far more from it. I’m encouraged that you learned much from her writings.

  11. blankJody Lee Collins

    Lisa, the old books are my favorite. It seems like the language just says more, if that’s possible. Some favorites from the past–the Biography of Jonathan Edwards–and currently being ministered to through the rich content in Hannah Whitall Smith’s ‘The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life” and Cora McIlravy’s ‘The Bride of Christ” (1916) about Song of Solomon.
    Favorite oldies but goodies fiction-wise are Elizabeth Goudge.

    I think it’s worth it to slog through the language–not just what it says but what it means–there’s a lot to mine in the old volumes.
    Thanks for asking.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I love that you’re such a word person too, Jody. Yes, the old classics do have a different feel in their word choices and use of language. I’ve had Hannah Whitall Smith’s books on my lists for a long time but still have read nothing but excerpts. So many good books still out there to read! Thanks for sharing a few of your favorites here.

  12. blankLori Schumaker

    Lisa,
    You are my hero! In this season of life, I do not seem to have what it takes to dive into the tough stuff like that!! But I hope someday I will again! I love history and all that it breathes into our todays. I’d love to know more about her as a woman – her actual story!

    Thanks so much, friend, for sharing this with us at Moments of Hope!
    Blessings and smiles,
    Lori

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Lori. I’d love to know more of the background of Teresa’s life as well. Maybe I’ll look into that later too. There’s just not enough time to read everything I want to! Those older books require me to go so much slower, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Hoping you find the time later to read more of what you want! 🙂

  13. blankPam

    Thanks, Lisa, for sharing this effort to go through Interior Castles. I appreciate hearing about the modern book that can be read regarding this as well. Teresa’s book is one of those older books I have tried to read. I have started and stopped several times after getting bogged down with the imagery of the various castles. I will be eager to hear after you finish reading it and how the modern text helped or didn’t. You might be able to get me back into the book and to actually finish it!!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      So you feel my pain with Interior Castle. 🙂 I would LOVE to see a visual of the mansions and rooms in her castle. I’ve looked online but couldn’t find anything. If I could only draw…but I can’t. ha. I’m such a visual learner and I think “seeing” it would make it more understandable.

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