Who is this saint, you ask? What does a young 16th Carmelite nun still have to teach us..or better yet, what have we left to learn?
Yearn to take an inner pilgrimage, or encounter God in a life changing way? Then, I invite you to join my friend and companion, saint and mystic Teresa of Avila for a time of intimate discovery.
In a time when Spain was experiencing a profound theological and spiritual dialogue of cultures, religions and ideas,Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born. The granddaughter of Jewish merchants, and daughter of new Christian Spanish nobility, Teresa is said to have taken to the piety of Christianity with both passion and humility. A passion witnessed early, in her readiness at age seven, to leave home to decisively embrace a beheading for Christ by the Moors. Likewise, Teresa possessed a humility illustrated in an awareness of humbler Jewish origins, as a women in a patriarchal society, and ultimately in her place before God. Therefore, at age 12 when her mother died, we see a turning point as she was placed in the care of Augustinian nuns and drawn to an educated life of pious contemplation. Inspired by the writings of St. Jerome, and disillusioned at the prospect of married life for women in her time, Teresa decided to enter the religious vocation with the Carmelites at age 21.
However, it wasn’t until Teresa faced a sudden illness that she became aware of the practice of contemplative prayer and recollection as a source of strength. Still, Teresa faced a time of 18 years of spiritual dryness in which she found herself “unable to integrate her relationships with the world and with God”.  Teresa struggled both to incorporate a practice of mental prayer, and to explain her mystic visions to an often unbelieving world. This as she encountered a conversion of heart and mind toward that of “the sorely wounded Christ” and began to embrace the “vivid experience of God’s presence within her”.
An Interior Castle: 1st and 2nd dwelling places…
Awakened by the divine mercy of Christ to a call to an intensely loving friendship, Teresa began to understand all prayer must begin and end in Christ. Prayer then is seen as a “door that opens up to the mystery of God and at the same time a means of communing with Him”. This door is entry to one’s soul, of a beautiful crystal design with many rooms, much like heaven, where God also resides in its center. Passage through the rooms of this castle is illustrative of one’s spiritual life and openness to God’s grace and action. In the first of seven dwelling places, Teresa describes it as a room of self knowledge and awareness to grace and the effects of sin. Through prayer, recollection, and in humility we begin to recognize both God’s majesty and the fruitlessness of our own efforts.
In the second of these dwelling places, are rooms filled with people, books, sermons, and even memories of our trials that allow us to reflect on God and His will for our lives. Despite the assiduousness of evil at work here to turn us backward, the cross becomes our weapon and determination our path. Teresa advises that should we “at times fall, don’t be discouraged and stop trying to advance….For even from this fall, God will draw out good”. This is something that Teresa knew well, having mistakenly given up prayer for a time, only to find a greater renewed strength and resolute trust in Christ .
In The Interior Castle, I too am drawn through the open door of prayer to greater self awareness, and in intimately encountering God at work within our very soul. In beginning prayer, Teresa observes how we often advise God as to what we need when, “He can rightly tell us that we don’t know what we are asking for” . I have discovered this release of control of my life and inner soul to God so essential in my own faith journey. Here trust, release, and recollection have provided a means to inner peace when my mind is engaged with the certainty of an uncertain world.
Interested in the sequel? Tune in during the next few weeks as we travel through each of the remaining 5 dwelling places culminating in St. Teresa’s blessed union in Christ.
You can also find additional posts on Teresa of Avila and Carmelite Spirituality at Contemplative Homeschool by Connie Rossini.
 Avila, Teresa. The Interior Castle. Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez. Introduction by Kieran Kavanaugh. Preface by Raimundo Panikkar. The Classics of Western Spirituality series. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979. (p. xiv.)
 New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed., s.v. “Teresa of Avila, St.” by O. Steggink, and S. V. Ramge. Vol. 13. Detroit, MI: Gale Group, 2003. 826-830.http://go.galegroup.com (accessed Oct. 9 2013). p.827
 Howe, Elizabeth Theresa. Education and Women in the Early Modern Hispanic World. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World series. Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2008.p. 60.
 Ibid., pp. 62-63.
 Kieran Kavanaugh, Introduction, The Interior Castle, p. 2.
 Ibid., p. 3.
 New Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 827.
 Kavanaugh, p. 21.
 Avila, p. 35.
 Ibid, p.49.
 Ibid, p. 51.
 Ibid., p. 52.
 Kavanaugh, pp. 2-3.
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