Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What???

I love this analogy of the “castle” as the soul. It just says so much.

The closets I stash things minutes before guests arrive, the living room with the custom made chenille couch, the light fixture in the dining room that doesn’t work for whatever reason and hasn’t since June, these things, amongst many others, are very symbolic of, well, me.
Consider this and what it says regarding our strengths and our weaknesses. As people, we do not perceive these things clearly, anymore than we can see beyond the sheetrock to the framework of the building. But “God grant it may enlighten you about the different kinds of graces He is pleased to bestow upon the soul”.
We can learn from our shortcomings. It might be the entire purpose of life, actually.
Through a very weird epiphany I have come to the following conclusion:  
The soul is far too complex for its possessor to comprehend the workings.
I need to accept this: I will not understand my soul. I must rely on God; His path, not mine.
By the way, I’m totally clueless about this path. I just know there are so many things I cannot even begin to fathom about myself in the immediate.
Next Read: Chapter One: Sections Five and Six

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Loving that Crazy Person You Call "Me"

And now, four drafts later, I have an entry.

Sometimes I amaze myself, but not in a good way.
I’ve read section three of chapter one in The Interior Castle, probably a hundred times, trying not necessarily to get meaning (I got the meaning), but for inspiration as to its importance. I vacillated, reread, pondered, and prayed (notice that was fourth—I’m pretty hard headed sometimes), and nothing came to me.

It has been a struggle, my friends. I’m still not sure where I am going and I hope this makes sense.

In section three of chapter one in The Interior Castle, St. Teresa points out:

“. . . All our care is concentrated on our bodies, which are but the coarse setting of the diamond, or the outer walls of the castle.”

Whoa. May I remind you this is a book written to nuns in the fifteenth century?

It amazes me nuns can possess physical vanity. They all are wearing the same shapeless garb. Don’t they have to cut their hair really short? In regards to beauty products, my guess is access was fairly limited for most women whose calling wasn’t in the oldest profession, if ya know what I mean.

But . . . vanity is a natural vice. Why would a nun be exempt?

And even if she’s not just talking about physical vanity, St. Teresa has a good point about our preoccupation with what we can see and not what is within us and how we spend our time neglecting our interal self.

For instance, I spent most of 2010 running between 25 and forty miles a week. I took yoga and Pilates classes. I even did a stint in spinning and kick boxing, and read countless health and dieting books. For one reason and one reason only:

Vanity

Well, partially vanity. Excessive exercise has the added benefit of hard core endorphins.

But alas, with all this care for my physical self, I did nothing to nourish my soul.

St. Teresa calls for us to “realize the beauty of this castle”, but she’s not concerned about our outer selves, as most of us are fixated. As humans we shall never truly comprehend our inherent complexities. However, as people, who live within this world and must walk with each other, it is imperative to understand and embrace ourselves, weaknesses and strengths, so that we may understand others.

Acknowledge both the good and bad. Know that for every difficulty there is awesome potential within you.

I’m a free spirit. I don’t always work on appropriate time schedules. (As some of you can tell because, well, I’m two days late on this blog entry.) If I don’t “value” something, odds are it will be ignored. (I value this blog, by the way. I wasn’t ignoring it—I just struggled with this entry.) I annoy the ever-loving tar out of those type- A personalities who see significance in relatively rigid deadlines, rules and boundaries. And it would be absolutely absurd for me to not recognize this fault in myself and try to defend my behaviors.

However, when something is “important” to me, my product is top rate. (Albeit sometimes late) I’m not lazy and I’m perfectly happy to spend countless hours analyzing details, if I decide said details are significant. Sometimes I get frustrated when my stuff is glanced over by those who value simplicity over quality and basically ignore what I consider art. I’ve gotten pretty upset over this before, and probably will again, just as others have gotten pretty angry with me for not completing tasks they consider important that I marginalized.

Don’t look at this as negative. We’re different. Society needs to embrace differences more than we do. (Thanks Sheri!)

It’s hard. I know. But really, I think it all boils down to this:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36- 40

Honestly, all the rest is merely details, and that statement is the world’s greatest bumper sticker.

Next time: section four of chapter one.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Boats Against the Currents

When I visualize St. Teresa’s analogy of the soul as a castle, my thoughts go to The Great Gatsby.

It’s a strange parallel. And I don’t want to get into the complexities of what some consider the great American novel. My point is the characterization focuses on truly bad people that are wrapped up in lovely clothes, living in beautiful houses, and attending extravagant parties. All are vacant, and despite the packaging, their wretchedness is obvious:
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made."
Unfortunately, that’s where my cynical mind went when visualizing the soul within the analogy of St. Teresa: the transparency is beautiful, yet tainted.
But St. Teresa’s focus, unlike mine, isn’t on the negative. She sees the good:
“. . . the soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight.”
I like the adjective choice of “just”. A word that encompasses so much: honesty, fairness, righteousness, and honor.
Those things sound great. But here’s the kicker: the just man probably isn’t that fun at parties. But one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that popularity is highly overrated. It’s a lot of trouble and requires sacrifice, usually in ways one shouldn’t ever sacrifice, and a lesson has to be learned in the end.
In the book of James, the author writes a letter, condemning sinful acts and enforcing the expectations within a Christian life.
“So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls.” James 1: 21
Can one be “just” and live accepting of the world and loved by the world? I don’t know. At some point I believe the honorable must take a stand. And invariably it boils down to the world or God.
These struggles are daily—I know. I went back to work this morning and it was so hard to not get annoyed with just the minor professional dramas. Part of today made me feel inadequate as a Christian. But I realized, now that I depend on God more, He has revealed ways to cope with myself and my own demons. I know so much more now than I did a year ago. It’s amazing sometimes.
At the end of The Great Gatsby, Nick (the narrator) returns to the Midwest and leaves New York and his newfound friends. Nobody particularly is changed at the novel’s ending, but I like to think this is Nick’s redemption and the events within that summer changed him for the better.
Or perhaps it could mean this: to truly change one has to look at the heart of the matter. To truly be obedient to the Word, we must endeavor to that goodness that we find in Christ. We must explore our soul and make it one that the Lord would want to spend time in delight.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

If Not You, Who???

Her audience was the nuns of the convents of Lady of Carmel. The subject was prayer. She was told by her Confessor that “women understand one another’s language best” and the “sisters’ affection for (her) would make them pay special attention to (her) words”.
She begins though with a discussion of obedience. Again, this assignment wasn’t her idea. She was sickly and had other duties at the convent.
So to perform the task given to her, she prayed.

 “May He, Who has helped me in other more difficult matters, aid me with His grace for this, for I trust in His mercy.”
I like this.

I just wrote it on a sticky note and put it on the refrigerator.
Obedience is difficult sometimes, particularly when the task at hand is arduous. Most Christians are conflicted in some way or another in regards to big decisions. My inclination is to always say pray it out. And I do believe prayer is vital. However, sometimes it does indeed boil down to action.  

The book of James (which seems to be where I’m focusing right now in this endeavor), talks about living “out the message” not “ . . . merely listen(ing) to it and so deceive yourself” (James 1:22). Our intensions are good. We “intend” to do all of those wonderful acts in obedience, but will we?
My friend Denise told me once she had a professor in college who used to say, “If not you who? If not now, when?”

As Christians that’s something we should consider. Think about what good we can do in the world, typically by simple acts. I’m not even talking about the big things. I’m talking about just the day-to-day decisions that if we were focusing on God (which means we were also loving our neighbor as well), how much better our world would be.
Tomorrow’s reading is based upon Chapter One, Parts One and Two.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Waiting

First things first: you need a copy of the book.

I bought mine for my reader. I think it was five bucks.

 However, for free you can get the entire text right here:


The Introduction

Here’s the deal: I don’t want to get into Spanish mysticism within the Catholic Church, the reformation of the Catholic Church, Council of Trent, etc. It’s not important to what I feel like is the purpose of this blog, or even the purpose of The Interior Castle.

If you find that subject interesting, as I do, my suggestion is to Google it and read at your leisure.

And so we begin:

 St. Teresa of Avila wrote a book still read over four hundred years later.

 But yet she was reluctant to write it.

 The idea came to her, and she did discuss the concept in correspondence with friends and relatives, but she didn't act on her idea until asked.

 And then, she did it reluctantly and only out of submission to her superiors.  

 Keep in mind there were some other issues at hand. The Interior Castle is a book about prayer and having a personal relationship with God. St. Teresa, a mystic, was already criticized by many because she experienced visions. But despite knowledge of her critics, St. Teresa followed the directive of her confessor and completed the writing humbly.

How many people do this today? We have a great idea and sit on it until someone just so happens to ask?

 Our society is incredibly aggressive. Even the phrase “work hard” has an edge to it—a certain assertive power creating an ego inappropriate to our existence. And although time consuming, all out effort is not bad, sometimes, actually oftentimes, our motives are wildly inappropriate.

 “Waiting” can seem so foreign. When I want something, I want it at the speed of McDonald’s, even if what I want requires effort. Honestly, I’m rarely interested in the bigger picture.

 And how much I miss because of my own impatience . . .

 There is so much of the Bible focused on waiting with faith and patience. But yet I fail at this often, due to my own selfish desires that have very little to do with God.

 So I’m going to leave with this:

“Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching at my doors day by day, waiting beside my doorway.” Proverbs 8:34

And tomorrow we shall read the preface.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Guess What-- I have a PURPOSE for my PURPOSE!!!

I decided I wanted a purpose. And I wanted to blog about my purpose.
This was a month ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a purpose.
But I set up the blog site. So that meant I had to find a purpose.
Soon
Before I forget I needed to have a purpose.  
And now I will stop writing in fragments because I FOUND A PURPOSE!!!
*****************************************************************
I finished the book The Interior Castle by St. Theresa of Avila and was writing a review on my Goodreads account. As tried to write, it occurred to me I had nothing specific to say.
Some of the most profound writing I’ve experienced, but yet I could not explain why.
For this reason, I’ve decided The Interior Castle shouldn’t be read in one sitting, but should be divided and consumed like a meditation, as it possesses so much wisdom I cannot begin to fathom how one could utilize the information well in any other way.
So now I have my purpose.
For roughly the next six months, I am committing myself to blogging about The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila daily. I will read a section in the morning. I will write during the day when I get free moments (ha, ha—I teach high school—there are no free moments that don’t have a price!), and will compose the blog in the evening before bed.
That’s the plan. Here are some things to keep in mind.
1.      For the most part I am keeping this to my own observations and commentary. This is a book so applicable to life it amazes me she was addressing nuns in the fifteenth century.
2.      Please know I am not a Biblical scholar or theologian. For this reason, when I “go there” I am sticking strictly to the footnotes, Biblical references, and contextual information I research. If I mess something up, forgive me, but correct me as well.
3.      I am not a Catholic either. Actually, I was raised in the Church of Christ. Why, you ask, would someone with an evangelical background value a book written by a Catholic mystic? Because it’s really that good. Period.
4.      As an English teacher, I might occasionally get into "stuff" like tone, mood, analogies, extended metaphors, theme, etc. Forgive me. I can’t help it. But I won’t do it often and I will keep it in context.
5.      Talk with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

As we go through this, I encourage your prayers. This is a book about developing a personal relationship with our Lord. How ironic would it be to not pray within this reading? If you don't know what to pray about, pray for me. Pray for wisdom, pray for peace.

Pray for what you know is right.