The Interior Castle

In our modern world driven by materialist philosophy, we know so much about our bodies, but have lost knowledge of the soul.  Modern psychology (from the Greek, literally meaning “study of the soul”) has become mere study of behavior, as most modern schools of psychology, if pressed, would likely deny the existence of a real thing called a soul.

But if no soul, then we have nothing to stand against the impulses of the flesh, or to even recognize them as so.  We are slaves to our emotions, as they must be, by definition, who we really are.  They are “natural.” There is no divinely-assisted deeper self to govern and regulate the flesh.

Dallas Willard writes of the danger of this place:

A great part of the disaster of contemporary life lies in the fact that it is organized around feelings.  People nearly always act on their feelings, and think it only right.  The will is then left at the mercy of circumstances that evoke feelings. (Renovation of the Heart, p. 35)

In The Interior Castle Teresa of Avila warns about those who have not learned about their souls (their “interior castles”) through prayer and meditation:

Souls without prayer are like people whose bodies or limbs are paralyzed: they possess feet and hands but they cannot control them.  In the same way, there are souls so infirm and so accustomed to busying themselves with outside affairs that nothing can be done for them, and it seems as though they are incapable of entering within themselves at all.  So accustomed have they grown to living all the time with the reptiles and other creatures to be found in the outer court of the castle that they have almost become like them; and although by nature they are so richly endowed as to have the power of holding converse with none other than God Himself, there is nothing that can be done for them. (I’m sure Teresa would agree that it is we who cannot do anything for them by ourselves; certainly God can.)

My view is that Willard’s “circumstances that evoke feelings” and Teresa’s “outside affairs” are roughly parallel.  We chase after things, experiences, identities, etc., that give us emotional return.

So what happens when those who are used to living out of their emotions turn to God? We often then look to God simply as another source of emotional self-medication (which often he does provide, but then weans us off our emotions as a source of life.)

Teresa continues:

Let us rather think of certain other souls, who do eventually enter the castle.  These are very much absorbed in worldly affairs; but their desires are good; sometimes, though infrequently, they commend themselves to Our Lord; and they think about the state of their souls, though not very carefully.  Full of a thousand preoccupations as they are, they pray only a few times a month, and as a rule they are thinking all the time of their preoccupations, for they are very much attached to them, and, where their treasure is, there is their heart also.  From time to time, however, they shake their minds free of them and it is a great thing that they should know themselves well enough to realize that they are not going the right way to reach the castle door.  Eventually they enter the first rooms on the lowest floor, but so many reptiles get in with them that they are unable to appreciate the beauty of the castle or to find any peace within it.  Still, they have done a good deal by entering at all.

“Unable…to find any peace within it.”  Yes.  I can relate to this experience.  The rich young ruler.  “Those who seek to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for my sake will find them.”  Lot’s wife.  “Those who seek me with all their hearts will find me.”

Much like Chesterton said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Lord Jesus, help me break the bondage of my attachments to this life.  When I fail to find peace, may I not turn back to the things of the world that have no peace to offer, but may I instead surrender more fully to you, the prince of peace.  In Jesus name.

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