I first learned about the practice of contemplation when I read a biography of St. Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582). She reminds me that, as a Secular Franciscan, prayer and contemplation are the source of all I am and all that I do. But she also cautions me that prayer cannot come at the expense of charity. Prayer and contemplation, if not directed toward love of neighbor, can easily become narcissistic.
In her book The Interior Castle, Teresa describes the soul as if it were “resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond.” This castle is made up of seven rooms, or “mansions.” The first three rooms form the outer courtyard. In these rooms, we struggle with worldly concerns and temptations as we try to discern God’s will and perform acts of charity. As one moves into the three rooms of the inner courtyard, worldly concerns fade away as we experience the consolation of drawing closer to Christ, until we enter the inner sanctum of the seventh room: the bridal chamber where one experiences union with Christ.
I love the imagery of The Interior Castle. First, it reminds me that my soul is a place of great beauty and dignity. Second, The Interior Castle invites me to roam its many rooms, to see what treasures lie within its walls.
This is, after all, the place the Holy Spirit calls home. (1 Corinthians 6:19)