Tag Archives: Contemplative Prayer

Post SSU Report

ssu classI’m four days back from my trip to St. Stephen’s University (SSU) and still trying to get back into the swing of things. Work, family, odds, ends and all the stuff that you find you miss when you are away for a few weeks. =)

My time at SSU was wonderful. At first I was very uptight and nervous as I didn’t know what to expect from the professors, classmates or even the country (it was odd being in a foreign country that wasn’t all that foreign). The altitude and climate difference also threw me for a loop that first week – causing me retreat into myself and be more introverted than I typically am.

Somewhere over the weekend I found my footings and started coming out of my self-imposed shell. This caused one classmate to comment on that Monday that I was a different person. 😀

Classes

I had four classes crammed into those two weeks. Below is a quick outline of these classes:

Spiritual Formation – Lorna Jones, Ignatian Spiritual Director

Drawing on the spiritual formation exercises of Ignatian Spirituality, this class walked us through some contemplative practices – giving us a chance to stop and reflect on what we were experiencing and learning. It was interesting walking through these practices as a group as I’ve always heard them talked about within an individual context. I’m looking forward to introducing some of these practices into my local small group here in Boise. 🙂

Historical theology: Ancient Insights for Today (16th–21st C.) – Dr. Peter Fitch

This was our main class throughout the two weeks. Dr. Peter is a great professor that has a way of encouraging dialogue and drawing out insights from each class member on our required readings. A lot of the book reports that I have posted here over the past few months was written for this class as we had to read writings from Luther, Calvin, Teresa of Avila, Pascal, Herbert, Baxter, Thérèse de Lisieux, Bonhoeffer, C. S. Lewis, Rollins, and others.

ssu class 2Healing through Symbol and Story – Dr. Walter Thiessen

This was one of the most challenging classes as Dr. Walter walked us through inner healing and narrative therapy concepts. Having experienced both freedom and pain through inner healing programs, I was a bit apprehensive about the material… Dr. Walter quickly disarmed me through his love and grace for people. His clinical background coupled with making room for God to work allowed him to lead us all through the sometimes murky waters of inner healing.

Jesus and a More Christ-like God – Dr. Brad Jersak

Drawing off Dr. Brad’s recent book (A More Christlike God), this class took a deep dive into the self-revelation of God through Jesus as seen from below (biblical studies) and above (systematic theology). With a focus on Jesus and the Kingdom of God, I have to admit this was the class I loved the most – it was also taught during the second week, meaning that I had my feet under me and was engaging more. Hopefully I didn’t overwhelm my fellow class members with all my questions… :/ Dr. Brad, by the way, is currently a Reader in an Eastern Orthodox monastery in B.C., Canada – which is really, really cool as I have had a longstanding flirtation with the Eastern Orthodox church for many years.

School Atmosphere

The culture of SSU was really cool. It is a small university with only 50-60~ undergrad students who live in a communal type setting with students and teacher eating and working together. The university also actively encourages questions with no topic off-limits – even topics that would typically be considered off-limits in other Christian universities (not to mention churches). At first this openness threw me as I’m used to being careful about who I talk too about certain topics. Yet after two-weeks this openness grew on me and I started joining in on some of the conversation. 🙂

Well…that’s all for now. I’ll try to post a more touristy post later on with some pictures of the area. Until then, be blessed.

The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila

Saint Teresa of Ávila by Peter Paul Rubens
Saint Teresa of Ávila by Peter Paul Rubens

Born on March 28, 1515 in Spain, St. Teresa of Avila was a reformer of the Carmelite Order during the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation. She was a proponent of the contemplative life whose writings were very influential on the literature of the Spanish Renaissance. The Interior Castle (originally published in Spanish as El Castillo Interior) was written between June and November 1577, but wasn’t published until 1588, six years after her death. The book quickly became known as her best work and served to establish her as one of the top thinkers in the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV a mere forty years after her death and named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970, one of four women among a list of thirty-six.

The book itself is divided into seven selections corresponding to the seven mansions found within the inner castle of our soul. Each selection has between one and elven chapters, depending on the complexity of that mansion. The overall theme of the book is to help people understand the soul’s journey into and through these seven mansions. Throughout the book St. Teresa is careful to note that this journey is not forced or controlled solely by the person. Rather it is a gift from God given not because the person is holy, but so that God’s “greatness may be made known” (page 19).

The first mansion the soul must enter is gained through “prayer and meditation” (page 20). Both practices are necessary as one must know to whom one speaks while also knowing what it is that is being asked. Rather than seeking out the journey of self-knowledge, a lot of souls are content to staying in the “outer court of the castle” (page 19). These souls are effectively paralyzed as they do not recognize nor want to know about their ability to converse with the Creator God. These souls will be “turned into pillars of salt for not looking within themselves” unless they wake up to their “miserable condition” (page 20). This is why self-knowledge is so important. Each person has been created with the ability to know and converse with their Creator, we only need to embrace the gift of self-knowledge that God gives us and enter into the first mansion.

The second mansion we find along our journey of self-knowledge is often the hardest mansion to enter and leave. It is here that the devil attacks the soul the hardest, trying hard to prevent it from continuing on the journey towards the inner mansion where God dwells. It is within this mansion that we have need of the Lord’s aid more than anyone other time. The prayer being that the Lord will give the soul the resolve and perseverance to continuing to seek the Lord.

Those who persevere through these hardships, will, by the mercy of God, find themselves entering the third mansion. This mansion is marked by humanity and the realization that no matter how far you get, you must always fear the Lord and seek Him. It is especially easy for those whose live revolves around ministry, whether they be pastors, nuns, or priests, to get cocky and over confident. The solution to this is to fear the Lord and keep pushing forward on the journey through charitable services to others.

The Interior CastleIt is in the fourth mansion that the “supernatural elements of the mystical life first enters” (page 11). Namely, it is at this point that the soul’s part in the journey decreases while God’s part increases. St. Teresa’s word picture for this mansion is that of a water fountain whose source comes directly from God. His peace, quietness and sweetness fills up the basin of our soul until it runs over the brim and into all the other mansions and facilities. As this happens, St. Teresa encourages us to not “think much, but to love much” as our love for God is what is important. We don’t have to try to always be thinking about our soul’s journey, but rather we are to let go and trust God to guide us on the journey.

The fifth mansion is one of preparation as the soul prepares itself to receive the gifts of God. Just like a silkworm who spins a cocoon to prepare for the day in which it becomes a moth, so the soul is to build a house through the Prayer of Union in preparation of the time when God will “transforms a soul” into His likeness (page 63).

When one gets the sixth mansion, the relationship between oneself and God transforms into that of a lover. To be in each other’s presences is all that one desires; whereas to be apart is to experience torment and anguish. Yet through these trails, the soul will persevere and begin to spend more and more time in the presence of the Lord. Some people will look upon the soul within the mansion with fear as it is new and different. Rather than turning back, St. Teresa encourages one to keep on walking as the joy experienced with God outweigh the anguish and trials that come.

The seventh mansion is when the soul is married to the Lord and the “scales” are removed “from the eyes of the soul so that it may see and understand something of the favour which He is granting it” (page 129). It is this mansion which is the goal of the contemplative life with the soul merging into the Lord like a drop of rain falling into a river. The two become one and are “impossible to divide or separate” (page 132).

The allegory of a soul on a journey into itself to find the Lord through contemplation and prayer is a worthy one. However St. Teresa’s writing style was a bit chaotic with various tangents here and there, as she herself confessed too (“Without realizing it, I have strayed far from my theme…” page 92).  This made the journey hard to understand at times with some of the mansion blurring into one another. Perhaps it is my Western mind with an enjoyment of specific doors between mansions that kept me from fully embracing St. Teresa’s allegory. Regardless the time spent with her on the journey through the seven mansions was beneficial. I definitely walked away from The Inner Castle with some wise tidbits of wisdom for my soul’s journey.