Friday, July 23, 2010

Recommended Classic: Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila

Many people today are discovering the goldmine of spiritual insight found in the Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila. Teresa describes seven stages we go through in our pursuit of intimacy with Christ. Packed with brilliant insights, Teresa’s portrayal of the Christian pilgrimage is one of the best works ever written on spiritual progress.

Describing the stages of spiritual formation, Teresa uses the imagery of a Castle with seven levels to it—much like seven concentric circles. We enter the Christian life on the outer circle and progress toward the innermost circle where Christ shines brightly. He resides in the innermost chamber of the believer’s heart. The process toward an ever-closer relationship with our Lord is long, though. Teresa is honest in her discussion of the various fleshy temptations (she calls them lizards!) that keep sneaking into the rooms of our life. If we persevere, however, we will enjoy an ever-deeper intimacy with him.

Teresa was a Carmelite nun in 16th century Spain. Through the heartaches of life—and ministry—she put her roots deep down into Christ. She became the head of a convent and eventually led a whole reform movement in the Carmelite Order. Teresa was radically in love with Jesus. A blessing to Christians ever since, Teresa recorded the principles of spiritual growth that she learned along the way. In a charming style, she presents those principles in her various writings, especially the Interior Castle.

Appreciated especially by believers open to spiritual gifts, the Interior Castle describes various spiritual gifts and spiritual experiences of breath-taking ecstasy that many encounter along the way. Yet, Teresa is so down to earth. She always points out our subtle self-focus and challenges us to truly understand ourselves (self-knowledge) and our propensity to pride and selfishness. Yet she provides unflagging hope—we can achieve the relationship with Christ we were meant to have.

Down-to-earth and practical—as well as soaring with spiritual heights and intimacy—Teresa’s classic is a must-read for anyone studying the process of Christian formation.

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