The wisdom of the Saints, among today’s modern Christians, are often overlooked. We easily grab the newest flashy book off the shelf in hopes that it will reignite passion and invigorate our faith. We long for a quick fix, something that’ll spice up our spiritual lives, make us feel ready to take on all our dreams and cast out all doubt. Unfortunately, all too often, this ends up resulting in manic faith spikes. We seem to get excited about a new spiritual revelation delivered by extroverted rhetoricians in beautifully designed covers and perfectly chosen typography. And yet those well-intentioned extroverted spiritual ideas and concepts only manage to keep the zeal full until the next best book or piece of wisdom takes centre stage. These new and flashy interpretations on how to "do the Gospel well" have often left me feeling weary and wanting more motivation and excitement once the last one wears off.
The wisdom and religious literature of the Saints have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of these powerful voices in Christianity today. It’s rather like being at a dinner party, the older quiet lady sits at the corner of the table quietly observing the interactions and chatter while the zealous millennial in all their excitement carries on about the latest and greatest revelation in faith or news or politics. Meanwhile this quiet woman is overlooked along with her great wisdom and incredible wealth of experience. Too easily those with the most profound words to say are left to the side to gather dust. The Saints, in their quiet wisdom have shown me a quieter and simpler way to Christ, a way that is fraught with pain and difficulty but bears a depth, an enduring joy and hope that is unlike anything else.
I distinctly remember the moment I was introduced to Saint Teresa of Avila. It was my last semester of college and we were assigned to read a particular chapter of her book The Interior Castle. Teresa, a sixteenth century Spanish mystic received this vision of what the interior life looked like. She was gifted this incredibly detailed and astounding image of what drawing nearer to the divine creator looked like and the agony one would have to trudge through to get to full nearness with God.
Teresa describes in vivid detail the interior of a castle, the many rooms surrounding the inner court. The further into the castle one explored the more light reflected in the particular room. This light increases in brightness the closer one is to the centre courts and is the radiance of the King, the Lord God in all his glory. The castle, the soul of an earthbound human. Entering this castle requires intentional prayer. It requires walking into each room, each dwelling place, as Teresa describes, becoming intimately aware of two conflicting tensions simultaneously. One, the beauty of God’s love and grace reflected in each room, drawing one closer and closer to the centre of the castle where his wondrous light eclipses all that is dark. And two, the darkness of the beasts, the different creatures that lurk in each room. Teresa describes these beasts as “so poisonous and their presence so dangerous and noisy that it would be a wonder if we espy from stumbling and falling over them” (St. Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, 15)
This metaphor of Teresa’s resonates deeper than anything I have read or heard before. It gave new meaning to introspection and self-awareness. All of a sudden I was opened up to a world in Christianity that emphasized Christ is already within us, he resides in our very souls. You must only be still long enough to look inward, and be daring enough to shirk the worldly distractions and cares.
Unlike anyone else could before, Teresa called me to new heights. In her wisdom she showed me that the way to find the very heart of God was simpler than I thought. This way although simple, would be a feat. It required unwavering commitment. Commitment to look pain in the face, swallow pride, come nose to nose with ones brokenness, to feel the poverty and weakness of the flesh, to know how utterly undeserved one is of grace. Teresa’s call to draw nearer to the centre of the castle, to roam deeper and deeper into the soul, is possibly one of the hardest disciplines. Hardest because in digging deeper to find the light we must first move through all the darkness within. Teresa is clear, numerous times throughout the first four rooms that “hearing his voice is a greater trial than not hearing it” (15). As the saying goes ignorance truly is bliss.
Yet, in all honesty, I have yet to move past the fourth dwelling place out of the total seven Teresa describes. Each new room or dwelling place explored requires of you to leave behind more and more of this world. More and more of the vanities that so easily swallow us whole. My longing to experience the richness of the centre room is a trial in and of itself. I have stumbled ever so much. Teresa describes that which keeps us from moving forward toward the centre as vanities, things in which “we are occupied in our pastimes, business affairs, pleasures and worldly buying and selling” (15). My prayer life as Teresa so aptly points out has been eclipsed by the things of this world, and so I remain stuck. Stuck in the fourth room, the dwelling place of prayer, where beasts of the world abound to drag me back to the beginning, back to ignorance. While at the same time seeing and longing for the light that I have tasted trying to move forward. Teresa notes of those in this particular stage we “still don’t have the determination to remain in this second stage without turning back, for [we] don’t avoid the occasions of sin" (14).