The Interior Castle of Saint Teresa of Avila
September 13, 2010
Let nothing upset you;
nothing frighten you.
Everything is changing;
God alone is changeless.
Patience attains the goal.
Who has God lacks nothing;
God alone fills every need.
This short prayer-poem of Teresa of Avila expresses several of
the Saint’s abiding convictions about the pursuit of a life of
prayer. To enter into
prayer we must leave many things behind.
The route mapped out in
The Interior Castle
is especially lengthy and calls for extensive detachment from
the distractions of everyday life.
Teresa frequently mentions business affairs, for example,
as an obstacle to peace and prayer.
And then there are the habits of mind that keep us from
taking the risks of growing in prayer: concerns about the level
of our functioning and productivity; apprehensions about what
others may say regarding the changes they detect in our
involvements with them; and the host of anxieties that beset us
whenever we clear a space to enter within. Sensitive as she was
to this emotional terrain, Teresa remained firm in encouraging
the beginner to set off on the journey of prayer.
One should get going and not look back.
For Teresa our frights are part of the superficial self
which must be overcome by trust and faithfulness in the practice
A major factor contributing to our sense of
insecurity and instability is the reality that “everything is
changing.” Teresa boldly
asserts the reality: Yes, everything is changing!
But if our eyes are on God we shall behold the still
point in this turning world of ours.
Teresa urges her sisters to keep moving toward God. In
The Interior Castle
this movement is envisioned as the soul’s journey toward
the center of the castle, where God resides.
In this way, what is at the center and deepest in us
becomes the grounding principle of life.
God, who alone is changeless, becomes our security and
affective counter to all of those inner and outer disturbances
that threaten to destabilize us emotionally.
Interior Castle Teresa calls for patience, determination,
and perseverance. She
tells us here that “patience attains the goal.”
This is akin to the adage that 98 or 99% of life is
showing up. We have to
grapple with the actual struggle inherent in the attempt to
pray. True, prayer
sometimes occurs naturally — wells up in us, as it were.
There are many occasions for short prayers to be said in
the course of one’s day.
And, fortunately, some of our pauses for prayer and reflection
will be peaceful and spontaneously refreshing.
Teresa, however, is addressing herself to the regular
practice of prayer. Her
goal is not so much saying prayers as it is becoming prayer.
Making our life a life of prayer inevitably will mean
confronting ideal notions we may have about prayer and praying.
We don’t imagine it hard or burdensome, a process that
will turn us inside out.
We idealize the act of prayer, imagining ourselves to be already
transformed. The Saint
knows better. It will be
an arduous journey, entailing conversion of heart, psyche, mind
and will. Learning to
will “as God wills” and
what God wills for our life will require infinite patience
and resolve. Teresa’s
calls for patience and determination are upbeat nevertheless;
she believes in what the soul can attain..
The word “humility” does not appear in this short
prayer, as it does frequently and throughout
The Interior Castle.
Likewise, there is no mention of penance or repentance,
topics that obviously figure significantly in the stages of
prayer the Saint describes in the book.
But we have a hint of these themes in the last two lines
of this prayer. We are
not sufficient unto ourselves.
We lack. Teresa’s
words echo the truth that God alone suffices.
We will never be whole; will never have everything to a
point of enduring satisfaction.
Yet Teresa urges us to seek God humbly in the innermost
chamber of the soul.
Speaking from experience, she affirms the possibility of the
journey and its attainment.
“Who has God lacks nothing.”
For Teresa, our fulfillment lies in the soul’s union with
God. God will fill every
There will be joy.