“Home” is one of the most charged words in our vocabulary. On the one hand “home” connotes safety, stability, family, and belonging; on the other hand, for so many of us home is not safe, and there is little genuine stability, whether economic or professional or psychological. Thinking about “home” as a true dwelling place probably raises questions for all of us about the extent to which we belong somewhere and what and whom we want to belong to.
Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) offers so many helpful and practical ways to reflect on our spheres of belonging. I think that she would actually feel somewhat at home in today’s context of chaos and conflict, since she lived through one of Europe’s most conflictual time periods—a time of violent conflicts over land and religion, conflicts over self-expression and what was or was not legal to do, and, in sixteenth-century Spain, these conflicts often had life-and-death implications. As a woman of faith who slowly created a safe space to come to know and be guided by the God that she intuitively felt within her, Teresa found ways to flourish despite the strictures of the Spanish Inquisition and a culture of suspicion, particularly about women’s theological, spiritual and even moral authority.
In her Interior Castle, Teresa presents us with an overarching metaphor for our personhood: we hold within us a castle of great value. This castle is not so much a building of stones but a shimmering, precious space of encounter with God—if we choose to enter it and move toward its deepest center. She invites us first to consider:
Let us consider our souls to be like a castle made entirely out of a diamond or of very clear crystal, in which there are many rooms, just as in heaven there are many dwelling places… and in the center and middle is the main dwelling place where the very secret exchanges between God and the soul take place.
And then, hoping that she has at least engaged our curiosity, she invites us to enter. To enter ourselves but also to enter into a process of transformation, in and with God, writing:
Insofar as I can understand, the gate of entry to this castle is prayer and reflection.
Over the next week, we’ll explore some of her insights along the journey to the God within.