First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
Date: September 1, 2019
Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-19, St. Teresa of Avila
Sermon: “Interior Castle”
From the mystic Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus (Ephesians 3:14-19)
For this reason I bow my knees before the Divine, from whom every family in heaven and on earth remembers. I pray that, according to the riches of Love, the Divine may grant strength in your inner being with power through the Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Hear these words from our mystic we encounter today, St. Teresa of Avila
If you want to make progress on the path and ascend to the places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love. If you fall sometimes, do not lose heart. Keep striving to walk your path with integrity. God will draw out the good even from your fall, just as the one who sells antidotes will drink poison to test their effectiveness.
-St Teresa of Avila
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Many of you are familiar with that poem written by pastor who witnessed Hitler’s takeover of Germany and the repercussions. Five hundred years earlier, in Spain, the Alhambra Decree, or the Edict of Expulsion, banished all Jews from Spain. This was the time of the Spanish Inquisition when Jews and Muslims had to convert to Catholicism, or else be labeled heretics which meant deportation or execution. Humanity seems to be addicted to the ego that categorizes and labels, rendering a society built upon “US” versus “THEM.”
When dualistic thinking takes over religion, the consequences are deadly—for then a theology is born that says THEY are sinners, WE are not. THEY are going to HELL; WE are going to HEAVEN. THEIR truth is wrong, OURS is right. Jesus shows us the way to get unstuck from this way of thinking. But we’ve been taught since we could walk to exist in a reality that depends on our dualistic-thinking ego to guide us. To walk the way Jesus exemplified requires a massive transformation.
My understanding of Christ is currently undergoing a massive transformation as my teachings on Christ are rooted in Christological American mainline Christianity interpretations based on dualism. This theology creates divisions in the church. A mystical perspective offers unity. Mystics are nondual seers. They don’t think one side is totally right and the other side is totally wrong. They can see that each side has a part of the truth.
When we get stuck in dualistic thinking—the either/or binary way Western education is founded on, then the teachings of Jesus come across as a list of do’s and don’ts and we diminish the mystical teachings on love, forgiveness, prayer and nonviolence. Without transforming our minds to mystical perspectives, we will stay stuck in dualistic thinking.
Learning from the mystics doesn’t teach us what to see, but teaches us HOW to see. We live a life focused on the exterior reality; when we apply the teachings of Christ to the outer reality, we miss that he was teaching us about our inner reality, the soul, what St Teresa of Avila referred to as the interior castle. If you’ve heard of St John of the Cross, then indirectly you know about Teresa of Avila. Without Yoda there is no Luke Skywalker. Without Mary of Nazareth there is no Jesus. Without Rosa Parks, there is no Martin Luther King. Without Ironman there is no Spiderman. Without St. Teresa of Avila, there is no St. John of the Cross.
So who is this woman, the first woman honored with the title Doctor of the Church by a Pope, and what can we learn from her life 500 years ago? Teresa of Avila grew up in a devout Catholic household during the Spanish Inquisition when Jews and Muslims were burned at the stake in front of crowds of good Catholics. But her family hid a secret that would not be uncovered for over 450 years—they were Jewish, but pretended to be Catholic. It was like the Green Card of the day to avoid getting deported. It was an outward identity Teresa had to portray. Teresa loved Christ but was skeptical of Christianity, and in her soul felt that the institutionalized church was an obstacle to her own understanding of the Divine.
When she was 12, her 33-year-old mom died in childbirth with her 9th child. Teresa’s clinged to Mother Mary of Jesus as a female role model. But like any other teenage girl, Teresa still sought adventure. One of those adventures led her father to send her to where all the other families were sending their adventurous teen girls—the convent. In some ways, when I read about this time period, I think we do the same thing to our troubled teens, but our convents are called juvenile detention homes where rules, loss of freedom, conformity to a forced reality follow a justice system built on dualistic paradigms, not restorative justice.
When we think back on our spiritual journey, we probably don’t believe now what we believed five to ten years ago. In life, we experience many physical outer stages of metamorphosis—we are created in the womb, we are born, we physically age, and then transition from this life to one where our consciousness isn’t confined to the physical body. And while all of that is happening, the consciousness is on its own path of metamorphosis as well—the teachings of Jesus, when read from a mystical perspective, lead us to a transformative consciousness away from addictive dualistic thinking.
Think about a life defining experience you’ve had. Your understanding of that experience probably changes over time. If you’ve lost a loved one, then you’ve been on a journey of grief that takes you across a universe of emotions. When life is like a category five storm swirling around you, then that is when you most need to retreat inward.
Teresa’s retreat inward happened after she became sick, entered a coma and was presumed dead. When she awoke, she was paralyzed, all she could do was open her eyes. It took a few weeks for her to move her fingers, eight months to move her hands, and two years to crawl.
During this time, she turned inward and embraced contemplative prayer. This may not seem like a big deal to us since many we know practice contemplative prayer. But 500 years ago, during the Spanish Inquisition, this idea of finding God inside and not in cathedrals was very radical. Enough to bring the Spanish Inquisitors to her door. How in the world could she explain her experience of God to those who believed they were sent by God to execute her?
She shared with them her metaphorical experience of God, saying our life mission is guided by the soul, and the journey to God, who lives in a great interior castle, is our quest. Through contemplative prayer, the soul moves through seven mansions to the interior of the castle, the center, where God dwells, and she writes, “If I had understood as I do now that in this little palace of my soul dwelt so great a King, I would not have left Him alone so often.”
She did not fear the Spanish Inquisition guys because she was grounded in relationship with God in her soul. And this intimacy with God is also available to us, but we are so distracted. The purpose of life and the purpose of prayer, for Teresa, were the same—union with God. If you take anything from today it is this—do not abandon the practice of prayer.
Prayer isn’t so much as what we do or say, but what God does in us. Teresa uses the analogy of four ways to cultivate a garden to fully understand prayer. Keep in mind this is how people watered gardens 500 years ago: The first method is getting water from the well. We’d have to get a bucket, dip it deep into the well, pull on the rope to bring it up and carry the heavy bucket the distance to the well. And we’d have to keep doing that over and over until the garden has enough water. There’s a lot of distractions between the well and the garden. When we begin our spiritual journey and begin to turn inward, cultivating our soul, it can be difficult and exhausting, like trudging back and forth from the garden and the well.
After some time in this stage, we experience the second stage, likened to a waterwheel where dippers are attached, immerse in the water, are filled and empty into an aqueduct which carries the water to the garden. We don’t experience as many distractions and the labor needed to water the garden isn’t as difficult as when we were having to draw water from the well. Fewer distractions allow our soul to come closer to God during prayer, and we enter the third stage of spiritual prayer, likened to an irrigation ditch that brings water from a river into the garden of the soul—now we feel like God is cultivating us. Then we enter the fourth stage of prayer—our soul is now watered by the rain of God’s love and we become passive receivers of this great gift.
Outward change stems from allowing inward change; this spiritual transformation is civilization’s ultimate resource, for unjust structures will never change when stuck in dualistic thinking. We are in need of a revolution that brings about unity of the human family. What makes Saint Teresa unique—she understood that any institutional reform had to begin with personal conversion, learning from Christ who saves us not from our sins, but from dualistic thinking. But this process of transformation is challenging and takes time, just like the process of cultivating a garden. To bring change in the world requires a spiritual revolution free from dualistic thinking—the necessary shift in thinking will require a quest into spirituality guided by prayer. We are called to engage the world but first we must cultivate our soul. We started the sermon with a poem of activism, and will finish with one by St Teresa:
Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours,
yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion
is to look out to the earth,
yours are the feet by which He is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands by which He is to bless us now.