The Fourth Dwelling Places
Lesson Thirty-Three: Supernatural Prayer Begins
As a person is invited to enter these fourth dwelling places, their life begins to become transformed in a whole new way. At this point, the gift of infused supernatural contemplation begins. But for that reason, it is difficult to understand these dwelling places unless you’ve experienced them for yourself.
Now that I commence writing about the fourth mansions [dwelling places], it is requisite, as I said, to commend myself to the Holy Ghost and to beg Him henceforth to speak for me, that I may be enabled to treat these matters intelligibly. Henceforth they begin to be supernatural and it will be most difficult to speak clearly about them, unless His Majesty undertakes it for me… (IV.I #1).
Saint Teresa says that in these dwelling places “the mind cannot give a lucid idea of them to those inexperienced in the matter.” However, those who have enjoyed these dwelling places “will easily comprehend” her descriptions of them.
It is good to begin with the humble realization that many people have never entered these dwelling places. Because of that, it might be difficult to comprehend their beauty and the experience of infused contemplation that Saint Teresa describes in this chapter and beyond. If the descriptions of these dwelling places are difficult for you to understand, then use your confusion as an opportunity to grow in humility by acknowledging you have not yet arrived here.
By analogy, imagine that you are a child, living in a very remote village in the poorest country in the world. You have never seen a television, a car, or large buildings. You have never experienced electricity or even running water. All you know is the simplicity of the poor rural village in which you live. One day, your father tells you about the wealth found in the large cities of many first-world countries. He describes cars, movies, high-rise buildings, and electronic gadgets. Though you understand what he explains, your understanding is quite limited since you have never experienced them firsthand. Later, when you become an adult, you are able to leave your village for the first time and travel to one of those cities, experiencing all that your father had told you about. As you ride in a car for the first time, tour high-rises, go to a movie theater, and use an iPad, you suddenly understand, through your own experience, how little you previously understood. Now that you have experienced it all firsthand, your father’s descriptions make much more sense.
Though the material things of this world fall gravely short of being a good comparison to the new and very real world of infused contemplative prayer, hopefully this analogy helps to shed light upon the fact that learning about infused contemplative prayer in a book is vastly different than experiencing it firsthand. When God begins to bestow upon a soul the grace of infused contemplation, that soul never wants to leave it. The soul begins to discover a world that they only heard about but never personally experienced. Now that they have experienced it, they never want to return to their former dwelling places.
Reflection: Are you aware of the fact that there is a whole new world of prayer waiting for you? This is the prayer of supernaturally infused contemplation. It is a glorious world beyond description. When this new life of infused prayer begins, you will never want to let it go.
If you have never experienced this depth of glorious prayer, reflect upon the fact that it exists. Know that God waits to bestow this gift upon you until you are ready. The previous three dwelling places must be mastered and passed through if you are to enter here. Are you committed to that journey? What do you need to do to be invited by God to enter these dwelling places?
Spend time reflecting upon anything in the previous chapters that you have not yet mastered in your life. Firmly resolve to pass through those dwellings so that God will open the door to the most beautiful places you could ever visit within the castle of your soul.
Most glorious Trinity, You dwell deep within me. Within that deepest chamber of my soul, You dwell in the utmost radiance and beauty. If it be Your holy will, please invite me deeper. Free me from the many attachments I still hold onto that keep me from Your full splendor. I say “Yes” to You and to all that You wish to do in my soul.
Lesson Thirty-Four: Sweetness in Devotion—Sensible Devotion
Before reflecting upon this entirely new world of infused contemplation obtained within the fourth dwelling places, Saint Teresa makes a distinction between the experiences of prayer in the first three dwelling places and the experiences that begin in the fourth. In the first three dwelling places, she explains that meditation produces “sweetness in devotion.”
It appears to me that what we acquire for ourselves in meditation and petitions to our Lord may be termed “sweetness in devotion.” It is natural, although ultimately aided by the grace of God (IV.I #4).
This “sweetness” is similar to any natural experience of excitement and natural joy. For example, if you were on a sports team and won the championship, this would cause a natural sweetness arising from your passions. Or if a family member were quite ill and then recovered, the natural relief and joy would be noticeable.
Similarly, the sweetness experienced from meditation in the first three dwelling places arises from ourselves and ends in God. It comes from our own effort by which we seek out and ponder the mysteries of God and take natural joy in our discoveries. For example, if you were to meditate upon a particular passage from Scripture and through that meditation you gained understanding into some difficulty in your life, this would result in your passions feeling joy. This is good and is aided by grace, but it is still primarily a natural experience within the passions of your body. For the beginner in prayer, this sweetness is a great delight.
You might have the same experience when you come face to face with your sins and your heart is moved with sorrow. This deep passion of sorrow, which might even result in tears of shame and guilt, is the natural result of the realization of your sins and your need to repent of them.
The experience of these sentiments does not make you more holy, but it can provide an emotional drive to help you make good decisions and progress further. The good decisions you make become acts of love, and those acts of love are very beneficial to your soul. Since they partly come from God’s activity in your life, they usually point you in the right direction, helping you to make the decisions God wants of you.
Reflection: Have you ever felt sweetness as a result of your prayer? Has your prayer resulted in very good feelings, a desire to change, and a desire for more prayer? If so, this is good. It is a natural emotional reaction to the discovery of God and His will. Savor those experiences.
Before learning about the deeper spiritual consolations that Saint Teresa will describe in the rest of this chapter, spend time pondering the blessings of these initial natural good feelings of sweetness in devotion. If you have never truly experienced them, then it is time for you to learn how to meditate well. Meditation on the Scriptures, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, praying the rosary, examining your conscience, and every other form of mental prayer will produce much good fruit if you practice it well.
If you haven’t yet experienced this sweetness that comes from devotions and meditations, then think about something else in which you have found sweetness, such as winning a game, going on a vacation, accomplishing a big task, or receiving some very good news. How did you feel at those moments? As you ponder the sweetness of those moments, know that the mental prayer of meditation will produce similar feelings. You will become excited about God through the discoveries you obtain in your meditations. Commit yourself to meditation, and allow yourself to begin that journey. Once you have practiced mental prayer for many years, the descriptions that follow about the supernatural contemplation will then be within your grasp if God chooses to bestow them. Therefore, the best way for you to prepare yourself for all that follows is to return to the lessons of the first three dwelling places in order to perfect them as best you can.
Most magnificent Lord, please teach me to pray. Help me to journey through the first three dwelling places by turning away from all sin and by practicing the prayer of meditation well. As I learn to meditate upon the most glorious mysteries of our faith, please fill me with a sense of wonder and awe as I discover Who You are and as I sense Your deep love for me. May the prayer of meditation become such a part of my life that You ultimately call me deeper and closer to You through the prayer of infused contemplation.
Lesson Thirty-Five: New and Infused Recollection
For the first time in her writings, Saint Teresa describes a new form of prayer which many have since termed “Passive Recollection” or “Infused Recollection.” It is a state of prayer that one experiences just before the prayer of quiet.
In the first three dwelling places, Saint Teresa spoke of the practice of prayer that many now refer to as “Active Recollection.” By “active,” we mean that it is a form of meditation that anyone can practice by themselves. It is the intentional practice of closing your eyes and turning your mind inward to meditate upon the indwelling of God within your soul. In this prayer, you see your soul as the castle she has described and intentionally ponder God’s presence within you by your own effort. This is a form of meditation.
Now, in the fourth dwelling places, Saint Teresa speaks of a similar form of prayer which is much deeper since it is no longer something you can initiate by your own effort. This “passive” form of recollection is “supernatural,” not natural and not the result of human effort.
This is a kind of recollection which, I believe, is supernatural. There is no occasion to retire nor to shut the eyes, nor does it depend on anything exterior; involuntarily the eyes suddenly close and solitude is found (IV.III #1).
She says that this prayer is like a tortoise withdrawing into its shell. Though a tortoise does this intentionally, in this form of prayer withdrawing happens at God’s command. By a special supernatural grace from God, the person is directed to close their eyes and enter their interior to be with Him. Up until this moment, the person might have experienced their imagination wandering elsewhere outside the castle. Though they try to meditate, their thoughts engage in many worldly and even sinful images. However, when the prayer of passive (supernatural) recollection is bestowed upon a person by God, it is as if the loving Shepherd plays His sweet flute for the person, calling them to return to the castle, and the music is so beautiful that the person follows its notes, returning to God Who dwells within. It doesn’t know how this happens, but it does happen, and the person withdraws within to be silently serenaded by God. God takes the initiative; the soul simply responds and follows.
Reflection: Have you ever sensed God calling you to silence? Have you felt drawn to close your eyes and retreat within yourself? This is different from you trying to do so by your own effort. This prayer is practiced at God’s direct invitation.
Think about a shepherd praying his gentle flute in an attempt to call his wandering sheep back to himself. This is what God is ceaselessly doing to you. His flute plays continuously, but often we do not hear it. We go about our days occupied by a thousand distractions and fail to recognize the invitation in this beautiful song of grace.
If you have never sensed God calling you into this interior silence, then return to the lessons of the former dwelling places and practice active recollection. Intentionally look within yourself to discover the divine presence there. Look for Him, search for Him, and devote yourself to a diligent search.
If you do sense God calling to you with the silent and beautiful music of His grace, close your eyes and give this song your full attention. Let yourself be led by Him into yourself where He resides. Do not ignore Him. Follow His lead, and His serenade will slowly envelop you and lead you to Himself.
Most loving Master Musician, You are always calling to me, drawing me to Yourself, and yet I so often ignore the promptings of Your song. Please help me to eliminate the many other distractions in life that compete with my attention so that I can hear every silent note You play and follow them toward You.
Lesson Thirty-Six: The Prayer of Quiet
Once a person enters through the previously described prayer of passive recollection, they are now ready for what Saint Teresa calls the prayer of “Spiritual Consolations,” also called, the “Prayer of Quiet.”
Spiritual consolations, on the contrary, arise from God, and our nature feels them and rejoices as keenly in them, and indeed far more keenly, than in the others I described (IV.I #4).
The prayer of quiet (the prayer of spiritual consolations) is not given to everyone, and we should not seek to obtain this form of prayer by our own efforts. Instead, we must only seek to imitate our Lord through an unwavering embrace of all suffering in this life, making our suffering a spiritual sacrifice offered in union with our Lord’s own perfect Sacrifice. If God wills to bestow this prayer on us, then He will. We can do nothing to merit it and must not seek it out as a favor. Trying to obtain it is not only futile, but it is also a hindrance to its bestowal.
When God chooses to bestow the prayer of quiet upon your soul, you discover that this prayer begins with God and ends in yourself. This is different from meditation because meditation begins with yourself by an action you initiate and ends in God through the sensible experience of spiritual sweetness within the passions. In the prayer of quiet, the soul is only a passive recipient of God’s action. The soul’s only responsibility is to assent to God’s action because God has chosen to act, not because the soul has merited anything. Thus, the best response is found in the fiat of our Blessed Mother who said, “Let it be done unto me according to Your word.”
During the prayer of quiet, the heart becomes broadened, expanded, and dilated. Saint Teresa repeatedly quotes Psalm 119:32 as a description of this experience which says, “for you will broaden my heart” or “when thou enlargest my understanding!” This supernatural experience produces a greater capacity in the heart, as if a natural spring of water were filling a basin that continuously expands as the water springs forth from within. The imagination is quieted and quite recollected in God, but this form of prayer primarily affects the will. The will experiences deep spiritual joys by no effort. The soul is at peace and wants only to love God.
As a person experiences this prayer of quiet, their mind is able to go about their daily work, but their will is consumed with love. All they want to do is to love. There is new liberty found within their spirit. The gift of filial fear increases, and the person chooses never to offend God for the simple reason that they love God deeply. There is new and profound confidence bestowed, enabling the soul to rely solely on God. Mortification and suffering are sought out for the love of God. A new depth of humility is experienced because there is no self-interest, only interest in God and His will. There is an experience of repugnance and disdain for worldly pleasures. Finally, there is clear growth in each of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
Reflection: Have you ever experienced this form of prayer? If not, don’t be concerned. It takes an exceptional amount of surrender and purification before you are properly disposed to receive this spiritual gift. But knowing that it exists should motivate you to work diligently through the first three dwelling places.
If you have been given this gift, you will know it. You will understand. Rejoice in this gift. Be grateful for it and make the choice never to offend God, not even to the slightest degree. Continue to empty yourself of all self-interest, seek the deepest form of humility, renounce all worldly pleasures, and soak in the new discoveries of these spiritual gifts from God. You do not deserve them. You did nothing to merit them. But God has given them, nonetheless. Receive them and remain grateful with all your heart.
My Lord and my God, when You come to me, from the depths of my soul, and manifest Your divine and spiritual presence to my spirit, all I can say is “Yes” and “Thank You!” I assent to You, dear Lord. I assent a thousand times and more. I repeat this unending assent despite my unworthiness, my wretchedness, and my weakness. Thank You for taking control of my prayer.
Lesson Thirty-Seven: Signs of Love
As a person begins to experience the prayer of quiet, they must understand the primary fruit of this prayer, which is love. Spiritual love on this level must be properly understood.
Love does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a fervent determination to strive to please God in all things, in avoiding, as far as possible, all that would offend Him, and in praying for the increase of the glory and honour of His Son and for the growth of the Catholic Church (IV.I #7).
Spiritual, purified love is not a passion experienced within your bodily faculties (the emotions, passions, or appetites). It’s not the sweetness one experiences in devotion. It’s not feeling good and desiring God. Saint Teresa defines the love of God in three ways. First, love is a fervent determination to strive to please God in all things. Second, it is the act of avoiding all that would offend God. Third, it is the act of praying and working for the increase of the glory and honor of God and the growth of His Church.
This definition of love is important for us to understand because the word “love” often has many definitions. Oftentimes, we see love as the passion we have for something we are drawn to. But this form of love is a much lower form of love than the one experienced in these dwelling places during the prayer of quiet. Even a grave sinner can “love” things in this passionate way. When love is elevated to this new supernatural level, it loses all self-interest. It becomes truly sacrificial, selfless, and self-giving. The person does not love because they are attracted to the object of their love, since the “attraction” often retains self-interest, which is a lack of perfect humility. Instead, on this new and supernatural level of love, the person is focused on the other (God and His will), not because of some passionate attraction, but because God is drawing the person in. Thus, love originates in God and comes to dwell in us. As a result, the person’s entire focus is God, not the self. The selfish desires of natural loves are lost as the person is caught up in supernatural self-giving, adoration, willing sacrifice, and service.
The person’s love for God also makes them keenly aware of anything that would offend God. As they are made aware of these things, they avoid them, not because they fear punishment, but because they only want to give God His due and to fulfill the demands of love. The demands of this deep form of love are to glorify God and honor Him in every way and to work toward the salvation of every soul whom God loves, never counting the cost nor even considering it. This depth of love drives a person to give everything to God and His will.
Reflection: What do you love the most in this life? Be honest about it. Is it money, a hobby, your job, or your family? Perhaps there are many things you love in this life.
Think about the fact that God wants you to have Him and His will as the singular object of your love. Doing so is the deepest act of trust in God and abandonment to Him. It’s a way of saying that you trust Him to take over your life and direct you only according to His will.
This depth of love will certainly allow God to direct you to love your family and others. It will direct you to build up His Kingdom on earth. But everything you do will be done for God out of love for God.
Ponder, today, your loves. Consider whether the things you love flow from the command of God or from your own will. Unless God is the initiator of any love in your life, then it must be purged and annihilated. Allow God to draw you to Himself through the deepest form of prayer so that you become consumed by Him and seek only to please Him in everything.
Most beautiful Lord, You are worthy of all my love. You and Your will alone must become the objects of my love. Please purify me of every selfish love, and inflame my spirit so that I will be drawn to You so completely that I love nothing other than You and Your divine will.
Lesson Thirty-Eight: Battling the Imagination
As she reflected upon her own experience of her soul, Saint Teresa discovered something that is very helpful to understand as one advances in prayer.
I learnt by experience, but little more than four years ago, that our thoughts, or it is clearer to call it our imagination, are not the same thing as the understanding…As the understanding is one of the powers of the soul, it puzzled me to see it so sluggish at times, while, as a rule, the imagination takes flight at once, so that God alone can control it… (IV.I #8).
As you ponder yourself, it is important to see yourself as one person with many distinct parts. Among the distinct parts you will discover within you are your body, spirit, intellect, will, memory, imagination, passions, emotions, and appetites. In the end, every part of who you are must be caught up in God and submit fully to his divine possession. However, as you advance in prayer, you will discover that not every part of yourself becomes united to God at the same time or to the same extent.
One helpful distinction Saint Teresa makes from her own experience is between the intellect (also called human reason or understanding) and the imagination. The intellect is more easily tamed than the imagination. Within the intellect, we engage in deductive reasoning and receive the spiritual gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel. But the memory and imagination appear to be something quite distinct. During the prayer of quiet, experienced in the fourth dwelling places, your human will is at peace as it is absorbed by the will of God. Your intellect also begins to find rest in God but will not fully be at rest until the prayer of union in the fifth dwelling places. The memory and imagination, however, will still be restless in the fourth dwelling places. For example, during the prayer of quiet it often happens that the memory proposes to the imagination some idea and the imagination goes wild, running here and there, even while at the same time, the will is centered in God. Your human reason (intellect) will help you redirect the imagination back to God, but the imagination might not always submit at this point.
If that is confusing, do not worry about it. For now, what might be useful to know is that the imagination and memory are not very useful during this level of prayer. They attempt to distract the soul from its quietude as your will rests in God. The devil will even propose false thinking and bring forth unhelpful memories at times to distract you.
When dealing with these distractions in prayer, the best thing to do is to remain at peace, focus upon the infused love of God you discover within your will, try to bring your imagination back into union with God, and do so over and over and over again, gently. Do not give in to the wild thoughts that might have popped up in your imagination. Identify them, know they are not from God, and try to replace them with your loving gaze upon God. This is important because sometimes, as a person begins to receive the prayer of quiet, they will become so distracted by their restless imagination that they give in to the false and confused thoughts and lose their repose with the will of God. They might even think that some idea within their imagination is God speaking to them and will start to give it their full attention. But the result will be a loss of peace of heart, more imaginative and uncontrolled thoughts, and ultimately confusion and disquiet of the entire self.
Reflection: Does your imagination run wild at times during prayer? Most likely it does. Know that this is somewhat out of your control at this stage of prayer. Only God, by a much deeper gift of prayer, can take hold of your imagination and memory and put them to rest.
Try to understand the difference between your memory, human reason (intellect), will, and imagination. At this point, try to give most of your attention to your will. If you experience the prayer of quiet, then give loving notice to the quietude experienced within your will. Notice the newfound strength it has as it receives the spiritual gifts of fear of the Lord, reverence, and fortitude. Be grateful for these gifts, and allow them to grow.
As you ponder the loving possession that God has taken over your will, notice also that your imagination tries to fight you. These are temptations from the evil one and your fallen human nature. Pray for the protection of your imagination. Ask God to protect it and to give it peace. Redirect it to God by lovingly gazing upon Him. Don’t allow it to distract you, obsess you, confuse you, or misdirect you. Leave the imagination alone, and focus only upon that which God is doing within you. Rejoice in that action of God, and trust that He is pleased every time you gently return your wandering imagination to your peaceful gaze at Him.
Most powerful Lord, You know all things and can do all things. You love me with perfect love and care for my soul more than I ever could. Please help me to surrender my imagination and memories to You so that they will not distract me from You and from all that You wish to do within me. You have tamed my appetites and passions. O Lord, help me to continue down the road of prayer so that I will be able to surrender everything not yet fully possessed by You.
Lesson Thirty-Nine: Understand Yourself
In writing about the earlier dwelling places, Saint Teresa explained how important it was to know yourself through humility. Here, she gives a similar lesson. We must not only know ourselves regarding the state of our sins and virtues, but we must also understand our human nature.
We pass through terrible trials, on account of not understanding our own nature and take what is not merely harmless, but good, for a grave fault (IV.I #9).
In the previous lesson, we looked more clearly at the imagination. Saint Teresa continues to reflect upon the imagination and upon the fact that in these dwelling places, the imagination can cause much suffering to a soul that does not understand itself and errs in thinking that its wandering imagination is a grave fault of its own.
She explains that a wandering imagination is caused by one of two things. First, the devil might be tempting the soul with countless disordered thoughts. Second, it might simply be the result of fallen human nature.
If you are to understand yourself, you must work to understand the cause of a restless imagination, especially during prayer. Are you to blame? Not completely. True, at times your past sins come back to haunt you during this deeper form of prayer, and, therefore, you are remotely to blame. Also, the fact that you have not fully surrendered to God is the result of your sin. But the most immediate cause is not always you; it’s often the devil who is trying to steal you from the unity with God that you are enjoying in your will. You might have thoughts of guilt, regret, or doubts about God’s love for you. The goal is to gently remove those thoughts as best you can by understanding that they are nothing other than temptations from the devil.
Your wandering thoughts might also be due to the weakness of your fallen human nature. The truth is that your fallen human nature is the result of Original Sin. This fallen state has many ill effects that are not the result of personal sins and, therefore, are out of your control. Your intellect might seem sluggish, your passions confused, your body tired, and your imagination restless. Again, it is important to identify whether you are the cause because of your sins. If not, then you ought not worry about the wandering thoughts. Instead, rejoice in the fact that you are given the opportunity to continually bring your mind back to God, gaining merit every time you do. The merit you gain comes especially by the strengthening of your will, by repeatedly choosing to turn back to God in prayer. Thus, gently battling a wandering imagination can become a good spiritual exercise that prepares you for more.
Reflection: Do you know that your will is greatly strengthened every time you bring your imagination back to God? This is a good thing and will more fully prepare you to discover more of God’s very life in your soul.
What do you do when you are distracted in prayer? Do you give in to those distractions and wild thoughts? Do you get frustrated with yourself? Do you abandon prayer, thinking that the battle is futile? If so, then you allow the devil to win and to keep you from the myriad of graces that await you.
Reflect upon yourself, the temptations of the evil one, and your fallen human nature. Be at peace with who you are, and know that God loves you. Continue to surrender to Him and trust Him more than you trust yourself. Know that only He can free you from the burden of an out-of-control imagination. Gently allow Him to take the reins.
My blessed Lord, You know me infinitely more than I know myself. You know my struggles, sins, weaknesses, and temptations. You know every wandering thought I have and the struggles I go through. Please continue to pour forth Your grace into my soul as my will rests in You. May Your possession of my will help me to continue the battle and to let go of everything in my life so that You and You alone will possess me completely one day.
Lesson Forty: Five Ways to Obtain Humility
Humility is the key. It is through the acquisition of this holy virtue that we will best prepare ourselves to obtain much more. As a virtue, humility will grow deeper as you grow deeper in prayer, and every small remnant of pride will become clearer the deeper your prayer.
Practise what I advised in the preceding mansions, then—humility, humility! for God lets Himself be vanquished by this and grants us all we ask (IV.II #8).
One proof to yourself that you have begun to receive this deeper form of humility is that you know, with deep certainty, that you do not deserve the gift of the prayer of quiet that you have received. You understand that you are being given this gift, but you know it was given to you by God purely as His gift and was not the result of anything you did to merit it. You realize that you can do nothing to merit this gift and are humbly aware that you should not even try to obtain it. Saint Teresa gives five reasons why we should “make no effort to obtain” the graces of the prayer of quiet. Instead, we should only be open to them if God chooses to grant them.
The first reason is that the primary way to obtain the prayer of quiet is to love God without self-interest. If we were to try to obtain this higher form of prayer by our own effort, that would be self-interest. We would be trying to gain something for ourselves that we cannot. Though it might, at first, seem like we should try to obtain this through our effort, we must understand that this self-interest is a very subtle form of pride. By abandoning every effort to obtain the prayer of quiet, we will be placing all trust in God, acknowledging the truth that only God can decide if He wants to bestow this gift to us. We must work toward a holy indifference and only assent to this grace if He chooses to bestow it.
Secondly, if we think that we can do anything to obtain this gift of the prayer of quiet, then we are deceived. Humility is nothing other than knowing the truth that our “wretched services” can never merit this gift. It is 100% a gift and cannot be merited by our effort.
Third, for our part, we must foster a desire in our hearts to imitate our Lord’s free embrace of His sufferings. We must embrace all suffering and run from the desire for consolations. If God gives us divine consolations experienced within the prayer of quiet, we must express our humble gratitude. But we should never desire those consolations. We must desire only the Cross and strive to live sacrificially, for that is love.
Fourth, the divine consolations often given in the prayer of quiet are not necessary for salvation. We should desire the gift of eternal salvation, since God has bound Himself to save us by grace when we surrender to Him in love. But since He has never promised consolations in this life, we ought never seek them out.
Lastly, if we endeavor to seek out these divine consolations, we labor in vain. It is a futile exercise because there is nothing we can do to cause them to be granted. Nothing! Working to obtain them is an exercise based on dishonesty with ourselves. Humility is always an exercise in the truth.
Reflection: Do you desire consolations from God? Most likely you do. Be honest, and if you discover any desire for these consolations of the prayer of quiet, dismiss them. If God wills to grant them, He will. That is up to God, not up to you. Seek to abandon all self-interest by the increase of the deepest virtue of humility.
Do you trust God? If so, how deep is that trust? Is it deep enough to trust that God will grant you what you need when you need it? If so, then your only desire should be for God, not for any consolations or other spiritual gifts God might choose to grant you.
Reflect upon whether you regularly pursue the gifts of God or God Himself. Choose to pursue God and only God. Turn to the Cross, and choose to embrace suffering in union with the sufferings of our Lord. Seek only to imitate Him, and He will do for you what you need.
My glorious Lord, please humble me to the greatest extent. Help me to discover every form of pride that comes from self-interest. Help me to abandon my pursuit of spiritual consolations and pursue only You Who are the God of consolations. May I learn to love the Cross and seek only to imitate You in Your humanity, leaving all else to Your holy will.
Lesson Forty-One: Continued Perseverance
It is useful to be continually reminded that while we are on this side of Heaven, the battle is not over.
It is not to be supposed that all these effects are produced merely by God’s having shown these favours once or twice. They must be received continually, for it is on their frequent reception that the whole welfare of the soul depends. I strongly urge those who have reached this state to avoid most carefully all occasions of offending God.
First, Saint Teresa explains that it is not enough to reach this higher state of prayer and then relax your dedication to prayer as if you think you have safely arrived. This form of prayer must become a habit by receiving these graces over and over so that they become continuous. It’s not that we can form the habit through our own efforts. Rather, we form the habit by continuously receiving the infused prayer of quiet when God grants it. Over time, the will learns to respond to these graces and rests in the divine will. As this happens, the virtues grow strong, humility increases, and the soul gets used to its “new normal.”
Saint Teresa likens this prayer to an infant who must nurse at her mother’s breast. “The soul is not yet fully established in virtue, but is like a newborn babe first feeding at its mother’s breast: if it leaves her, what can it do but die?” The “milk” is obtained as the will rests in the will of God and savors the grace of this spiritual food. But beware! If the person who is given this new spiritual food turns away from it, as Saint Teresa says, “what can it do but die?” Therefore, perseverance is essential. We must never turn away and cease drinking this spiritual milk.
The “dying” that she is speaking of is the seriousness of a grave fall from grace at this point on the journey. Souls in the first dwelling places might regularly fall into serious sin and more easily turn back to God. But when a soul falls from these fourth dwelling places through grave sin, “they fall lower than others.” The devil would far prefer to snatch one of these souls than a thousand others in the first dwelling places. So, vigilance and continued prayer is a must.
Reflection: How committed are you to the pursuit of holiness? Those who have reached these fourth dwelling places have greatly advanced in the spiritual life and have surrendered themselves over to God to a very deep degree. But be vigilant! The devil will remain like a prowling lion looking for every way to deceive you.
Even if God has begun to grant you the gift of the prayer of quiet, know that the journey is far from over. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on your God. Continue to dispel all foolish temptations, and know that since you are human, a fall from grace is always possible.
The devil has many tactics. Are you aware of them? Are you aware of him coming to you as an angel of light, tempting you to self-interest and offering you false consolations? Be vigilant. Persevere. Trust in God and continue to pray. Pray every day, and work to pray all day. Allow God to form within you a habit of prayer so that you are always aware of His presence and so that your will always remains immersed in His.
My beautiful Lord, as I gaze upon You and discover Your beauty in the fourth dwelling places, I am filled with love. I am in awe of You and wish to remain with You forever, drawing ever closer to the center of my soul where You reside. Please give me perseverance. Protect me from falling from grace, and keep me humble always.
Lesson Forty-Two: The devil’s “consolations”
As a person begins to experience the prayer of quiet, they are less likely to fall into serious sin. Since the evil one knows it has less hold over persons in these dwelling places, he changes his tactics.
The devil sometimes offers counterfeits of the graces I have mentioned: this can easily be detected—the effects being exactly contrary to those of the genuine ones (IV.III #11).
In the prayer of quiet, the will is absorbed by God and enjoys this spiritual union of love immensely. The imagination is not yet fully absorbed in God, but it does begin to experience more peace. Saint Teresa says that during this prayer of quiet, only a few words need to be spoken to our Lord from time to time, using the imagination. Often, a loving gaze upon God suffices to keep the mind occupied. Since the devil knows he is losing his ability to tempt the person with serious sin, he sometimes offers false consolations to grasp the imagination and draw the will into confusion.
For example, while in this state of prayer, the will might experience great delight and contentment. As a result, the mind might be tempted by the devil to become inordinately focused upon that delight. When this happens, the person can begin to become deceived by thinking that it must be extremely holy and is experiencing some sort of rapture or ecstasy. Without realizing what is happening, the person begins to become self-absorbed and runs after this counterfeit delight. It directs the will to chase it by entering a sort of “intoxication” that is not from God. Though this intoxication will not immediately lead the person into serious sin, it will prevent the soul from progressing into the next level of prayer: “Spiritual Union.”
The best advice in this state of prayer is to remain in a gentle attentiveness to God, and not to focus on yourself. If you sense that the focus of your imagination begins to become overly impressed by what appears to be a spiritual experience, pray the Our Father prayer gently and slowly. Or turn your attention back to God and away from yourself by speaking words of praise and adoration interiorly. If all else fails, get up and do some other service for God to distract your imagination from this inordinate attachment to the perceived spiritual experience.
It’s important to understand that the prayer of quiet, when it truly is the prayer of quiet, will not leave you when you go about your daily activities. You can be both Martha and Mary at the same time. You can cook and clean, drive to work, and go about your daily duties, as long as they are all part of God’s will for you. As you fulfill your duties, your will remains united to the will of God, and you continue to be aware of that fact and take great spiritual delight in it. Therefore, a good test of whether the perceived consolations you experience are indeed from God is that they do remain after you conclude your prayer. If they do not and if you feel as though you need to remain perfectly still in a sort of intoxication or spiritual slumber to hold onto these feelings, then they are not from the prayer of quiet. You should abandon these thoughts right away, get up and go about your duties for the day. God would never inflame your will to keep you from doing the acts of love He has called you to do throughout the day.
Reflection: The devil is sly. If he cannot lead you into serious sin, he will try to lead you into false consolations. Be aware of this.
The best way to overcome these subtle temptations is to never gaze upon the consolation itself. Gaze only on God. Can you do this? Are you more interested in consolations than God?
If God has granted you the prayer of quiet, then know that this is just the beginning. Wait on Him; do not try to run ahead of Him. Allow Him to lead. Don’t take the lead. The devil will try to trick you into running ahead by chasing after false consolations. Do not be deceived.
Ponder the fact that if the consolations of the prayer of quiet are given to you, you will know, without any doubt, that they are from God. If you are uncertain, then run from them and continue to look only at God.
God of pure delight, as I rest in You, allowing my will to become absorbed by Yours, I sense Your powerful and transforming presence. For this, I thank You with all my heart. Please keep me from any deceptions of the devil so that I will never run after false delights but always remain firmly grounded in You and You alone.
Indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity, I love You, I trust You, I surrender my life to You.