Interior Castle

Interior Castle

The Interior Castle: Teresa of Avila Sermon

This sermon based on Psalm 42:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 is the second in our series on mystics and explores the idea of Teresa of Avila’s idea of The Interior Castle.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. Psalm 42:1-2.

So we do not lose heart… For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18

The Desire for More

I wonder if you’ve ever felt an inner longing for something more. Have you ever looked at life and said, “Is this all there is? The routines, work, and family are all great, but still, something inside feels incomplete. Even when you get what you’ve been working so hard for, you sense that maybe all you ever wanted is not enough. There is still an ache, a longing.

People are always trying to exploit that longing. John Johnson says, “The easiest way to make money is to make people feel like they need something, that they are less, and maybe this thing will make me more. If we always feel like we are never enough, we always need something else. And that’s how they make money. If you were always content all the time, no one would be able to sell anything to you.

On its face, it’s not bad what they’re doing. But when they are all doing it at the same time, when bombarded with ads that say all the time, ‘You’re not this. You’re not that. You could be this. You could be better.’ It just starts to make you feel terrible. It makes you feel like you don’t matter at all.”

One thing I hope you get from our worship services is to walk away feeling like you matter. You matter. There isn’t some product, some this, some that that you need to buy. You are a beloved child of God who matters to God and all of us.

The more we need is God, not stuff.

The advertisers try to tell us that the less-than-feeling we have is because we don’t have this or that. But the Bible says that our inner longing is a longing for God, who already dwells deep inside you.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.

The psalm identifies that universal experience of longing for more, but it doesn’t tell us how to drink in God. You can lead a deer to water, but what good is it if she doesn’t know how to drink it?

Into the Mystic.

In our sermon series, Into the Mystic, we look at what Christian mystics can teach us about the interior spiritual life and how to drink from the streams of living water. When we use the word mystic, we are talking about people focused on direct experiences with God, who showed us approaches to develop a spiritual component that satiates that inner thirst.

Teresa’s Journey

One person acquainted with these practices was the 16th-century Spanish nun Teresa of Avila. She had a rich spiritual life that we know a lot about because she wrote about it. She’s very human and earthy at times. Lutheran theologian, Jennifer Hornyak Wojciechowski, calls her the “most approachable saint.” She’s vulnerable, funny, smart. Honest about her doubts and struggles. Although she wrote everything down, she wondered if she was crazy for doing so. She’d write, “I think I’ve already said all this, and it all seems so inadequate but here goes…”

She grew up going through the motions of religious practice. As an adolescent, she was a social butterfly, and her father wanted to keep wraps on her, so he sent her off to the nuns for her education. But then he lost it when she came of age and decided to join the convent. “No! That’s not my plan for your life.”

For her, like many other women of the age, joining the convent was an act of rebellion, and it gave freedom from having to live under the thumb of some potentially abusive jerk your dad picked out for your arranged marriage because he wanted to line his pockets with the biggest dowery possible

For the first couple of decades of her life as a nun, she felt like she was going through the motions and was kind of lukewarm about it all. She didn’t like the idea that God would allow hardships to teach us lessons.

Once, when she was traveling, she fell off her donkey and landed in mud, injuring her leg. “Lord,” she said, “you couldn’t have picked a worse time for this to happen. Why would you let this happen?”

And the inner response she heard was, “That is how I treat my friends.”

Teresa answered, “And that is why you have so few of them!”

Teresa’s transformation.

Although her faith was a lukewarm religiosity, everything changed when she saw a statue of Jesus tied to a post being scourged, and it moved her. There was some deep identification with that suffering and how it mirrored her own.

Often ill, she escaped into prayer and sometimes felt incredible comfort and unification with the Spirit. Sometimes, she’d have visions, like the one the artist Beneni captured in a sculpture, where an angel pierces her heart and draws it out to reform it in perfect love. By the way, this statue plays a part in Dan Brown’s book and movie Angels and Demons and is also in Eat, Pray, Love.

Silent prayer rebel.

She taught others to go beyond being religious to have this deep spirituality. But the religious authorities were not too pleased. This was during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, and ticking off the religious authorities could result in getting tortured. She got in trouble for encouraging people to do silent prayer. The authorities thought that was just awful because people should only be praying official prayers sanctioned by the church. Their attitude said the church’s formal prayers were enough and proper. Teresa, don’t encourage folks to freestyle with God. Do it the right way, not your way. It isn’t Burger King. But she knew nothing is more right than your honest and direct, heartfelt communion with God is the most important thing. She thought of prayer as a conversation with a friend.

Some of her writings make me raise an eyebrow of skepticism. She found it embarrassing that from time to time, she’d levitate, and the sisters would have to hold her down. To me, it comes across as a humble brag. It’s so embarrassing to be so holy that I defy the laws of physics and foat from time to time. I try to give her the benefit of the doubt that maybe she was trying to talk about an inner spiritual experience of being lifted.

The Interior Castle.

One of her books on the spiritual journey was The Interior Castle. It described the soul as a castle with many rooms, each an encounter deeper into the heart of God. The journey starts with an awareness that something is missing and leads to deeper contemplation and commitment until there is an ultimate union with God.

When looking for God, she says, don’t look to the sky or for some supernatural miracle out there somewhere. Look within, instead. For within us is where God can be found. She says the interior castle is like a single pure diamond that cannot be destroyed or tarnished; it is what it is, at the core of us.

That inner diamond is the true self, who you really are. Complete, perfect, loved, tugged toward doing good. But we cover that up with our insecurities, trying to fill the empty spaces and longings with something that doesn’t fit. We act out, puff ourselves up, and think too much or too little of ourselves. Do stuff to attract attention and make us feel okay. But occasionally we discover that “It’s always the cover-up that gets you in the most trouble.” Just ask King David.

Teresa’s concept was that as we go deeper in our experience, we get closer to God until our spirits become united completely with God’s spirit. It’s like when raindrops melt into the ocean, becoming one with it.


Here are a few quotes from Teresa that I invite you to absorb and quietly meditate on. Before we close with hearing the scripture lessons again.

“Souls without prayer are like people whose bodies or limbs are paralysed: they possess feet and hands but they cannot control them.”

“Trust God that you are where you are meant to be.”

“Let us look at our own shortcomings and leave other people’s alone; for those who live carefully ordered lives are apt to be shocked at everything and we might well learn very important lessons from the persons who shock us.”
“This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway. Step around the poisonous vipers that slither at your feet, attempting to throw you off your course. Be bold. Be humble. Put away the incense and forget the incantations they taught you. Ask no permission from the authorities. Slip away. Close your eyes and follow your breath to the still place that leads to the invisible path that leads you home.”

“There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxi cation so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget. This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway… Believe the incredible truth that the Beloved has chosen for his dwelling place the core of your own being because that is the single most beautiful place in all of creation.”

All things must come to the soul from its roots, from where it is planted. The tree that is beside the running water is fresher and gives more fruit.

• Psalm 42:1-2 (As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.)
• 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (So we do not lose heart… For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.)

Resources for our Christian Mysticism sermon series can be found here.