Teresa of AA-vila
Today, I’m throwing in some help from Teresa of Avila, on the role of self-examination, and of prayer and meditation in the task of becoming akin to and more intimately involved with Christ. As with William Law, I get really jazzed to see this stuff in so old and trusted a source as Teresa of Avila. It amazes and thrills me to see so much of the means and goals of the steps in so many Christian classics.
This passage from her classic work, Interior Castle, underscores the necessity of what AA would much later call steps 4, 10 and 11, and offers some wisdom on their relative importance. Both self examination and more ‘vertical’ prayers and meditations are necessary in making all the rooms of our “interior castle”—Teresa’s image of the multi-tiered and compartmentalized human soul—into a beautiful and functional home for the true King.
Mark well . . . that self-knowledge is indispensable, even for those whom
God takes to dwell in the same mansion with Himself. Nothing else, however
elevated, perfects the soul which must never seek to forget its own nothingness.
Let humility be always at work, like the bee at the honeycomb, or all will be
lost. But, remember, the bee leaves its hive to fly in search of flowers and the
soul should [often] cease thinking of itself to rise in meditation on the
grandeur and majesty of its God. It will learn its own baseness better thus than
by self-contemplation, and will be freer . . . [.] Although it is a great grace
from God to practice self-examination, yet ‘too much is as bad as too little,’
as they say; believe me, by God’s help, we shall advance more by contemplating
the Divinity than by keeping our eyes fixed on ourselves, poor creatures of
earth that we are.
I do not know whether I have put this clearly; self-knowledge is of such
consequence that I would not have you careless of it, [because] though you may
be lifted to heaven in prayer, while on earth nothing is more needful than
humility [emphasis added]. Therefore, I repeat, not only a good way, but the
best of all ways, is to endeavor to enter [the work in the soul through prayer
and meditation] first by the room where humility is practiced [i.e., the room of
self-knowledge], which is far better than at once rushing on to the
In a process of apprenticeship and change, it is necessary to look at and even meditate on (think about) both our own ways as well as those of the Master we are seeking to emulate. The beginning of our transformation will be weighted more to the former, while we will eventually focus more and more on the latter. Eventually I imagine we become so one with Christ that these twin tasks become quite fluid, like the way we subtly and even unthinkingly checking our speed and how much gas is in the tank, and adjust the AC, the steering wheel, the brakes and accelerator, even change gears, all while keeping our eyes down the road where we are headed, even though, when we began driving, we had to pay much more attention to our own actions with the car, than where we were going. Accurately assessing one’s own life and Christ’s are both wonderful gifts from God, and are both essential to the task at hand, but as Teresa has said, “we shall advance more” in the long run by contemplating Jesus—he is our chief subject—than by assessing ourselves alone. Let us examine ourselves initially and regularly, but all the while learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our trust.