Posts Tagged ‘Castles in the Sand’

NEW BOOKLET: Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement

NEW BOOKLET: Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement by Carolyn A. Greene is our newest Lighthouse Trails Booklet. The Booklet is 18 pages long and sells for $1.95 for single copies. Quantity discounts are as much as 50% off retail. Our Booklets are designed to give away to others or for your own personal use. Below is the content of the booklet. To order copies of Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement, click here.

Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement

By Carolyn A. Greene

Editor’s Note: Today, it is not uncommon for Christian leaders and teachers to recommend the writings of Teresa of Avila. For instance, the late theologian Dallas Willard encouraged his followers to read Teresa’s Interior Castle saying Teresa is “an example to follow.”1 Christian publishers like Bethany House, Thomas Nelson, and Multnomah Press have published books by Teresa of Avila. Rick Warren, author of the highly popular Purpose Driven Life, says her writings are among “great, classic devotional works.”2 Pete Scazzero, author of the popular book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, lists Teresa of Avila’s book, Interior Castle as one of his “top ten books.”3 Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Pathways and Sacred Marriage, favorably references Teresa of Avila numerous times in his book, Thirsting for God. And not surprisingly, contemplative authors such as Richard Foster and Henry Nouwen see her as a fellow mystic.
In 2009, Lighthouse Trails published Castles in the Sand, a story involving a young troubled girl who begins attending a Christian college where she is introduced in her Spiritual Formation class to the writings of an ancient mystic, Teresa of Avila. The following booklet is taken from Castles in the Sand narrating Teresa’s life. While Castles in the Sand is a work of fiction, Teresa of Avila is a real, historical figure (1515-1582). The depiction of her life in this booklet is based on historical records (see bibliography at end of booklet). Quotes and paraphrases of her writings are taken from her actual written works. The lives of other characters portrayed in this booklet are created from composites of true stories.
While some readers may find some of Teresa’s mystical experiences (that at times included involuntary levitating) troubling to read, it is important to understand that the “spiritual ecstasies” Teresa of Avila encountered were the result of her practicing a meditative prayer, much like one that is being practiced by countless Christians today through the Spiritual Formation (i.e., contemplative prayer) movement. We pray this booklet will illustrate how mystical prayer methods are dangerous and introduce the practitioner to occultism and its tormenting “fruit,” something you will not be warned about by those who recommend you study the ancient mystics. And now, the story of Teresa of Avila.
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And still they told me my visions were the work of evil spirits! For six years, I was on trial . . . six years! So many prayers and masses said, I grew weary of them all! Yet still the trances and favors have become more violent and frequent . . . oh, I am in distress, such great distress. I am weary, and so tired . . . so very, very tired.—Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun who was born in Spain in 1515. As a young girl with an active imagination and great love for books, she was profoundly affected by her mother’s death, which left her emotionally empty. In despair, she threw herself before an image of the Virgin Mary and begged her to be her new mother. This extreme devotion to the Mother Mary soon gave way to an interest in fashion as her beauty blossomed. With it, the passion for reading, writing, and romance was rekindled. Teresa’s concerned father sent her away to boarding school at an Augustinian convent. However, when Teresa fell dreadfully ill with malaria, the nuns sent for her father who came to take her home.Recuperating from the serious illness and suffering from headaches, Teresa read a book given to her from her uncle called The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna, from which she learned the practice of the prayer of recollection.* Though previously not interested in reading about such things, her illness had transformed her into a more serious kind of girl. She soon learned to practice “the prayer of quiet,”** a state where the soul is completely absorbed.

Weary of the worldly things that had once given her pleasure, she made secret plans to escape to the Carmelite Monastery without consent from her father and pursue a serious life of prayer, as her uncle had been urging her to do. Teresa later wrote about receiving “favors” that the Lord granted her as she continued to practice her “mental prayer” and the prayer of quiet, two stages of mystical prayer.

“It used to happen, when I represented Christ within me in order to place myself in His presence, or even while reading, that a feeling of the presence of God would come upon me unexpectedly so that I could in no way doubt He was within me or I totally immersed in Him. This did not occur after the manner of a vision. I believe they call the experience ‘mystical theology.’ The soul is suspended in such a way that it seems to be completely outside itself. The will loves; the memory, it seems to me, is almost lost. For, as I say, the intellect does not work, but it is as though amazed by all it understands because God desires that it understands, with regard to the things His majesty represents to it, that it understands nothing.”
The practice of the prayer of quiet continued to bring Teresa into what she called the state of union, the place where intellect and will cease to function over which she soon had no control. As the years passed, Teresa’s headaches and visions began to take their toll. She was counseled by the Jesuit Fathers to give up her “interior” prayer, but that didn’t help.
One day, she cried out, “Oh these visions! What tortures I have endured . . . how can I bear it?” she wailed. “I even gave up mental prayer. I . . . I gave it up. I did! First I waited to be free of sin, but they found no fault in me. Not a fault! Yet I was visited again, more visions . . . more revelations . . . to this most miserable sinner as I.”
Behind her, she could hear the group of nuns that stopped a short distance away, pausing for a moment before turning and walking in the other direction.
“Indeed, I have dreaded the time of prayer,” she whispered now, lest the others murmur about her even more. “Even Father Francis became afraid of my graces . . . in great distress they insisted I had been deceived by Satan. So I . . . I punished myself, oh I did, I did, in order to resist the effects! To no avail! Father Alvarez said . . . he said it was friendships I must give up, but that changed nothing. Then he told me I must recite a hymn, and I did. That was when the angel came . . . the angel . . . oh, how it pierced me! They told me . . . they said my visions were illusions of Satan and told me to point my finger in scorn at another. I tried to obey them, to no avail, so ridiculous they all are, so now I hold this crucifix in my hand at all times . . .”
She wiped her face with her wet sleeve and held up the wooden crucifix.
“And still they told me my visions were the work of evil spirits! For six years, I was on trial . . . six years! So many prayers and masses said, I grew weary of them all! Yet still the trances and favors have become more violent and frequent . . . oh, I am in distress, such great distress. I am weary, and so tired . . . so very, very tired . . .”
Her voice was weaker now as she shifted her weight from one aching knee to another on the cold, stone floor. “Yet I fear there is more sorrow ahead . . . I fear delusions . . . already they are calling for me . . . more inquiries to tell me I am deluded. How can they be sure they aren’t deluded and deceived as well? Every one of my examiners tells me something different! Oh! My soul is plunged into darkness! How I long to be alone . . . oh, when will this life ever become more than a never-ending dark night for my soul! I hear them coming even now demanding answers to unanswerable questions. How can I bear it? I want only to be alone. I just want to be . . . oh, please let me be . . .”
Gradually the pitiful sounds of her whimpering subsided as the dreadful footsteps that echoed from the far end of the corridor grew closer and then stopped. She straightened the folds of her habit, held her head high, and with a faraway look in her eyes, turned to face her visitors.
“Sister Teresa,” a man’s voice said. “Come now, we must ask you more questions.”

 Teresa referred to these favors, or trance states of mystical ecstasy, as “true union.” Some of her contemporaries who observed these experiences were concerned about Teresa.

“Where is she anyway?” said Sister Catherine, who had just come in with a basket full of freshly picked tomatoes.

“Maybe she is in a trance,” joked Sister Maria. Just last week they had all watched as Teresa had gone into another trance in the kitchen while holding a hot pan of oil. Now accustomed to her trances, their greater concern was the possibility of Teresa spilling the little, precious oil they had left.
“The priests have advised her that the visions are of the devil, and to make the sign of the cross whenever she has one,” said Catherine, the youngest nun among them. “She won’t be coming into the kitchen for a few weeks. She is fasting and doing penance.”
“So that’s why she wears a cilice!” chimed in Maria.
“A cilice. What’s that?” asked Catherine.
“It’s an undergarment made of coarse animal hair. It scratches terribly and makes you very itchy. Pray to Our Lady that you will never be ordered to do mortification and be told to wear one,” said Carmelita. “I think slicing onions in this kitchen is torture enough.”
The sisters giggled.
“I think it’s a terrible thing,” said Rosa, a serious-minded nun and the oldest among them all. “Poor Teresa. We must not talk about our dear sister in this manner. If one decides to practice penance, it is only to share the sufferings of the Lord as His bride to be one flesh with Him.”
Rosa had personally witnessed Teresa’s private confusion over the priests’ accusations that her visions were from Satan. Those accusations were the reason Teresa had taken to inflicting tortures and mortifications upon herself. Teresa was just one of many nuns who drew blood in self-flagellation. (The monks did it too, so they were told.) Perhaps she thought that wearing a prickly shirt over her wounds would make her ecstasies disappear. The purpose of such self-inflicted trials was to attain self-detachment, something of which Teresa often talked. Surely, she reaped the benefits of such disciplines, having much more tranquility and self-mastery than the rest of them. “Mortify the flesh and share in Christ’s sufferings” was the directive. Teresa’s favorite motto was “Lord, either let me suffer or let me die.”
Teresa eventually began to write about her spiritual experiences, which included hearing voices and experiencing visions during ecstatic states of rapture in which she felt herself being lifted from the ground by a powerful force outside of her control.
QUESTIONED FOR HERESY
The cell was cold. There was no table or chair. Only a rough, straw mattress in the corner provided any reprieve for the room’s sole occupant. A barefoot nun in a clean but worn habit of coarse serge knelt near the window. The last glimmer of evening light softened the lines on her aging face. Her sparse ink supply allowed no rewriting, but there was no need to reread the lines she had already written. Having commanded her to record her experiences, her confessors would weigh her story on the Inquisition’s scale of heresy.
Some said the voices she heard in her head were of the devil. But Teresa was desperate to explain that these revelations she received were from the Lord! It was the Lord who granted her these great favors and visions which she called ecstasy. They humble the soul, thought Teresa, strengthening and helping it to despise this life.
During these experiences, she seemed to receive a clearer understanding of the Lord’s rewards. Yet, she struggled with the fear these visitations also brought. She could no longer resist them or keep them a secret. Not only were the revelations themselves frightening, but visionaries like herself were often burned at the stake. Since her writings would remain in the hands of her Inquisitors for some time, she must choose her words carefully, yet tell the truth.
Dipping her quill in the inkstand, she continued to write about her life, pausing only to rub her arthritic shoulder now and then. This was to be her final writing. She was working on chapter twenty, trying to explain the difference between union and rapture and their effects.
“It seemed to me, when I tried to make some resistance, it was as if a great force beneath my feet lifted me up. I know of nothing with which to compare it; but it was much more violent than the other spiritual visitations, and I was therefore as one ground to pieces; for it is a great struggle, and, in short, of little use, whenever our Lord so wills it. There is no power against His power.”
As Teresa wrote, the light grew dim. She lit her candle, then continued to write on the parchment set on the window ledge:
“Further, I confess it threw me into great fear, very great indeed at first; for when I saw my body thus lifted up from the earth, how could I help it? Though the spirit draws the body upward after itself and that with great sweetness, if unresisted, the senses are not lost; at least, I was so much myself as to be able to see I was being lifted up. The majesty of Him who can effect this so manifests itself, that the hairs of my head stand upright.”
Deep in thought, she gazed at the candle’s flame. How could she possibly describe rapture and detachment with pen and paper? Mere words were not enough to explain the spiritual marriage she had experienced. How could she even speak of the intense pain that accompanied the sweetness of her visions and revelations, the great shocks she would feel when her Lord threw her into a trance, or the indescribable desire, which pierced her soul until it rose above itself. The days that followed such ecstasy never failed to make her feel as if all her bones had been pulled out of joint.
“I have to say that when the rapture was over, my body seemed frequently to be buoyant, as if all weight had departed from it; so much so that now and then I scarcely knew that my feet touched the ground. Yet during the rapture itself, the body is very often as if it were dead, perfectly powerless. It continues in the position it was in when the rapture came upon it—if sitting, sitting; if the hands were open, or if they were shut, they will remain open or shut.”
But she wasn’t the only one. There were others, even in this place, to whom her Lord was granting the same special graces as the ones He had granted her. Others too had experienced raptures so deep that they would appear as though dead or in a trance, sometimes for days.
As she continued to recall her own experiences, she wrote about the priest who told her God had sent her so much sickness because she did no penance, and he had ordered her to practice acts of mortification. During one such time of obedience, her spirit was carried out of her body in such a state of ecstasy that she heard words instructing her not to have conversations with men, but with angels.
She described the angel she had seen in bodily form . . .
“He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point, there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one.”

Berninis sculpture of The Ecstasy of St Teresa. Public domain.

The famous marble statue called “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” by Gianlorenzo Bernini depicts the sensual scene of the mystical experience described by Teresa of her encounter with an angel. She is reclined on a cloud with her head thrown back awaiting the thrust of the angel’s golden spear.

In the quietness of her room, Teresa had often found herself falling into a deep trance, later pondering the exquisite state of bliss she experienced during these mysterious episodes. However, lately, she found herself losing control. For example, she could no longer prevent them, even when she was in the company of others. They all knew. Some were even sworn to secrecy. But did they know how she had recently grown to fear these times? Increasingly, she struggled to resist these frightening instances when her body was raised from the ground as she prayed. Yet it was no use. She was helpless to stop it.
Teresa slowly straightened and rubbed her stiff joints. She turned to gaze at the crucifix hanging on the wall of her cell as it reflected the candlelight. Her pen rolled across the ledge of the window where she had laid it and dropped onto the stone floor as she grabbed her rosary and began counting the beads, repeating the evening prayer. Immediately, a familiar burning sensation began to grow deep within her, welling upward in surges. It was happening again . . . She grabbed hold of the ledge and began frantically to pray that no one would come through the door and restrain her again.
She recalled other times these involuntary levitations occurred. One of the eye witnesses of the favors and levitations of Teresa of Avila was said to be Sister Anne of the Incarnation.
One young nun was well acquainted with Teresa’s trances, which she referred to as the “transport of the soul.” She had witnessed some of the most disturbing occurrences in Sister Teresa’s life but had been vowed to secrecy. She hadn’t been the only one in the choir loft that unforgettable day, waiting for the bell to ring, when they saw Teresa’s body rise inexplicably about half a meter off the ground. She’d actually been off the ground! Sister Teresa’s body had hung in mid-air, as Sister Anne had later recounted with fresh incredulity! This incident had quite terrified some of them. Since Sister Teresa’s body had been trembling as well, Sister Anne had cautiously held her hands under the raised feet of Sister Teresa for the duration of the ecstasy. It had lasted nearly half an hour before she’d sunk to the floor and then stood among them, lucid once again. Teresa had turned to her calmly and quietly and asked how long she had been there, watching. It was then that Sister Anne had been sworn to secrecy, but that kind of secret wasn’t the kind that could be kept quiet for very long.

There had been other incidents as well. Teresa’s friend, a bishop, once saw her grab the bars of an altar grill during communion to prevent herself from rising into the air, as she cried out to be delivered from her ecstasy. Numerous times, and on different occasions, many others had also seen her raised from the ground. Sister Teresa had always called these experiences “Favors of His Majesty.”

As instructed by her advisors, Teresa wrote everything she knew about entering what she called the interior castle or inner rooms of the soul. She believed the key to achieving union with Christ in the center room was by way of prayer.

“As you wished, I have written everything I know.” Teresa nervously set her papers on the table before her confessors. The religious directors had ordered her to write about her method of mental prayer—her interior castle—as a book of instruction for her nuns. She had been careful to refer to herself in the third person throughout the book, as she was always under the watchful stare of her superiors. It had been a difficult task.

“But it has only been two months! You have completed it already?” the priest said, staring in amazement at the pile of papers stacked neatly before him.
“I have not only described how the soul is a castle, but also how a journey into the soul is a series of seven interior rooms, or inner courts, within the castle that one must pass through by way of prayer. Each chamber is a different stage of the journey. Read it and you shall see.”
The priest browsed through the first pages while Teresa rubbed the back of her neck. Her joints ached, her head hurt, and she was exhausted after finally completing the most important portion of her written work, so far. It had been an extremely troubling time in her life. During the last two months, her superiors had required this writing, yet she had also been expected to fulfill her regular duties, despite severe weakness. Added to that was the torment of living in fear of the next revelation or rapture that would come upon her without warning.
“So tell me, these first three rooms, or mansions, as you call them,” asked the priest, with undisguised fascination, “what stage of the journey do they symbolize?”
“The first three mansions are for those who are just beginning to learn the practice of mental prayer.”
“And the next ones?”
Weak from exhaustion, Teresa did not wish to explain. It had been difficult enough writing about these things with the turbulent noise that throbbed in her head: the roaring sound of rushing rivers and oddly, the whistling of birds pulsated continually in her mind. It was most disturbing when she was conscious of her faculties and her soul was not suspended in ecstasy. Whenever an ecstatic experience occurred, she believed it was from the top of her head that her spirit was released and moved out at great speed.
“The last four,” she began slowly, trying to shut out the roar of a waterfall in her head, “are for those who have begun to experience the indwelling after having entered the spiritual realm. It is the fourth dwelling that is the turning point, and the one most souls enter. This is where one moves from mere meditation to contemplation. It is an interior awareness when God suspends the soul in prayer with rapture or ecstasy or transport.”
“I see,” said the priest, stroking his chin. “Here I see you have written about water and worms.”
Must they keep prodding? She had done as they had asked, and there were chores to be done.
“Yes, like the spring that wells up filling every crevice, so is God’s presence to one who reaches spiritual union. But one must be dead to the outward senses and alive to His Majesty, like a silkworm that dies to produce a little white butterfly. So is Divine union in the center of the castle.”
How could she explain that although she had only mentioned seven inner mansions, there were many more rooms contained in each one, and courtyards with fountains, gardens, and labyrinths in which one could be consumed?
Teresa grew increasingly uncomfortable and longed to leave. Unaware of her misery, the priest abruptly rose to his feet.
“This will take some time to read,” he said hastily, and escorted Teresa to the door.
“I pray it is satisfactory,” she said humbly, trying not to reveal the tremendous pain in her head. “It is my strong desire to aid you in serving His Majesty. If the theologians examine my writings and find any error, it is only because of my ignorance. Perhaps I shall be in purgatory for writing this book, but I pray He shall free me from this and pardon my sins.”
The priest nodded. “We will examine the work and speak to you soon.”
The door closed behind Teresa. Her rough wool habit scraped her bare ankles with each step as she walked quickly down the dim hallway. Pausing before a statue of St. Joseph, she knelt and prayed, “I submit to the teachings of the Holy Catholic Roman Church, may the sovereign Master be praised.”

Tired and aching, she made the sign of the cross and hurried back to the convent. Perhaps she could distract herself from the inner turmoil by spinning more wool.

Teresa referred to the final stage of her “spiritual betrothal” prayer process as “rapture.” In this deepest trance state, she experienced “delectable pain” that penetrated the bowels of the soul.

In her latter years, Teresa seemed to be increasingly fearful of these favors, or painful bouts of spiritual ecstasy and levitation which she could no longer control.

“Whenever I have tried to resist the onset of a rapture, it has felt like a powerful force was lifting me from the soles of my feet. I don’t know what to compare this force to. It is far more cataclysmic than anything I’ve experienced in the previous stages of prayer. The struggle is so ferocious that it utterly wears me out. But in the end, fighting is futile. If this is the Beloved’s desire, there is no power equal to his . . .

“Still, I confess that this particular favor terrified me. If you don’t resist, the same force that carries your soul away in rapture will elevate your body with equal gentleness. Yet when you see yourself lifted off the ground and remain conscious enough to witness the event, the majesty of the One who can cause such a thing is enough to make your hair stand on end.”
Teresa often used erotic metaphors to describe these violent mystical experiences that overpowered her. She also wrote that it felt like she was being torn apart, and the aftermath of the detachment was so severe that at times she lost consciousness, being racked with torment and her bones disjointed.
CONCLUSION
The Bible teaches us that the believer who is born of the Spirit is still in control of his senses or as Paul puts it, “the spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14: 32-33; emphasis added).A Christian is not taken over by the Holy Spirit like a demonically possessed person. While God often works in ways we can’t understand, we will not experience weird things like levitation and psychic detachment that knocks us out and leaves us feeling physically sore. Anyone who practices the contemplative prayer techniques of mystics like Teresa of Avila is stepping into dangerous spiritual territory.After founding the Discalced Carmelites (barefoot nuns), Teresa of Avila fell ill and died at the age of sixty-seven. Even though her writings were controversial and she was interrogated during the Inquisition for heresy, she was later declared a Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church for her teaching on prayer and today, she is often looked to as a viable resource on prayer.

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* Teresa describes this prayer of recollection as to “withdraw from those things by which your external senses are distracted.” It is a method of contemplative prayer wherein  one puts a deep mental focus on one thought thereby entering an altered state. See her book St. Teresa’s Own Words: Or, Instructions on the Prayer of Recollection. Teresa says practicing this method will more quickly lead “to the prayer of quiet” that she is so well know for.
** In Teresa’s book Interior Castle, she says the “prayer of quiet” is the entering into the “fourth mansion” (i.e., fourth stage) of meditative prayer calling it the “supernatural element of the mystical life.”
To order copies of Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement, click here.
Endnotes
1. http://www.dwillard.org/resources/RecReading.asp.
2. The interview where Rick Warren said this can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVCY8pW-ACs.)
3. Peter Scazerro, “My Top 10 Books: Spring/Summer 2013” (http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/2013-books-i-am-reading/).
Photo Credits
Cover: Painting by Baron François Gérard (French, 1770-1837), 1827, “Saint Theresa.” The photo used is a reproduction of a work that is in the public domain; taken from Wikipedia.
Page 4: Paul Hill, “St. Theresa of the Child Jesus,” used with permission from istockphoto.com.
Page 16: Painting by Peter Paul Reubens in 1615. The photo used is a reproduction of a work that is in the public domain; taken from Wikipedia.
Back cover: From fotosearch.com; used with permission.
To order copies of Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement, click here.
Bibliography
Note: The books listed in this bibliography should not be considered a recommendation. The author of Castles in the Sand and this booklet has used these books for research as well as for citing.
Teresa of Avila; The Interior Castle.
Hodder & Stroughton Christian Classics
Edited by Halcyon Backhouse, 1988
Teresa of Avila; Selections from the Interior Castle.
Harper Collins Spiritual Classics, 2004
Teresa of Avila; St. Teresa’s Own Words, Or, Instructions on the Prayer of Recollection. Waxkeep Publishing, Kindle Version (not dated)
Malone, Mary T; Women and Christianity.
Orbis Books Volume III, 2003
Teresa of Avila; The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila: Volume 1 and Volume 2
ICS Publications, 1976; http://books.google.ca/books?id=lpo1vV1kXDUC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Teresa of Avila; Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life; translated by Mirabai Starr. http://books.google.ca/books?id=wVLtJ-JFVcQC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Osuna, Francisco de; The Third Spiritual Alphabet.
Paulist Press, Translated by M.E. Giles.
The Classics of Western Spirituality, 1981.
Dalton, Rev. John; The Letters of St. Teresa.
London: Thomas Baker, I, Soho Square. Translated from the Spanish, 1902, http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/teresa/letters/letters.html.
Teresa of Avila; Life of St. Teresa of Jesus of the Order of Our Lady of Carmel. Translated from the Spanish by David Lewis; Third Edition Enlarged
With Additional Notes and an Introduction by Rev. Fr. Benedict Zimmerman, O.C.D.; http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/life.html.
Foster, Richard; Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home.
HarperCollins, 1992, First Edition.
St. Teresa of Avila; The Complete Works of St. Teresa of Avila: Volume 1 and 2; translated and edited by E. Allison Peers; London: Burns& Oates; 2002 edition.
To order copies of Teresa of Avila – An Ancient Mystic Who Helped Shape Today’s Spiritual Formation Movement, click here.

When a Young Girl Meets a Mystic and Is Introduced to Lectio Divina

LTRP Note: The following is an excerpt from Carolyn A. Greene’s novel, Castles in the Sand, the first novel published that addresses the contemplative prayer (spiritual formation) movement. In this excerpt, the young Christian Teresa [Tessa], now attending a Christian college, is in her dorm room, thinking about her new spiritual director, Ms. Jasmine, who has promised to teach her students how to enter the “inner life” just like the mystics of the past. For Tessa, a lonely foster girl who lost her parents years earlier in a tragic accident, this talk of a better, more fulfilling life was just what she was looking for.

from Castles in the Sand
by Carolyn A. Greene

The school’s spiritual formation professor had been responsible for bringing Ms. Jasmine to Flat Plains Bible College as their new spiritual director. Tessa was immediately drawn to her. Ms. Jasmine was so down to earth…. [Tessa] admired her from the very beginning.

Tessa’s mind turned to Ms. Jasmine’s promise to soon introduce them to the inner life. Although Tessa felt guarded about anything that came close to her inner life, she was drawn to Ms. Jasmine …

Ms. Jasmine had placed colorful tapestry cushions in a circle at the front of the lecture hall, and fifteen minutes into her talk the students were encouraged to take one and seek out a quiet place of solitude anywhere on the campus. Once they had found a cozy spot, they were to use the outline they’d been given to practice a listening exercise called lectio divina, a “divine reading” that would make them feel closer to Jesus.

“Come back in half an hour,” Ms Jasmine had told them, smiling as they filed by to pick up their cushions….

The listening exercise they were to do seemed simple enough. After choosing a Scripture passage, they were instructed to read it slowly a number of times and wait for a word to “come alive” to them. Then they were to take that single word, close their eyes and repeat it for several minutes. Ms. Jasmine’s had read the outline ahead of time to the class. Her voice had a soothing, relaxing effect:

Sit with your back straight in a comfortable position.
Notice first the faraway sounds that you can hear.
Next, allow yourself to become aware of sounds that are nearer.
Then listen closely to your own heartbeat; this is your very own rhythm of life.
As you shut out these sounds, you will hear the sound of silence within yourself.
Listen like this for several minutes . . .
Write down what you hear God saying to you.
Remember, he is all around you and in you.

Tessa had found her own quiet spot on a bench in the courtyard, where yellow and red leaves drifted gently to the ground from the tree above. It had seemed weird at first, and Tessa wasn’t altogether sure about it. But she read Psalm 15, and soon the word “truth” stood out to her. She straightened her back, closed her eyes, and repeated the word for at least five minutes. It was awkward this first time, because she kept looking down at Ms. Jasmine’s instructions, wanting to get it just right. At one point, she thought she had actually heard a voice speak to her. Ms. Jasmine had told them to imagine themselves having a conversation with Christ. “Don’t be afraid to listen,” were the words she thought she heard, although it was probably just the wind in the trees.

Why not try it again, Tessa thought now, as she lay wide awake in the dark. She put her head under her favorite flannel-covered pillow to shut out [her roommate] Katy’s snoring, turned on her LED book light under the blanket, and reread a page in what was now her favorite book, Selections from the Interior Castle, by Teresa of Avila of Spain. Even the picture on the cover had come alive in her imagination. It was a painting of an ancient castle with a high tower on a green hilltop. Leading up to the castle’s stone archways were winding dirt roads that crossed over stone bridges. Tessa’s imagination took her back to the storybook her mom often read to her when she was a little girl. Hesitantly, but with anticipation, she opened her new book to the page she had dog-eared earlier and began to read:

One kind of rapture is that in which the soul, even though not in prayer, is touched by some word it remembers or hears about God. It seems that His Majesty from the interior of the soul makes the spark we mentioned increase, for He is moved with compassion in seeing the soul suffer so long a time from its desire.

So beautifully written, thought Tessa. She read it over several times. Now that was beautiful literature, the kind she would like to read in the solitude of a beautiful meadow in a deep, sheltered valley. It was perfect. The word that jumped out at her was “spark.” St. Teresa and Ms. Jasmine both talked about the spark within. Ever since her parents died in the crash, Tessa felt as if her own spark had been extinguished. Perhaps she would soon be able to feel the spark come to life again if she could practice being silent like this more often. When she closed her eyes, she could almost see a tiny light growing brighter in the darkness, like a light at the end of a long tunnel. Then again, maybe it was just the lingering glare from her book light. For a moment, she tried to focus on the light. Finally, Tessa quietly turned off the light, laid Gran’s bookmark between the pages where she had finished reading, and put the book on her nightstand. At least she had figured out how to make Katy stop talking.

Tomorrow Ms. Jasmine was going to take their SF class outside into the fresh air. They were going to practice another prayer exercise called centering and take the first prayer walk through the brand-new campus labyrinth. Tessa felt as if she was about to step into a new realm, but she wasn’t quite sure what it was. Maybe Flat Plains Bible College was not such a stuffy place to be after all. She would text Gramps in the morning. He’d be happy to know she was actually beginning to like this place. (from chapter 6, Castles in the Sand)

Also see:

Table of Contents and Chapter One

Chapter by Chapter Synopsis

Chapter 19: “Bad Counsel”

What People Are Saying About Castles in the Sand:

A great read. The author has real talent. Characters like Gramps are amazingly well-sketched. Good story lay-out too, with flashes of humor. The story makes what is happening in schools & churches clear in a way mere reporting can’t. E.L., Pennsylvania, U.S.

An excellent story with an urgent message. Teenaged/college-aged girls will want to read this book because the main character is their age and they will be intrigued by “a mysterious young man who reaches out to help Tessa. Additionally, parents and grandparents of young adults will want to read the book because of the subtle implication of the spiritual danger involved in things such as lectio divina, contemplative prayer etc. And if their sons and daughters are in Christian colleges, these words are now likely a part of their children’s regular vocabulary, and naive, uninformed parents will immediately have their interest piqued when they read those words. D.H., Alberta, Canada

I’m on my second reading of Castles in the Sand. It is even better the second time!! The bonus book you sent me has been read by several people. Hannah [14 year old daughter] was the first to read the book in our house, and it equipped her to address her youth group about the terror of Avila. The leader was recommending they read Teresa of Avila’s work. Hannah spoke right up about how bad it is. You could hear a pin drop, the way the kids were so attentive. K.R., Kansas, U.S.

A Tribute to Ray Yungen, from Castle’s in the Sand Author, Carolyn Greene

LTRP Note: Carolyn recently mailed this letter to Lighthouse Trails. She wrote it shortly after Ray passed away (on October 16th). Carolyn is the author of Castles in the Sand and Dangerous Illusions.

Update: After posting this letter on November 30, a reader wrote to us concerned that Carolyn was writing this letter to Ray, that it might give the impression that Carolyn or Lighthouse Trails endorsed talking to the dead. So that there is no misunderstanding and so that we do not mislead anyone, we want to clarify that neither Lighthouse Trails nor Carolyn Greene believe one can talk to the dead or should one try to talk to the dead. Carolyn’s letter was meant as a tribute to Ray and not intended in any fashion as an effort to communicate with Ray. Because of this concern, we have reworded Carolyn’s letter into third person.

Dear Lighthouse Trails,

How I have missed Ray Yungen, and always will.

The first time I heard about Ray, I read his book, A Time of Departing, on the contemplative spirituality that had crept into my church. I had been questioning it, and his book gave me the confidence to stand in the truth.

The first time I met Ray was when he came to speak at my church . . . the new church we found and loved where the truth was being taught.

Ray Yungen (1952-2016)

Ray Yungen (1952-2016)

The first time I got to know Ray was a few days later. We had lunch in the Greek restaurant, and we talked about all the things that had put us on the same page for such a time as this. One touching thing he told me that day was that he was a romantic at heart. His dream was to have a picnic with a checkered tablecloth and a basket of food on a grassy hill with someone he could love. A beautiful girl with a British accent perhaps, with whom he could wax eloquent. It was sweet that he shared his hopes in many conversations to come, and I wished it for him, but it was not to be.

The first time he came to our family’s home was some time later, to discuss my research on a current faith healer who was telling everyone to “come get some” Holy Ghost fire at a big so-called revival in Florida. He walked in, and I was prepared to get down to business and show him all I had found. But he asked if I had any coffee, and if he could just sit on the leather couch and take it all in. It was my first introduction to the idea of having an awareness of the ambiance of a moment, that life was not all about work. Life was about taking it in and enjoying the gift of it. I saw that in Ray— a home was a place to cherish. I remember how he so enjoyed the roast beef dinner at our table, how relaxed he was, how he enjoyed every moment, and took interest in everything. It was not a fancy meal but one he would refer to years later as “a wonderful dinner,” even though we didn’t have the HP sauce he requested. After dinner, we watched video clips together on my computer of the madman who shook and flailed wildly on stage, claiming it was the Holy Spirit anointing, like a wolf deceiving the sheep. Ray were so stunned by it that he stood up, walked to the view windows and looked out at the hills . . . deep in thought at first; then very excitedly, he began to pace and explained how this was the connection between Brother Lawrence (who danced like a madman when he went into “the presence”) and this modern-day movement. And sure enough, as I researched further, this false teacher did indeed “practice the presence,” and even taught it. Ray thanked me profusely. I was simply honored.

Then Ray made a temporary move to Canada and lived with some brothers in the Lord. The first time I dropped by to discuss his research, he greeted me with such delight and enthusiasm. We were always on the same page and had many interesting conversations. Together, we led an evening addressing questions about Yoga to concerned parents at a local elementary school that was introducing it to kids.

What also impressed me was that Ray knew the Bible very well. He loved attending our church when he could and was a wonderful addition to our fellowship, often joining the lunch crowd at the restaurants for Sunday dinner. I always sensed God’s strength and joy in him. He couldn’t suppress the sparkle in his eye or subdue the constant grin that lit up his face. Especially when we would visit the local Christian bookstore, and he would bounce from book to book, excitedly expressing his exasperation, for all to hear, that such a store would sell books written by the mystics.

The time came when he had to go back home to the U.S., and we lost contact. From what I saw in the time he was with us, he embraced life as much as he did his calling. His passion was the ministry God gave him . . . to warn the church of false teaching disguised as the truth.

Surely he changed the direction of so many people walking the paths of error. Looking back on time, I now realize that God used Ray to change the course of my life. I was told he picked my pen name for the novel I wrote for his publisher, the publishing company that would not even exist were it not for Ray. I was so honored. How I wish I could have told him these things before he left us.

The first time I heard of his illness, I had hoped to share these thoughts with him. But then suddenly, he was gone. I was so sorry to hear the final news. That day I pictured him walking in a golden meadow with Jesus, picnic basket in hand, a sparkle in his eye, waxing eloquent, and enjoying the ambiance of eternity.

I miss Ray. He truly was, and forever will be, a RAY of SON SHINE.

 

Carolyn

LTRP Note: If you have not read Castles in the Sand and its sequel Dangerous Illusions, we would highly recommend it, especially if you have or are a college-aged person.

 

Carolyn Greene

Bad Counsel to a College Girl

LTRP Note: The following is a chapter from Castles in the Sand, a Lighthouse Trails novel based on true facts, exposing the dangers of contemplative spirituality. The story is about a young Christian college girl who is introduced to mysticism through her spiritual formation professor. In the following chapter, Tessa, troubled by some of the strange symptoms she is experiencing when practicing meditation, seeks help from her school counselor . But alas, the counselor is involved in the very spirituality that is affecting her. His advice? He encourages Tessa to turn to an ancient mystic, Teresa of Avila, for wisdom and understanding.

Castles in the Sand
by Carolyn A. Greene
Chapter 19: Bad Counsel

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.–Jesus, Matthew 6:7

March 23
“And so, I’m really not sure what to think anymore about this spiritual formation training,” Tessa said softly. She felt very small and insignificant sitting in front of the huge desk in the head counselor’s office. The walls were covered with hardwood panels, and on the one with the credenza pushed against it hung a framed portrait of a man staring down at her with knowing eyes. The counselor wrote on a notepad with an expensive-looking gold pen. He had been at Flat Plains Bible College for nearly five years, and most of the students respected him. Tessa had often heard him play his cello in the string quartet during chapel for Monday meditations. He was a bachelor, but not the kind the girls would flirt with. She wondered if he ironed his own shirts every day, as he always wore a crisp white one under his sports jacket. He had a few odd quirks but was generally kindhearted and caring. Tessa didn’t know why she felt so uncomfortable as she sat in his office. The counselor analyzed the comments he’d been jotting down. His notes said this girl had dark circles under her eyes and seemed very nervous. She had no previous record of drug use and had never gotten into trouble at school.

“Miss Dawson, we realize it’s an emotionally and spiritually demanding course. You have probably been working very hard. I see you stayed at school over the Christmas holidays as well as spring break last week to catch up on some course assignments. With the semester nearly over, the pressure will soon be off. Have you talked to your spiritual formation professor?”

“Well, she was the one who recommended that I be mentored by Ms. Jasmine. Naturally, I was excited about that, at first. Now, I’m not sure anymore. So I talked to the other counselor this morning, and she told me that you and Ms. Jasmine are the only people I need to talk to about my concerns.”

“Did she now? Instead of speaking to me, have you talked to Dr. Winters first about your concerns?” He secretly wished Dr. Jasmine Winters hadn’t been so casual with the students, allowing them to address her by her first name. It was simply disrespectful.

“Well, that’s the problem. I’m not comfortable with that.”

The counselor leaned forward on his oak desktop and looked at her over his black-rimmed glasses . “Well, apparently Dr. Winters is comfortable enough to have you all call her Ms. Jasmine. Now, could you tell me exactly why you are ‘uncomfortable’?”

“It’s like this. I . . . when I am in a session . . . I mean, when I did the sessions with Ms. Jazz, I mean Dr. Winters, strange things happen, I mean, happened.” Tessa started to cry. “I’m sorry, I haven’t been sleeping well.”

Tessa felt her throat tightening. This wasn’t easy for her. At first, in the beginning of the school year, everything was good. Really good, actually, and Tessa had soon become a keen and open-minded student. But later, she’d begun having reservations, even before Katy read her “the list.” She couldn’t say why, exactly, only that she’d started to feel vaguely suspicious and oddly unsettled about the whole thing. That was probably why she could never muster the courage to take it to the next level. And lately, her resistance seemed increasingly ineffective. She used to have control, but she didn’t seem to have it anymore. Had the words of warning, the words she had so carelessly rejected, been right after all?

“What sort of strange things?” the counselor asked, interrupting her thoughts.

“Yes. Well, this may sound very, very weird, but I get a tingling, prickling sensation in my head and my hands, and sometimes all the way down to my feet.”

“Has Dr. Winters been letting you drink her Yerba Mate? It sometimes has an effect on certain people.”

Tessa shuddered at the thought of the South American tea Ms. Jasmine sometimes drank through a metal straw. She thought the Yerba leaves looked and smelled like a wet horse stall.

“No. You don’t believe me, do you?” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded, wrinkled paper. It was the list Katy had tried reading to her the other night. Later, when Katy wasn’t there, Tessa picked it up, folded it neatly, and put it in one of her books. “I would like to read this to you. These are some symptoms that–”

“That you have?”

“Well, I might have some, but so does my friend Elise and at least half the class. But Dr. Winters has most of these. Can I just read this?”

“Have you been to see the school nurse?” he asked.

“I don’t need a nurse!” she said too loudly, and remorsefully looked down at the floor. “Please . . .” she said quietly.

“Go ahead.” The counselor leaned back in his chair.

“These are some of the symptoms I am talking about. It’s only some of them.”

castlesfinalBefore coming there that day, she had highlighted certain symptoms on the list with a yellow marker, ones she had either experienced herself or saw or heard about in others, including Ms. Jasmine–especially Ms. Jasmine. She held the wrinkled paper in her clammy hands and began reading the symptoms she had marked:

Hearing sounds like a flute, waterfall, bees buzzing, ringing in the ears, inner voices, mental confusion, difficulty concentrating, emotional outbursts, uncontrollable laughing and crying, rapid mood shifts, fear, rage, heightened awareness, trances, sensations of heat or prickling in the hands and head, feelings of peace and tranquility, ecstasy, dreams or visions of spirit guides, out-of-body experiences, awareness of auras, chakras, healing powers, sensitivity–

“All right, all right. That’s enough, I’ve got the point,” the counselor interrupted. He pulled off his glasses, puffed a few breaths of hot air onto the lenses, and unfolded a clean white handkerchief to polish them.

“But I’m not finished. I–”

“Miss Dawson, look, I believe you. A few other students have reported minor things. But everything has an explanation. This is a very old school. Before we rule out the insulation or the lead paint, here’s what I think. First of all, you have completed the required reading, am I correct?”

Tessa nodded.

“Then you must know that the ancient Christians who tapped into methods of prayer that the modern church has forgotten also describe many of the same experiences. What if these things, which you say make you fearful, are simply God’s graces and favors being bestowed upon you? Rather than having a fear-based faith, we must open ourselves to God’s voice. We must not shut the door to new forms of God’s communication with us, Tessa. The Bible says, ‘Shout to the Lord a new song!’ We cannot put God in a box.”

He reached behind him and pulled a book from his shelf. The title on the cover said The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila, but Tessa thought this one looked older and thicker than her copy, which was called Selections from the Interior Castle. He pushed up his thick-framed glasses and opened it to a page with a folded corner.

“As St. Teresa of Avila wrote, ‘Our Lord is just as pleased today as He has ever been to reveal favors to his people, and I’m convinced that anyone who will not believe this closes the door to receiving them herself.’ So you see, only those who believe and open the door will be the recipients of His revelations and favors!”

Tessa knew about that. She had written a paper on the Teresian prayer model. “Yes, I understand that concept. But something is not right, I’m telling you. One evening not long ago, I arrived early at our mentoring session, and Ms. Jazz was . . . she was . . .”

“Tessa, Dr. Winters is a very spiritually disciplined person, and a fine role model. She does the fixed hours of prayer several times a day, and some people, when they find out, just don’t understand. It’s a classic case of fearing the unknown. I trust she has been training you to do your prayer exercises as well. May I ask how far you have gone in your quiet prayer time in regard to the inner rooms of the Teresian prayer model?”

“Well, I . . . I could never get past the fourth room,” she said, sniffing. “The castle. It haunts me in my dreams. What I thought was beautiful is turning into a bad dream. It’s just not lining up with . . .” She stopped in mid-sentence and thought about Katy and Gramps, and how they would often say that something was not “lining up with Scripture.” “I guess I just don’t know anymore if the voices I am hearing are from God or . . . I’m just . . . I’m very scared.”

“Dear Tessa, I think I have just answered your own question.” The counselor looked pleased with himself and assured her with a compassionate smile. “Now take a deep breath and listen to me carefully. Close your eyes . . . There, that’s right. Now, do you remember how St. Teresa compared the doubts we have to reptiles? Let me read a little more from the fifth chapter.” The way the counselor read reminded Tessa of the way Ms. Jasmine read—slowly, methodically, pronounced:

In the prayer of quiet in the previous mansion, the soul needs to be very experienced before it can be sure what really happened to it. Did it imagine the whole thing? Was it asleep and dreaming? Did the experience come from God, or from the devil disguised as an angel of light? The mind feels a thousand doubts. And so it ought, for as I said, we can be deceived in these mansions, even by our own nature. It is true that there is little chance of those poisonous creatures entering the Fourth Mansion, but slippery little lizards are small enough to slip in unnoticed. They do no harm, especially if we ignore them, but these little thoughts and fancies thrown out by the imagination can be annoying.

However active those lizards may be, they cannot enter into the Fifth Mansion. Here, neither the imagination, the understanding, or the memory has any power to prevent God’s grace flowing into the soul.

The counselor closed the book and placed it on a stack of Travel Mongolia magazines. His chair creaked as he leaned back and took off his glasses again. “Tessa,” he said, “perhaps you need to enter into the fifth room of the castle and allow God’s grace to flow into your soul. You seem too focused on poisonous, negative thoughts, which you simply must choose to ignore. I suggest you contemplate Scripture more often through your lectio divina exercises.”

Tessa nodded her head, folded the paper, and stood up. Her ears began to ring again. The book he had read from sounded different from the one she had. Why were they always quoting to her out of books? Gramps usually quoted the Bible, and he seemed to know a lot of it by heart. She wasn’t sure if Ms. Jasmine even owned a Bible. If she did, Tessa had never seen it.

She was more confused than ever. Everyone here kept telling her to shut out the noises and go within herself. “There you will find your true self,” they’d say. However, her true self was the part of her that was so confused. Gramps always said that God is not the author of confusion. For some reason, Tessa remembered that cold fall day at the retreat when they were instructed to go and find their true selves, and she found the mysterious woodsman instead. What was that verse he read? “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”

She had no idea why she remembered that verse today, but how desperately she longed to know truth and have wisdom right now.
“May I go now?” she asked, rubbing her temples. “I . . . I have a really bad headache.”

The counselor nodded and watched her walk to the door….

“Oh and Miss Dawson, one more thing,” he said as she paused with her hand on the knob. “St. Teresa, your namesake, also said that a venomous reptile cannot live in the presence of divine light. If we are to be Christ followers, we must choose not to join the ranks of the spiritually uncivilized who refuse to be enlightened. Please keep this in mind.”

Tessa gave a weak, “OK,” then opened the door and stepped into the hall. The door swung shut behind her with a precise click. She watched as students walked past her to their classes, chatting and laughing happily as though everything was normal and there wasn’t a care in the world. As for herself, she wondered if she was going mad. Nothing made sense anymore.

Back in the office, the counselor glanced at his watch. Thank goodness she’s gone, he thought. It was nearly noon. Time for the Daily Office, the fixed hours of prayer Ms. Jasmine had taught them at their second staff retreat. He found that even five minutes spent centering down helped him get through a stressful day. Lately, more students like Tessa had begun to ask him too many difficult questions. Not to mention that paranoid old Mr. Brown who had been phoning and giving him a hard time.

He was beginning to feel more than a little annoyed.

He locked his office door, put a Taize worship CD into his Sony player and sat down in his chair again. Glancing up at the chart on his wall, he took a deep breath. He nearly had it memorized but wanted to be sure of the steps, so he read them again:

-Be attentive and open
-Sit still
-Sit straight
-Breathe slowly, deeply
-Close your eyes or lower them to the ground

Then he closed his eyes and slowly repeated the verse of the day from the Sacred Meditation website–

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know . . .
that I am God . . .
that I am God . . .
that I am God.
That I am God,
I am God,
I am God,
I am God,
I am,
I am,
I am,
I am . . .

The noise in the hallway soon disappeared as Dr. Frank Johnson … shut out the sounds around him and slipped into a peaceful inner silence.

(This is an excerpt from chapter 19 of Castles in the Sand, the 1st no

BOOK REVIEW: DANGEROUS ILLUSIONS – “Can Save Young Christian Lives From the Age of Apostasy”

di-cover-lgDANGEROUS ILLUSIONS . . . has such a tender, romantic heart . . . a sweet-murder-mystery-romance with a tangible love for the young people who are its target audience. It expresses love to a jaded, over-stimulated generation who must know that heroes and God-fearing, loving people still exist in the modern world despite the dark and violent images of MTV and Marvel comics.  It is a barn-burner of suspense, hard to put down . . . and despite the accurate portrayal of sinister forces and very wicked people, it lacks the cynical hopeless misery of the media world our young-adults grow up in.  It is the tender loving heart of God in the authors that shines through. I teared-up at the ending while reading in a restaurant. Appealing to both genders, the warm tapestry of appropriate Scriptures, Biblical names, symbols,  images and characters warm the reader amidst the tension of events. It fills the book with a message that will arm today’s Christian youth against the ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’, false prophets and Hollywood show-people who permeate their young lives within the church. Well-developed atmosphere, mystery, characters, theology, heresy, apostasy and clarity are woven into an absolutely lovely tapestry with “THE LOVE OF GOD” as its central image. It is a new item in the library of Christian literature that (by God’s magnificent grace and Word) can save young Christian lives from the Age of Apostasy in which we live.—ROGER NEILL

2012 YEAR IN REVIEW – Part 6 – CHRISTIAN COLLEGE/SEMINARIES COVERAGE IN 2012

A Young Girl Caught in the Web of “Spiritual Formation” in a Christian College

LTRP Note: The following is a chapter from Castles in the Sand, the only novel exposing the dangers of contemplative spirituality and spiritual formation. The story is about a young Christian college girl who is introduced to mysticism through her spiritual formation professor. In the following chapter, Tessa, troubled by some of the strange symptoms she is experiencing when practicing meditation, seeks help from her school counselor. But alas, the counselor is involved in the very spirituality that is affecting her. His advice? He encourages Tessa to turn to an ancient mystic, Teresa of Avila, for wisdom and understanding.

Castles In The SandCastles in the Sand
by Carolyn A. Greene
Bad Counsel

But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.–Jesus, Matthew 6:7

March 23
“And so, I’m really not sure what to think anymore about this spiritual formation training,” Tessa said softly. She felt very small and insignificant sitting in front of the huge desk in the head counselor’s office. The walls were covered with hardwood panels, and on the one with the credenza pushed against it hung a framed portrait of a man staring down at her with knowing eyes. The counselor wrote on a notepad with an expensive-looking gold pen. He had been at Flat Plains [Bible College] for nearly five years and most of the students respected him. Tessa had often heard him play the cello in the string quartet during chapel for Monday meditations. He was a bachelor, but not the kind the girls would flirt with. She wondered if he ironed his own shirts every day, as he always wore a crisp white one under his sports jacket. He had a few odd quirks but was generally kindhearted and caring. Tessa didn’t know why she felt so uncomfortable as she sat in his office. The counselor analyzed the comments he’d been jotting down. His notes said this girl had dark circles under her eyes and seemed very nervous. She had no previous record of drug use and had never gotten into trouble at school.

“Miss Dawson, we realize it’s an emotionally and spiritually demanding course. You have probably been working very hard. I see you stayed at school over the Christmas holidays as well as spring break last week to catch up on some course assignments. With the semester nearly over, the pressure will soon be off. Have you talked to your spiritual formation professor?”

“Well, she was the one who recommended that I be mentored by Ms. Jasmine. Naturally, I was excited about that, at first. Now, I’m not sure anymore. So I talked to the other counselor this morning, and she told me that you and Ms. Jasmine are the only people I need to talk to about my concerns.”

“Did she now? Instead of speaking to me, have you talked to Dr. Winters first about your concerns?” He secretly wished Dr. Jasmine Winters hadn’t been so casual with the students, allowing them to address her by her first name. It was simply disrespectful.

“Well, that’s the problem. I’m not comfortable with that.”

The counselor leaned forward on his oak desktop and looked at her over his black-rimmed glasses. “Well, apparently Dr. Winters is comfortable enough to have you all call her Ms. Jasmine. Now, could you tell me exactly why you are ‘uncomfortable’?”

“It’s like this. I . . . when I am in a session . . . I mean, when I did the sessions with Ms. Jazz, I mean Dr. Winters, strange things happen, I mean, happened.” Tessa started to cry. “I’m sorry, I haven’t been sleeping well.”

Tessa felt her throat tightening. This wasn’t easy for her. At first, in the beginning of the school year, everything was good. Really good, actually, and Tessa had soon become a keen and open-minded student. But later, she’d begun having reservations, even before Katy read her “the list.” She couldn’t say why, exactly, only that she’d started to feel vaguely suspicious and oddly unsettled about the whole thing. That was probably why she could never muster the courage to take it to the next level. And lately, her resistance seemed increasingly ineffective. She used to have control, but she didn’t seem to have it anymore. Had the words of warning, the words she had so carelessly rejected, been right after all?

“What sort of strange things?” the counselor asked, interrupting her thoughts.

“Yes. Well, this may sound very, very weird, but I get a tingling, prickling sensation in my head and my hands, and sometimes all the way down to my feet.”

“Has Dr. Winters been letting you drink her Yerba Mate? It sometimes has an . . . effect on certain people.”

Tessa shuddered at the thought of the South American tea Ms. Jasmine sometimes drank through a metal straw. She thought the Yerba leaves looked and smelled like a wet horse stall.

“No. You don’t believe me, do you?” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a folded, wrinkled paper. It was the list Katy had tried reading to her the other night. Later, when Katy wasn’t there, Tessa picked it up, folded it neatly, and put it in one of her books. “I would like to read this to you. These are some symptoms that–”

“That you have?”

“Well, I might have some, but so does my friend Elise and at least half the class. But Dr. Winters has most of these. Can I just read this?”

“Have you been to see the school nurse?” he asked.

“I don’t need a nurse!” she said too loudly, and remorsefully looked down at the floor. “Please . . .” she said quietly.

“Go ahead.” The counselor leaned back in his chair.

“These are some of the symptoms I am talking about. It’s only some of them.”

Before coming there that day, she had highlighted certain symptoms on the list with a yellow marker, ones she had either experienced herself or saw or heard about in others, including Ms. Jasmine–especially Ms. Jasmine. She held the wrinkled paper in her clammy hands and began reading the symptoms she had marked:

Hearing sounds like a flute, waterfall, bees buzzing, ringing in the ears, inner voices, mental confusion, difficulty concentrating, emotional outbursts, uncontrollable laughing and crying, rapid mood shifts, fear, rage, heightened awareness, trances, sensations of heat or prickling in the hands and head, feelings of peace and tranquility, ecstasy, dreams or visions of spirit guides, out-of-body experiences, awareness of auras, chakras, healing powers, sensitivity–

“All right, all right. That’s enough, I’ve got the point,” the counselor interrupted. He pulled off his glasses, puffed a few breaths of hot air onto the lenses, and unfolded a clean white handkerchief to polish them.

“But I’m not finished. I–”

“Miss Dawson, look, I believe you. A few other students have reported minor things. But everything has an explanation. This is a very old school. Before we rule out the insulation or the lead paint, here’s what I think. First of all, you have completed the required reading, am I correct?”

Tessa nodded.

“Then you must know that the ancient Christians who tapped into methods of prayer that the modern church has forgotten also describe many of the same experiences. What if these things, which you say make you fearful, are simply God’s graces and favors being bestowed upon you? Rather than having a fear-based faith, we must open ourselves to God’s voice. We must not shut the door to new forms of God’s communication with us, Tessa. The Bible says, ‘Shout to the Lord a new song!’ We cannot put God in a box.”

He reached behind him and pulled a book from his shelf. The title on the cover said The Interior Castle, but Tessa thought this one looked older and thicker than her copy, which was called Selections from the Interior Castle. He pushed up his thick-framed glasses and opened it to a page with a folded corner.

“As St. Teresa of Avila wrote, ‘Our Lord is just as pleased today as He has ever been to reveal favors to his people, and I’m convinced that anyone who will not believe this closes the door to receiving them herself.’ So you see, only those who believe and open the door will be the recipients of His revelations and favors!”

Tessa knew about that. She had written a paper on the Teresian prayer model. “Yes, I understand that concept. But something is not right, I’m telling you. One evening not long ago I arrived early at our mentoring session, and Ms. Jazz was . . . she was . . .”

“Tessa, Dr. Winters is a very spiritually disciplined person, and a fine role model. She does the fixed hours of prayer several times a day, and some people, when they find out, just don’t understand. It’s a classic case of fearing the unknown. I trust she has been training you to do your prayer exercises as well. May I ask how far you have gone in your quiet prayer time in regard to the inner rooms of the Teresian prayer model?”

“Well, I . . . I could never get past the fourth room,” she said, sniffing. “The castle. It haunts me in my dreams. What I thought was beautiful is turning into a bad dream. It’s just not lining up with . . .” She stopped in mid-sentence and thought about Katy and Gramps, and how they would often say that something was not “lining up with Scripture.” “I guess I just don’t know anymore if the voices I am hearing are from God or . . . I’m just . . . I’m very scared.”

“Dear Tessa, I think I have just answered your own question.” The counselor looked pleased with himself and assured her with a compassionate smile. “Now take a deep breath and listen to me carefully. Close your eyes . . . There, that’s right. Now, do you remember how St. Teresa compared the doubts we have to reptiles? Let me read a little more from the fifth chapter.” The way the counselor read reminded Tessa of the way Ms. Jasmine read–slowly, methodically, pronounced:

In the prayer of quiet in the previous mansion, the soul needs to be very experienced before it can be sure what really happened to it. Did it imagine the whole thing? Was it asleep and dreaming? Did the experience come from God, or from the devil disguised as an angel of light? The mind feels a thousand doubts. And so it ought, for as I said, we can be deceived in these mansions, even by our own nature. It is true that there is little chance of those poisonous creatures entering the Fourth Mansion, but slippery little lizards are small enough to slip in unnoticed. They do no harm, especially if we ignore them, but these little thoughts and fancies thrown out by the imagination can be annoying.

However active those lizards may be, they cannot enter into the Fifth Mansion. Here, neither the imagination, the understanding, or the memory has any power to prevent God’s grace flowing into the soul.

The counselor closed the book and placed it on a stack of Travel Mongolia magazines. His chair creaked as he leaned back and took off his glasses again. “Tessa,” he said, “perhaps you need to enter into the fifth room of the castle and allow God’s grace to flow into your soul. You seem too focused on poisonous, negative thoughts, which you simply must choose to ignore. I suggest you contemplate Scripture more often through your lectio divina exercises.”

Tessa nodded her head, folded the paper, and stood up. Her ears began to ring again. The book he had read from sounded different from the one she had. Why were they always quoting to her out of books? Gramps usually quoted the Bible, and he seemed to know a lot of it by heart. She wasn’t sure if Ms. Jasmine even owned a Bible. If she did, Tessa had never seen it.

She was more confused than ever. Everyone here kept telling her to shut out the noises and go within herself. “There you will find your true self,” they’d say. However, her true self was the part of her that was so confused. Gramps always said that God is not the author of confusion. For some reason, Tessa remembered that cold fall day at the retreat when they were instructed to go and find their true selves, and she found the [mysterious] woodsman instead. What was that verse he read? “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”

She had no idea why she remembered that verse today, but how desperately she longed to know truth and have wisdom right now.
“May I go now?” she asked, rubbing her temples. “I . . . I have a really bad headache.”

The counselor nodded and watched her walk to the door….

“Oh and Miss Dawson, one more thing,” he said as she paused with her hand on the knob. “St. Teresa, your namesake, also said that a venomous reptile cannot live in the presence of divine light. If we are to be Christ followers, we must choose not to join the ranks of the spiritually uncivilized who refuse to be enlightened. Please keep this in mind.”

Tessa gave a weak, “OK,” then opened the door and stepped into the hall. The door swung shut behind her with a precise click. She watched as students walked past her to their classes, chatting and laughing happily as though everything was normal and there wasn’t a care in the world. As for herself, she wondered if she was going mad. Nothing made sense anymore.

Back in the office, the counselor glanced at his watch. Thank goodness she’s gone, he thought. It was nearly noon. Time for the Daily Office, the fixed hours of prayer Ms. Jasmine had taught them at their second staff retreat. He found that even five minutes spent centering down helped him get through a stressful day. Lately, more students like Tessa had begun to ask him too many difficult questions. Not to mention that paranoid old Mr. Brown who had been phoning and giving him a hard time.

He was beginning to feel more than a little annoyed.

He locked his office door, put a Taize worship CD into his Sony player and sat down in his chair again. Glancing up at the chart on his wall, he took a deep breath. He nearly had it memorized but wanted to be sure of the steps, so he read them again:

-Be attentive and open
-Sit still
-Sit straight
-Breathe slowly, deeply
-Close your eyes or lower them to the ground

Then he closed his eyes and slowly repeated the verse of the day from the Sacred Meditation website–

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know . . .
that I am God . . .
that I am God . . .
that I am God.
That I am God,
I am God,
I am God,
I am God,
I am,
I am,
I am,
I am . . .

The noise in the hallway soon disappeared as Dr. Frank Johnson … shut out the sounds around him and slipped into a peaceful inner silence.

(This is an excerpt from chapter 19 of Castles in the Sand, the 1st novel ever written that exposes the dangers of contemplative spirituality.


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