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.
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)
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.