The First Mansion: New Life in Christ

March 19, 2014

In this seven-part Lenten series, my intent is to reflect upon the insights of Thomas Ashbrook in Mansions of the Heart, his own exploration of Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle. Ashbrook sees Teresa’s “seven phases of spiritual transformation as an ancient yet timeless roadmap to help us understand our journey” (13). The governing image is of a castle comprising seven “mansions.” The first mansion starts at the front door, and each successive area gets closer and closer to the very center of the castle. Passage from one mansion to the next illustrates growth into a new level of spiritual awareness, practice, and relationship with God. Each area is characterized by particular spiritual disciplines, prayer patterns, and even attacks by the Evil One, who is hell-bent on us not getting to the place of intimate communion with God at the center.

Because the Church tends to accompany people along the journey only through the third mansion, it is important for those involved in ministry to be aware that spiritual maturity involves another degree or phase of development. If we truly desire to see our folks become steadfast, passionate, humble disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are going to have to understand the markers of progress. Worship attendance, tithing, and participation in church activities represent hallmarks of an active phase, but only through the third mansion. As the soul moves closer and closer to the center where it meets and communes with the joyful Trinity immersed in God’s love, the Church’s role with its emphasis on busyness can actually thwart progress.  So, in the interest of cooperating with what God is doing in the life of his children, let us begin the journey at the front doorstep.

The first mansion is found right inside the front door of the castle. Perhaps you recall when you were first introduced to Jesus, or when you first became aware that Jesus was not only Lord and Savior but also shepherd of your soul. It involved stepping out of “the world without Christ” and into a new relationship made possible by Christ’s salvation that brought you alive spiritually (Ephesians 2:7-10). Your first steps might have been tentative, you might have been tempted to second-guess what was actually happening to you, but you recognized and received new life in Jesus Christ.

The dynamic involved at this stage is one of repentance (turning away from a life characterized by worldliness, selfishness, and pride) and asking Jesus to help you forsake old unhelpful habits and establish new life-giving ones. Prayer is centered on making requests for help and relief amidst life’s issues. In the midst of this major reorientation of your life, Jesus is reassuring you that his grace is real and his love for you is great. He can be trusted!

I personally stepped into the foyer of the interior castle when I was seventeen years old. God providentially placed me in the context of the Catholic charismatic movement sweeping through Seattle in 1970. It was at a “charismatic inquiry night” that I heard the gospel proclaimed, but it took several months for me to get up the courage and give up the fight to actually step into a new life in Christ. The immediate evidence that something serious and life-changing was happening to me was an irrepressible joy and a voracious appetite to read God’s Word. I felt lifted above life’s mundane circumstances and into a “room” where new music was playing, the voice of Jesus could be heard, power to change was available, and prayers were answered. I knew very little at this stage but was intent upon learning, and God met me there.

As life goes on, and new challenges confront us (like my lung cancer did last fall), it is helpful to recall those early days of conversion, re-orientation, and life change and be encouraged by them. I continue to give thanks to God for lifting me out of one world—a highly anxious family system that was nurturing narcissism in me—into his realm of tough love and reassuring care. Over forty-three years later, I realize that I would have become an entirely different person if Christ had not gotten a hold on me then. But he did, and I rejoice that this was the beginning of a journey in discipleship that continues to this day.

Tomorrow: The Second Mansion, Torn between Two Loyalties

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