The Fourth Mansion: Discovering the Love of Jesus

March 25, 2014

One of the spiritual accomplishments of this year’s bout with lung cancer has been an exit from the rat race. Actually, that transition has been long in coming, since I left the full-time pastorate at the very end of 2006. Various projects kept me busy and over-stimulated for another five years, but I have been working at home alone in a virtually self-directed manner since then. Last Fall this illness hit and its treatment modulated my pace down to a slow-motion ride through Disneyland’s Space Mountain.

This prolonged experience seems to coincide with further spiritual development identified by Teresa of Avila as the fourth and fifth mansions of her “interior castle.” Some of the details of my personal development are too tricky to share here (for reasons of appropriate confidentiality), but I am drawing from experience when I try to explain the fourth stage, discovering the love of Jesus. It is a transitional stage by Teresa’s reckoning, identified by seeking rather than finding (just yet).

What characterizes this stage more than anything is seeking to know and experience the love of Jesus Christ. Hunger and thirst for an intimate relationship with our Lord, motivated more by love than obligation, is the focus of prayer and ministry. It isn’t a quest to appease a dissatisfied God, but to become content and calm in the knowledge of God’s love for me. For this reason, it introduces the beginnings of “infused prayer” that involves waiting on God’s agenda for our time together rather than defining it on my own terms. Waiting upon the Lord, opening up to the topics God wants to address in my soul, relegates my list and my agenda to a lower priority for the time being. The focus turns simply to getting to know God better by beholding him, much like the psalmist described in Psalm 27:4:

            One thing I asked of the LORD,
                        that will I seek after:
            to live in the house of the LORD
                        all the days of my life,
            to behold the beauty of the LORD,
                        and to inquire in his temple.

Perhaps out of spiritual self-defense, we naturally try to find a balance between the hyperactive “Martha” and the reflective “Mary.” Rather than “Business first, prayer second,” the longing in the fourth mansion is for “Prayer first, business second.” Martin Luther was a model of this priority of soul-feeding prayer. His secretary—assisting him with his translation of the Bible into German while exiled in the Wartburg Castle—was known to have ragged on the Reformer for spending way too much time in prayer (up to three hours in the early morning) when there was so much urgency to get the translation finished. And yet Martin, like so many saints in church history, felt his efforts fueled only by his time beholding God’s glory and seeking guidance and instruction for the day.

God, meanwhile, is taking the initiative to reveal his glory and goodness, sometimes by profound touches of grace in everyday life. As an example, I remember vividly the night twenty-five years ago when our then six-year-old daughter fell head first off the top bunk of a national park tent cabin. Her early symptoms required immediate medical help, necessitating a 50-mile drive on a moonless night to the nearest hospital. You can imagine our parental anxiety, but when we arrived at the ER, we were greeted by a nurse who was the spittin’ image of a pastor friend back home. It was as if God were saying, “It’s okay; a lot of my friends are surrounding you in my love right now.” God simply provided a rock-solid floor for us to stand on and never let us sink into fear or despair after that moment.

Meanwhile, as we behold God’s glory and holiness, we get more in touch with our own failings and wounds. Characteristic of this stage is a desire to confess sin, deal with old emotional wounds, and otherwise resolve unfinished business. Often the help of a spiritual director or Christian therapist can be enlisted, and journaling through the process aids in the precision of God’s spiritual surgery. While taking Dallas Willard’s D.Min. course at Fuller in 2007, I had an experience in which a wound going back to five years old was brought back to my conscious grappling. Along with that very emotional memory, I had almost a vision of Jesus swinging on a tree swing in that scene, saying to me, “Oh, Mary, it’s all right. Don’t worry about [that . . .]; come and play with me! I love you and want to be your friend!” I go back to this playful, safe, and compassionate Jesus whenever I am tempted to replay the hurt of [that . . .], and he has brought healing and completeness to me in that area. This is fourth mansion work.

The devil is active as always, trying to distract our quiet times with the Lord or enticing us back into that crazy business that crowds out our appointments with God. In response to the wounds we have discovered, the evil one would love to turn the tide into indulgent self-love or narcissism, so again, some guidance from a mentor or spiritual director is quite helpful to keep matters in perspective. I’m getting a taste of this now, as my health improves and I need much less help from my friends now. And yet, I have loved the gracious attention I have been receiving and the concern of those who have cooked meals or kept me company. Nevertheless, I am getting the Holy Spirit’s prod to wean myself off this attention, throw my full weight on Christ alone, and find ways to give God’s loving attention to others.

The best way to cooperate with God’s movement in my life to move deeper into the fourth mansion is to plan quiet time. The idea is to immerse myself in a detachment from the world’s concerns in order to behold God. Some time each day, of course, but perhaps a day away per month and longer at least once a year for an extended period of silence and solitude. Some people I know have confessed to how long it takes them to settle down and release the distractions of everyday life, so one day might not be long enough! But with practice, one gains skills in relinquishment and quieting of the spirit, aided of course by our gracious Lord who woos us into his presence for the conversation he looks forward to as well.

Next: The Fifth Mansion, Longing for Oneness with God

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One Response to “The Fourth Mansion: Discovering the Love of Jesus”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    Shortly after reading this, I noticed a FB quote from Tim Keller, “If our identity is in our work, rather than Christ, success will go to our heads, and failure will go to our hearts.”

    This series feeds my soul and is helping me to see that my effort to help a childhood friend is beyond any purpose God has built into my life. Her sight is so veiled that she remains unchurched and untithing because she holds fast to a remote being she refers to as “the almighty,” a being I cannot know or comprehend. The God I know in Jesus Christ would never lead me to intrude on another’s privacy and personal pain as this friend managed to do yesterday in the presence of others during a celebratory luncheon. “Infused prayer” is now the governing principle and with it comes that peace that surpasses understanding. I have engaged the process with gusto and now must leave the product and this friend to God.

    Thank you, RevMary.

    Just loving this series, Eleanor

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