The Fifth Mansion: Longing for Oneness with God

March 26, 2014

Have you ever wondered what Jesus was really praying for in the High Priestly Prayer when he asked his heavenly Father to make us one with Jesus as Jesus is one with the Father? (John 17:22-23). The idea of oneness conjures up different images. I have come into contact with a distinctly Eastern religious view of “oneness with the Universe.” As I understand the concept, the goal of life and the event at death is a complete absorption of one’s personhood and personality into The One Cosmic Being. Only that Universe remains in existence, all other beings having become a part of it. Oneness in this case means the complete assimilation of persons into an all-encompassing being and the loss of their individual identities. This view is not espoused in the Christian worldview.

Oneness with God in the Christian understanding has to do with a complete and accurate alignment of one’s life to God’s. The person still exists and functions as a volitional individual, but in Christ his or her will is lovingly wrapped in and shaped by the will of God such that the person ultimately becomes “Christ-like” (1 John 3:2). The New Testament offers plenty of evidence that we each retain our unique personhood, because we were each created in the image of God. When we die, we each are judged before the throne, we each are assigned to either heaven or hell according to God’s sovereign judgment of where we belong. The Book of Revelation points (twice—Rev. 5:10 and 22:5) to the vision of God’s people “reigning with him,” suggesting rather strongly that not only do we retain our individuality but we are also given responsibilities to carry out in the New Heaven and New Earth. There will always be a “Mary” and a “Stanley,” whose sole purpose is to love God, glorify him forever, and do his bidding according to his purposes. All for God.

So as we approach the Fifth Mansion in Teresa of Avila’s “Interior Castle,” we come with a deepening desire to be so close to Jesus that we cannot be separated by circumstance, competing agendas, or spiritual forces. We do not have the ongoing experience of this ultimate unity with God (that is the hallmark of the Seventh Mansion), but we want it more than anything. Lent is a good time to cultivate this desire.

We have fallen in love with Jesus, so to speak, and will do anything to demonstrate our love and loyalty to God by submitting to his central place in our lives. In the power of this spiritual magnet, our ministry takes on new effectiveness (often without our realizing this is happening). At this stage, “Work has become prayer; prayer has become work, all loving God” (Mansions of the Heart, 134).

I remember a particular day when I took a turn in the Fifth Mansion (it is not a place I dwell in consistently, a sign of how much more work Jesus must do in my life. . .). It was the day before one of the trials in a PC(USA) remedial case, and we (my attorney and I) only knew it would be stretching and difficult, requiring a prolonged and intense spiritual, emotional, and intellectual effort. God was strongly impressing upon me that this trial was an opportunity to love him with “all [my] heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love my neighbor . . .” (Mark 12:30). I realized that the work had become my expression of love to God in the fullest sense; I brought all I had and put it at his altar as my prayer. During that day of giving testimony, I felt as one with God’s purposes as I ever have, fully used of him (in the best sense), fully alive, and in awe of what God was doing in our midst.

Prayer in the Fifth Mansion takes the form of contemplation leading to “absorption and silence” before God. This is where we become speechless before our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, simply in awe of his beauty and power and deeply grateful for his love. Rather than bringing lists of petitions, we are more apt at this point to hold a person before God for his attentive care, healing, transformation, whatever . . . God knows and loves this person and knows exactly what is needed.

Alongside these experiences of wonder before the throne of grace, we also find ourselves more in tune than ever with our failings and the sin that so easily entangles us. A holy but persistent discontent overtakes us as we long to do better, be pure of heart, and free of old hurts. During this time, God can even “disappear” for awhile, I think to set us up, along with the Psalmist (Psalm 13), to know how much we need the Lord and how bereft we are without him. God’s invisible silence also invites us to trust not in our feelings about God but in God himself, whether he shows up or not. The devil, meanwhile, is allowed to dig away at our weak spots, unearthing the places where spiritual repentance and strengthening are needed. When we see how we flop, and consider what happened in retrospect, we learn where we got off track and what would have been the remedy—for next time! These very concrete spiritual experiences of longing, lapses, and learning are what God uses to shape us ever more closely in his image. Tough? You bet. Necessary? Absolutely. Survivable? Most certainly! Because the one ushering us through this mansion is the Shepherd of our souls.

Is there anything we can do at this stage to promote the work Christ would like to accomplish within us? We continue to pray as full participants in this divine conversation. We continue to read and study the Bible, so that our experience is always checked and “grounded in the boundaries of orthodox Christianity” (Mansions, 122). We continue to meet with other Christians to experience Christ’s life in our midst. We seek spiritual counsel from a mentor or spiritual director. And we arrange our life and our world to allow for time alone in peace and quiet with God. We do not feel guilty about “wasting time with God,” because beholding him and listening, enjoying the intercession of both Jesus (Romans 8:34) and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) are very fruitful spiritual endeavors, empowering us to serve the Lord and our neighbor with pure love and joy.

Next: The Sixth Mansion, The Passion of God’s Love

 

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4 Responses to “The Fifth Mansion: Longing for Oneness with God”

  1. emd5542 Says:

    Amen and thank you, as always, for hitting the nail on its head, so to speak.

    But I am left with a question: When did PC(USA) begin substituting “Sustainer” for “Sanctifier”? It seems to me that Sustainer captures the invaluable work of the Holy Spirit to make us more and more like Jesus Christ as we yield to the work of the Spirit who indwells us. Sustainer, on the other hand, strikes me as the Spirit who upholds us but comes no where near completing us in Christ. So it would seem I could get away with more stuff with a Sustainer than a Sanctifier! 🙂

  2. emd5542 Says:

    Oops, forgot a question that came thundering back during my prayer walk: Why did we leave the all encompassing Father, Son and Holy Spirit of Genesis and the Gospel According to John for the limiting jobs of Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier replaced by Sustainer? Scripture teaches that the Son was present at creation and all things were created by/through the Son and the Spirit hovered over the waters. Seeking understanding with thanks, Eleanor

    • revmary Says:

      Hi Eleanor, as you have probably noticed, I rarely use any other list of the Trinity than Father, Son, and Spirit. But for the purposes of that particular paragraph, I wanted to focus on functions of the members . . . and actually I don’t think I have seen in PC(USA) literature a reference to “Sanctifier” in this context. You are absolutely correct, however, about its appropriateness. But the reason we avoid, in general, these lists is that they are by their very nature incomplete. NO word does the Spirit (or God Almighty) justice! They also smack of modalism, which our early church forebears cautioned against. You have picked up on “the problem.” Well done!

      • emd5542 Says:

        Thank you, Mary, so much for clarity. The term “modalism” is familiar, one I’ve argued against, and one that sticks in my craw. 🙂 Keep on breathing and writing. Looking forward to #6….

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