The Sixth Mansion (Part 1): Passionate Love for God

March 27, 2014

My husband and I were married two weeks after college graduation and almost four years after meeting. Our courtship had weathered difficulties and challenges, revealing our true characters to each other. Over the years, our love grew through square-dance flirting to solid commitment to passion (yes, in that order, although my husband might have a different view . . .). The process of falling in love involved a deeper knowledge of my beloved, an appreciation of his fine qualities, a willingness to submit my life to his care, and a mysterious chemistry that simply bound us together in intimate communion. This is the life experience I tap into in order to understand what is coming for me in relationship with my Lord and Savior.

Teresa of Avila describes the Sixth Mansion in terms of passionate love for God. The wooing of God as of a Groom calling out to his Bride redefines the relationship. In previous mansions, the love of God is received more as a Father’s love for his child. In this mansion, Teresa describes the intensity of passion and focus virtually in sexual terms, which is simply an extension of the New Testament’s recurring image of the Church as Christ’s Bride (culminating in Revelation 19:7 and 21:2ff) and the metaphor likening human marriage to the relationship between Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:21ff).

One experiences this level of intensity as a continuation and deepening of the fifth mansion, so the line between the two stages is often blurry. Prayer and contemplation become one’s greatest desire. Alongside this is an accompanying detachment from things and worldly values, which simply become less important or motivating than knowing Jesus. Paul expressed this sentiment in an autobiographical reflection, when he wrote: “I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ . . .” (Philippians 3:7-11). The reality is that the interest in stuff—food, gadgets, winning, Mad Men reruns, whatever—drop away as a passion for God overtakes all other attachments.

Meanwhile, in service to others one experiences a deep desire for a level of freedom that allows one to be responsive to the Holy Spirit’s leading. This translates for me into the longing not to be tied down to a “ministry job” in order to “waste time with God” and to be available to the people who need a touch of God’s love, wisdom, encouragement, or instruction. I have recently entered this space and realized that an experience in the hospital, of which I wrote here, had identified the restlessness in my soul about the form my ministry would take as I came out of this lung cancer season. The discernment about next steps is ongoing, but the ember is lit and I harbor considerable excitement for its potential.

In order for me to advance into the Sixth Mansion, it is important for me to give over prime time in my day to quiet-alone conversation with and contemplation of God. This requires considerable weeding, as in Matthew 13; courage in the making of good choices; and humility, as I realize how much there is of God I do not know yet.

Not that God is holding anything back. God in this stage continues to make himself known directly and indirectly, and it is the experience of sixth mansion dwellers to hear God speak, to be ecstatic with joy at the throne of grace, to taste heaven. I have had some of these experiences in years past, and know them to be genuine. And yet they are punctuated by periods—sometimes years—of relative silence on God’s part. To this reality I would like to add some reflection in my next post. But for now, it is important to acknowledge how heavily invested the Enemy is in our spiritual derailment, even to the point of counterfeiting God’s voice. For this reason, I offer Teresa’s three tests to ensure that our spiritual experiences are from God (see Mansions, 181): 1) the power and authority “words from God” bear, such that as we hear them God puts into effect what they say (theologians call this the performative word of God); 2) “the great quiet left in the soul,” the peace that accompanies recollection and makes one ready to praise God; and 3) a lasting memory of what God said because of the deep impression it made.

In my next post, we will stop out to explore the “agony” side of the agony and ecstasy of our relationship with God.

Next: The Sixth Mansion (Part II): Dark Night of the Soul



One Response to “The Sixth Mansion (Part 1): Passionate Love for God”

  1. What I’ve seen you doing here, Mary, is “discerning lessons from living,” and I think that’s a productive spiritual discipline. Happens more often, and more productively, than the other way around — taking lessons you’ve learned somewhere — leader, guru, class, book — and trying to apply them to how you live your life. Frequently an arid task, or an impossible one. I’m learning here, from following along in your brain-tracks, though.

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