The Seventh Mansion: Union with the Trinity

April 2, 2014

When I first read Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle as a seminary student, I got about half-way through it. She was writing about experiences I had never had and using terms I could not comprehend. Her ardor was unimaginable to me, so I put it aside and wrote an honest book report (Help! I have no idea what this woman is talking about!). I have not picked it up since, but am very grateful for Thomas Ashbrook’s unpacking in Mansions of the Heart, upon which this blog series has been based. His accessible tour of the castle and its mansions has given me a handle on what is still to come in my walk with Jesus.

The seventh mansion represents the fulfillment of our spiritual quest, into the very heart of God as Father, Son, and Spirit. If the first mansion was the foyer into the castle, the seventh mansion is the Safe Room at the very center. Arrival here is to have survived the Dark Nights, the divided loyalties, and the mountaintop ecstasies of faith. Entry into the presence of our Savior is to finally experience the Christian life as normal, uncontested (almost), and a natural way to live. I think of a car driver after twenty years behind the wheel: actions and responses are instinctive and second-nature.

And so it is in the spiritual life: someday this is going to be as free and natural as breathing. Yes, well, that is saying something, considering my current condition. I am four weeks post-op now, having had the upper left lobe of my lung removed (along with the shrunken cancer tumor within). Let’s just say, breathing does not come effortlessly, wheezing reminds me daily of my constricted airways, and my body is not getting quite enough oxygen. I do respiratory exercises three times a day to open the lungs and give those air sacs a chance to expand. I practice deep breathing, to maximize the air flow and develop greater lung capacity. If this isn’t a metaphor for Christian discipleship, I don’t know what is!

According to Teresa, the seventh mansion is navigated by way of three experiences or movements that carry us to the end of our earthly lives. Ashbrook lists them:

(1) We are given a unique vision of the Trinity, which transforms our “understanding” of God in Three Persons into an experiential knowledge. (2) Jesus reveals Himself to us in His humanity, similar to the way He revealed Himself to the disciples after His resurrection, and draws us into oneness likened to spiritual marriage. (3) Then, for the rest of our lives, we live in an ongoing and deepening relationship of unique union with God. They are distinct experiences, but they overlap and are related. (Mansions, 193)

The seventh mansion is not a state of continuous euphoria or daily ecstasy. Rather, having passed the dramatic roller coaster of the sixth mansion, with those pesky Dark Nights to shake one to the core, the seventh mansion is characterized by steady breathing in dynamic rhythm with the heartbeat of God. The tussles are over, the fellowship unhindered, and service to others fueled by the continuous infusion of God’s power is effective and selfless. One is completely free because one is completely surrendered to Jesus!

Dallas Willard used to talk about this dynamic, and I had a hard time understanding it then, but now I get it. He said the goal of the Christian life was to be in such union with Christ that we would be free to do what we wanted. Being the Calvinist I am, with a deep mistrust of my own “totally depraved” instincts, I was mystified by this vision. But Dallas’ point was, when you are in communion with the Lord, his will becomes your will and you experience the freedom Adam and Eve had before the Fall to “naturally” (i.e. in the Spirit) do what Jesus would do if he were in your shoes. Since he is, you can!

Consequently, prayer at this stage is a continuous trusting silence before God, “an adoring attentiveness to the Holy Trinity” (Mansions, 204). In this silence there is full union with the Trinity, and a sense that their prayer becomes our prayer. [Remember how, in Romans 8, it is noted that both the Holy Spirit and Jesus himself intercede for us to the Father!] We simply enter into their prayer life and are transformed by it. It is sustained in everyday life by God’s loving touches that draw our attention to him and keep us in his rhythm. It is also fueled by extended times of solitude and silence. Prayer such as this keeps us in the present moment, where God is sufficient and gracious and powerful. With this kind of security, the Enemy—try as it might—cannot get our full attention and is repulsed and resisted. We must remain vigilant against self-deception or spiritual pride, but God helps us by his Spirit. We are also tempted to spend all our time with God and overlook our neighbor. So again, we remain accountable to the Christian community and translate the great blessing from God into blessing for others in day-to-day ministry.

This navigation through the seven mansions of the interior castle has been a faith-stretcher for me and I hope an encouragement to you. As we progress through this season of Lent, may the Lord draw us ever closer into his heart and show us his true, triune nature!

 

 

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5 Responses to “The Seventh Mansion: Union with the Trinity”

  1. Ed Pettus Says:

    Mary, thanks for your reflections in the Mansions! I too read Interior Castle many years ago as well as St. John of the Cross and Ashbrook has been great to sort it out more clearly. God bless you in your journey, both in body and spirit.

  2. Woodard Terri Says:

    Mary, I so wish that this book and study was a part of the Seminary process! Thinking about my time at Fuller and thinking that starting off with this depth of understanding (and your amazing teaching of it!) would have been great preparation for my last few years as a Pastor as well as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend. Thank you for this Lenten journey!

    • emd5542 Says:

      Now here’s a thoughtful fork in the road. Which way will seminaries go? And I love the clarity you give us, Mary. I purchased Ashbrook’s book and am slowly winding my way so as to digest and hold rather than inhale then forget all that should stick. Your mansions blogs enable the travel. Thanks be to God. Loving these, Eleanor

  3. Steve Frank Says:

    I continue to give thanks for you. Your reflections on the “Mansions” are both convicting and encouraging. Being encouraged is always great! Conviction is born of grace and I can and do give thanks for it, except when I’m faced with my reluctance to die to a “comfortable” trapping of worldly life. I bemoan my slow rate of spiritual maturation even as I avoid further dying to myself. How precious these idols seem until I finally tire of them preventing me (and those for whom I am accountable) from receiving the more our Lord waits to give.
    Continuing blessings to you.

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