Medical intuitive and renowned author Caroline Myss and I have a few things in common: we both have studied theology, and we were both taught by nuns. But when it comes to interpreting sacred texts, like Teresa of Avila’s classic “Interior Castle,” we must have been in two different classrooms.
Because our two castles have some major structural variations. And I’d like to think mine would be the one standing after a hurricane.
I applaud Myss’s efforts in the field of human consciousness and holistic health, even if I do have a few issues with her philosophies. But I’m feeling a bit defensive and protective with Teresa of Avila (and the other Carmelite mystics—John of the Cross and Therese of Lisieux) since they are key players in my faith and in my recovery from depression. And because one of my dearest friends and mentors, Keith Egan, is one of the country’s most prominent Carmelite scholars.
When I read parts of Myss’s book “Entering the Castle” (inspired by Teresa of Avila’s “Interior Castle“), I shook my head wondering if I had dozed off back in theology class, or if she was trying to advertise a banana-split without the banana, offer a burger without the meat, or sell a mansion with no foundation.
The Spanish mystic’s message is poignant and powerful. One of the most celebrated books on mystical theology, her “Interior Castle” is an important text. Which is why it needs to be understood properly.
The “Interior Castle” and all Carmelite spirituality is about God transforming the human heart and soul in love. As my mentor Egan explained to me in an e-mail yesterday: “Teresa focuses on God, who is the center of our existence. He calls us into that center where we can meet God in love.”
Nothing in Teresa’s “Interior Castle” suggests that the transformation of heart and soul is of our own doing. We aren’t divine. No. No. No. Only God is divine. All of the blessings we receive are received through grace, are God’s doing. That’s what keeps us humble, and that’s where Myss is missing a few (essential) pillars.
“[The soul] waits impatiently for the opportunity and avenue to unveil itself to you–your own divinity, the God within you,” writes Myss in “Entering the Castle.” “What does ‘unveiling your own divinity’ really mean?… In the Castle you will connect to your divinity–and give your soul an opportunity to stretch out a bit.”
Major crack in the foundation there! Everything I have read about Carmelite prayer suggests the opposite: that union with God comes when we begin to comprehend our nothingness, when we completely empty ourselves before the Creator, when we acknowledge that God alone is Love, Truth, Wisdom, and Peace.
It’s the virtue of humility that I believe is at stake here, and humility is central to Teresa’s spirituality, as she writes:
“I was wondering once why Our Lord so dearly loved this virtue of humility; and all of a sudden…the following reason came to mind: that it is because God is Sovereign Truth and to be humble is to walk in truth, for it is absolutely true to say that we have no good thing in ourselves, but only misery and nothingness; and anyone who fails to understand this is walking in falsehood. He who understands it is most pleasing to Sovereign Truth because he is walking in truth.”
According to Teresa, we are nothing next to God, but have great potential because of God. Says Egan: “Teresa does have a positive notion of the human person despite her call for humility. We are a castle, a pearl, and much besides. But we are created and we do fail to accept God’s love. Teresa speaks of our nothingness because she knows the difference between ourselves and God–she sees the wide chasm.”
Recognizing this wide chasm and separateness allows the union between our souls and God to happen. Deification–an Eastern theological theme taken up by Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and others–means that God created us in God’s image and likeness and by our baptism calls us to become, through grace, God-like. Not God–God-like, and only by grace, another principal concept missing in Myss’s castle. “We impoverished humans are called to union with God and that union makes us like God but we remain always the human that God created us to be, created to love God with all our hearts,” explains Egan.
Without grace, without the clear distinction between creation and Creator, we get dangerously close to pantheism–where there’s little or no separation between God and the world.
So, while it’s wonderful that Myss is introducing the world to the Carmelite nun and Spanish mystic who offers us some clear directions toward a deeper union with God, I believe that she’d better get an architect in her castle asap, because some serious renovations are needed.