Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Difficulty of Explaining Spiritual Experiences

“. . . spiritual matters are very hard to explain. . . . I am convinced that those who refuse to believe that God can do far more than this, and that He is pleased now, as in the past, to communicate Himself to His creatures, shut fast their hearts against receiving such favours themselves. Do not imitate them, sisters: be convinced that it is possible for God to perform still greater wonders. Do not concern yourselves as to whether those who receive these graces are good or wicked; as I said, He knows best and it is no business of yours: you should serve Him with a single heart and with humility, and should praise Him for His works and wonders.
-       Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
The Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila is a classic of spiritual literature. Teresa is a humble and devout follower of Jesus who experienced a great many spiritual manifestations. She saw miracles, experienced communication from God, and had physical experiences that both comforted her and caused her to repent of sin. Yet, she always found it difficult to explain her spiritual experiences to others and often repeated the sentiment that “spiritual matters are very hard to explain.” I would concur with this idea. The way that God communicates with each of us can be very unique and difficult to explain to someone else who may be wired quite differently from ourselves. Some of my own most intimate moments with God have left me overwhelmed and encouraged by His presence but when I try to explain them to even my closest friend (my wife), I am left speechless. When I share my journal writings with her she must sometimes wonder if I am having a schizophrenic break.

Yet, Teresa of Avila continues to encourage us to trust that God can do far more than one typically sees in the world and to never “shut fast our hearts against receiving such favours” ourselves. She says, “be convinced that it is possible for God to perform still greater wonders.” What wonders might we be missing because we have shut the door to miracles and manifestations of our God? How might He communicate with us if we truly opened ourselves to His presence?

Yet Teresa is also quick to direct us away from putting too much emphasis on the miracles of God. She reminds us that we are not to focus upon miracles nor only seek the spectacular in our relationship with Jesus. She says that we should simply, “serve Him with a single heart and with humility, and . . . praise Him for His works and wonders.” This too is good advice and I highly recommend reading The Interior Castle for a greater explanation of these matters.

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