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Imagine it is 1579. Teresa of Avila and several nuns are travelling to a remote convent in Spain. When the sisters are attempting to cross a raging river in their donkey cart all the supplies for their long trip are washed away. Teresa seeks refuge under a tree and snaps ‘If this is how God treats his friends it’s no wonder he has so few.’
Celebrated for more than four centuries as a master of mystical writing, St. Teresa of Avila is one of the most beloved religious figures in history. An irreverent fiery nun, St. Teresa talked back to everyone including God. She held unconventional progressive views on prayer and worship and spent most of her career under the scrutiny of the Inquisition. Her tendency toward sudden fits and visions only increased the Church’s suspicions and she was even labelled insane by a few of her contemporaries. Like her confidant and protégé, fellow reformer St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa was persecuted throughout her life simply for believing that every person is capable of a direct relationship with God.
At her secluded convent in 1577 Teresa was overcome by a mystical vision of a crystal castle with seven chambers each representing a different stage in the soul’s spiritual quest for union with God. In her vision, a light shone from the largest and most central chamber with the surrounding rooms receiving only some of this divine light. A soul, making progress on its journey to God, passed through each chamber, moving closer and closer to God’s light. Teresa was inspired to write about her vision, with a commentary to guide seekers through each room as they searched for God.