St. Theresa of Avila and Meditative Union

Meditative Union in the Fifth Mansion of the Interior Castle

St. Theresa of Avila, writing the "Interior Castle"
St. Theresa of Avila, writing the “Interior Castle”

The analogy of the cocoon and butterfly has been used for many purposes.  The main and primary theme involves change and new life.  St. Theresa also utilizes this analogy in her chapter on the Fifth Mansion in her classic work, “The Interior Castle“.  Each mansion represents a state of union the soul experiences with God.  As one travels inward, they come across certain states of spirituality or “mansions” in which the soul experiences God.  The meditative union in the fifth mansion is a beautiful union with God that St. Theresa explains via the analogy of the silk worm.
The silk worm represents man’s current spiritual state of wordly affairs where one “crawls” in the lower senses of existence.  Appeased by worldly and materialistic things, the spirituality is weak.  However, St. Theresa insists that once the silk worm commits to the will of its nature instead of its own cravings, then it can truly grow.  As the soul denies its own will and accepts the will of the Father, then it opens itself to true union with God.  Without denial of one’s own motives and desires, there can be no union.
Again as the silk worm progresses in its task of building the cocoon, so the soul begins its practice of pennance, good works, meditation, submission and prayer.  The soul builds its own cocoon of seclusion where it changes and grows into something new via union.  After the silk worm emerges as a butterfly and no longer “crawls” but “flies”, so the soul experiences reality in a new different way.

The beauty of the soul who finds union and acceptance of God's will is like a butterfly reborn
The beauty of the soul who finds union and acceptance of God’s will is like a butterfly reborn

The new realities pose new reflections for the soul.  No longer after tasting the divine is the soul as concerned with material things but spiritual things.  The soul is no concerned with sin and how it offends God.  The great pain the soul feels for offense against God is emphasized by St. Theresa.  She also reflects upon in comparision how great Jesus’ pain for sin must have been in magnintude compared to mere mortals who have just sipped union.  She exclaims that such union with God and abhorance of sin found in Christ would have no doubt caused grief so great as to cause death unless for Christ’s divine nature.
This union so blissful, however, still causes a worthwhile distress.  It produces a cross for those who have died the life of the “silk worm” still exist in this state of reality.  St. Theresa says it is one’s duty and will of God to continue living in this life despite the sweet taste of union.  She also laments that some while experiencing this taste once may not taste it again until their final union with the Trinity in the next life.
She emphasizes that one put the needs of others ahead of their personal aspirations and devotions to gain this union and begs her sisters to seek the needs of neighbor above their own.  She points out that a deep love for God is the root for a deep love for neighbor and through this one can love more perfectly in this world.  She has some hope that in giving to others, one will understand the true nature of union and love with God that one experienced.
In respect, did not Christ possess this union constantly while in a temporal prison of existence?  Yet Christ, himself, shared his union and love with everyone.  This is the point St. Theresa is attempting to make in regards to those who have experienced meditative union.  They are not to continue to hide in their cocoon but like a butterfly, flutter to and fro as the wind takes them, according to the will of God, sharing the truths of Christ.
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Mark Moran, MA, GC-C-, SCC-C