Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross were sixteenth-century Roman Catholic mystics who are among the most influential writers on contemplative prayer. In The Interior Castle, Teresa described her vision of the spiritual life as a crystal castle with many dwelling places where pilgrims experience the presence of God at different levels according to where they are in their unique relationship to God. These seven "mansions" are “dwelling places” of progressive enlightenment in a person's journey within his or her own soul, culminating in union with God.

      For John, in Ascent of Mount Carmel and Dark Night of the Soul, the journey in Christ is depicted as emerging through an ascetic purging darkness of faith and eventually coming to a point where one finds his or her own way with Christ. Persecuted as a reformer of his church, the Dark Night of the Soul was John's exposition of the "Spiritual Canticles," a poem of his loving relationship with Christ written during his imprisonment.

      Though contemporaries of the Protestant Reformation, Teresa and John were in a different theological universe from Protestant and evangelical forerunners. They lived in the context of sixteenth-century Spanish Inquisition Catholicism and were reformers in their own right. I’m reminded of the original meaning of “Protestant,” which is “to profess.” Though in a different context, Teresa and John carried on a mission similar to the early proponents of the Reformation: to profess the truth that believers may have a personal and direct relationship with God.

      The works of Teresa and John have become cherished guides in my journey of relating to God. Their personalities come through in their writings and make their aspirations all the more real. I identify with John’s melancholia and his struggle to find a place in the world. His gift for analysis inspires me. Teresa’s bent toward emotion invites me to step beyond mere logic and experience God with my whole self. Her vivaciousness challenges me to step out of my introversion and find connections between my contemplation and community.