The great mystic, Teresa of Avila, used to lament the fact that her soul was like a dirty and unkempt inn wherein she, nevertheless, welcomed her Lord. However, unkempt or not, she welcomed him whose coming and abiding within her would—as he did in the temple—cleanse her of all defilement and transform her! I am not sure that Abraham’s dusty tent, baked by the heat of the noonday sun, was any more suited than Teresa’s inn to a divine guest! Indeed, rather than bring his three mysterious guests into his tent he offered them a place in the shade under a tree. Now, whatever about the unsuitability of Abraham’s tent or Teresa’s dirty inn, these two great people shared two things: a spirit of vigilance, and an eager hospitality.
I say this of Abraham because despite the fact that the day was growing hot (just the time of day to grow drowsy and inattentive), he seems to have been alert and immediately spotted the arrival of his three visitors and ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them. As regards Teresa, after what she termed her “second conversion,” her commitment to prayer and a life of increasing interiority cultivated a similar vigilance of the heart that did not miss the loving visits of her Heavenly Bridegroom or fail to hear his gentle knock on the door of her heart. Cultivating a similar vigilance and hospitality to the divine is one of the key elements in our daily monastic life as we strive to become pure and single-minded.
Obstacles to this purity of heart and inner vigilance for the visits of the Lord are various and differ in degrees for each person. In the earlier stages of our spiritual development, these are often associated with our worldly attachments, which claim attention and distract us from that still quiet voice sounding in the depths of our hearts and calling us to repentance and conversion. As we progress a little and become more aware of our sinful condition, we may find ourselves (like Teresa) becoming distressed by the dirtiness of the inn of our heart. Unfortunately, this otherwise beneficial awareness can itself become a distraction from sensing God’s presence within our hearts as we focus on trying to singlehandedly cleanse our hearts before we open the door at which he knocks and grant him admittance.
It is at this stage that we need to recall the story of Zacchaeus. His was a vigilance that began as curiosity and made him climb a sycamore tree. We do not know the state of his house back home, but we do know that at the time he encountered Jesus his heart was still a rather dingy tavern! Still, without hesitation, Jesus announces, Come down, Zacchaeus, for today I must stay at your house! And, as we know, it is this living and personal encounter with Jesus and his welcoming him into his home that brings about Zacchaeus’ radical conversion and transformation. Jesus is thus the doctor (the heavenly physician) who doesn’t await us at his consulting rooms, but resembles the good doctors of old who made house calls and seeks entry into our hearts be they sparklingly clean and bright or dingy, dirty, and dark. And upon entering our hearts (as in the temple) he drives from us all that is evil and holds us bound in our misery and deprives us of joy.
Let us imitate Abraham and Teresa, then, both in their vigilance and in their eager welcome of our heavenly Lord. For the Lord is the one thing necessary that we need to choose again and again until like Mary who reclined at the Master’s feet, we too my drink of the Water of Life at its very source. And in that drinking our hearts will be transformed and become that Heavenly Mansion that itself reflects something of the wondrous beauty and glory of that Heavenly Jerusalem, our Eternal Home.