The Interior Hearth

ColdGwynHighs in the negative digits. Ice so cold it squeaks when you skate on it. Gwyn pedaling the tagalong with a scarf completely covering her face. Minnesota January: Not for the fainthearted.

But it’s perfect for those (like myself) who love hearth and home, who in the glory days of summer dreamt about sorting photos in front of the fireplace on some dark winter night and who like nothing better than to creep down the cold stairs at 5:30 a.m., build a fire, drink tea, and read. My book of choice these days is Mirabai Starr’s translation of The Interior Castle, a fresh, feminist, contemplative take on Teresa of Avila’s classic. Starr has purged the text of its fustiness—most of Teresa’s self-denigration before the eyes of the Inquisition and all its outdated theological language. Teresa now has a podium to address the twenty-first century, and for that I’m grateful.

In winter the fireplace is the soul of our house, a red glow radiating warmth into our living spaces and drawing family and any guests into its radius. Firelight beats away darkness and its heat pushes the cold up into the far reaches of the bedrooms. It’s like Teresa’s image of the soul as an interior castle, at the center of which is a radiating sun. Teresa asks, Of all the magnificent choices God has, where do you imagine the Beloved would most like to reside? What would bring the Holy One the most delight?

“I myself can come up with nothing as magnificent as the beauty and amplitude of a soul,” she answers. God is drawn to your soul, and mine. The winter is bitter. God just wants to warm up.

Don’t we all? Well, actually not. “It must seem like I am talking nonsense. If this castle is the soul, you obviously cannot enter it, because it is inside of yourself. It would be absurd to suggest that someone go into a room she is already in! But remember, there are many different ways to “be” in a place.” Most of us hang outside admiring the castle walls, which is why Teresa was asked to write her book in the first place. We’re so attached to the external glitter, we can’t bring ourselves to enter.

But sometimes life gives us no choice. Loss and suffering and Minnesota winter are pretty strong invitations to enter. If you don’t have a fireplace, a candle will suffice. Stop, sit, and tend the internal flame. The Beloved is eager to join you.                   –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


In honor of my beloved fireplace, on this ridiculously cold morning I’m renaming my blog, “On Tending Art, Heart, and Hearth.”  Enjoy!

Upcoming Opportunities

February 6, 2016, 9:00-noon
Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art & Practice of Spiritual Memoir
Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

February 13, 2016, 1:30-4:30 PM
The Reflective Voice in Creative Nonfiction
The Loft Literary Center

February 27, 2016, 9:00-noon
The Inner Life of Stories: Writing as Deep Listening
Plymouth Congregational Church

June 19-23, 2016
The Inner Life of Stories: Writing as Deep Listening retreat
The Christine Center

September 12-16, 2016
Alone Together writing retreat
Madeline Island School of the Arts

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