“Trials of every kind are temporary, a matter of patient endurance. Trials in the interior life are no different… Yet nothing of pain is insurmountable. Every interior trial simply asks us to cross a threshold more deeply into the mysterious presence of God within our soul.”—Fr. Donald Haggerty, Contemplative Enigmas, 171
Frustrated, I placed my daily devotional and liturgical companion on the coffee table. It was my usual spot, perhaps a comfort, where I sat to pray every morning. For years, I’d used the same method: opening prayer with holy water, scan the daily Mass readings, jot a few words or phrases that struck me, then search for a few spiritual gems in my short devotional readings, which I rotated according to liturgical season.
I took my exasperation to spiritual direction. My director listened attentively, then replied, “There’s something waking up in you. Look at the rhythm of the Paschal Mystery: living, dying, new life and fruit bearing. This keeps us moving to the next place, a place we haven’t been before.”
Dryness in prayer happens as a result of generally one of two reasons: one is that God is calling us to a deeper journey inward, closer to Who He is as Mystery, and the other is that we are avoiding the inevitable suffering that often accompanies a greater faith. In the former case, we yearn for God out of love; in the latter case, we eschew Him out of fear.
“A prayer devoid of feeling, yet endured to the finish, often conceals a great longing for God…”—Ibid, 172
In order to discern which is the cause of our spiritual dryness—love or fear—it’s valuable to ask ourselves, “Am I bored with my prayer time, or do I long to be closer to God?” It’s a question that likely won’t have a straightforward answer, but in time, God Himself will gently unravel the truth.
Perseverance is absolutely essential if we are to weather the aridity of spiritual deserts. These, though initially painful to the soul, are invitations to the contemplative life.
“Every desert has its hidden springs.”—Ibid, 174
Once, during a particularly searing spiritual season, I imagined myself finding an oasis in the desert—and it was Our Lady. In my mind’s eye, I noticed that, as I found myself increasingly parched, I kept my vision focused on her presence. She stood still; the sand swirling around her in the midday heat. But around her was the clearest, freshest spring of water I’d ever seen.
That image kept me faithful to God when I experienced the sting of temptation and doubt from time to time. I wondered if Jesus felt this way – as if the Father had abandoned Him, as if God wasn’t really going to rescue Him – because I did. The desert has a way of stripping our souls bare, so that all that remains is our extreme poverty of spirit.
“Living our faith in silent prayer often means to mortify a desire for some physical attestation of his presence.”—Ibid, 175
When our faith is in its infancy, we have a tendency to cling to consolations and signs – anything indicative of God’s presence and approval. Over time, He removes these emotive signals but not His actual presence. He moves deeper in the soul and psyche of His beloved sons and daughters.
At first, we panic. God has seemingly vanished, and we wonder what we have done wrong. The chastisement of love feels like a scourge, and it is—but only with the intention of God purifying and pruning us, that we might grow in spiritual maturity and thus enter more fully into His love.
Dryness in prayer can happen for a period of time or a lifetime. When we face ourselves in the barest of moments, even as we approach God and realize our reflection in Him, we catch a glimpse of its meaning—to lure us, to beckon, and to unite our hearts with the Heart of God.