Let us remember the promises of our God, my brothers and sisters, as we prayerfully enter this chapter dedicated to the dryness of our souls.
“Spiritual aridity is food that is somewhat hard to digest, but is very nourishing…”
An exquisite metaphor offered by Fr. Matta to introduce us to an otherwise unappealing topic…
“…an important phase that the soul has to undergo, which may be regarded as a kind of pruning to prepare the soul for a more advanced spiritual life, not contingent upon psychological incentives or subjective pleasures.”
Hmm…this is definitely sounding more interesting. “An important phase.” I certainly don’t want to miss something this important. “Pruning” doesn’t sound so terribly bad…
“…spiritual aridity is an experience that grace brings upon the soul so that it might grow in its direct vision of God. This is effected by blocking all the secondary outlets that distract spiritual vision, namely consolations, pleasures, and incentives.”
“The moment prayer is unshackled from such attachments, it enters upon the phase of purity. Once man attains pure prayer, there is nothing in the world to separate him from God, for the essence of the soul will have been centered in God without an exterior agent.”
I never imagined when I began reading this chapter that I would find myself not only welcoming spiritual aridity, but actually longing for it. How curious…
It is likely that my longing is more based on the end result than on the process itself. That would be so like me.
Talk of “direct vision of God”, “pure prayer” and a soul centered on God…well, it just sounds so wonderful. What joy, what bliss that must entail!
While undoubtedly so, my spiritually greedy self is, of course, missing the point.
The point of spiritual aridity is to prune away my desire for and attachment to consolation and pleasure in my prayer. And it accomplishes its goal by removing what I naturally savor: the pleasing and consoling feelings God allows me when I pray.
I might imagine that I can handle this in bits and pieces. “Pruning” sounds sort of like touching up, not something that should last so terribly long.
But then I remember Mother Teresa (now St. Teresa of Calcutta) whose “phase” of spiritual aridity lasted about 50 years. She continued to faithfully pray and serve the poor with a smile, while feeling nothing from God for 50 years – except a rare and random week or two of feeling His presence.
Recalling having read this in her own words, I am deeply humbled. I cannot imagine.
So I must admit, I do not really know what I am asking for. I might think that my days when sick or feeling “off” count – but they are nothing. Everyone has those.
I am in no way prepared for this pruning. I am not nearly strong enough to peacefully continue a prayerful life in Christ without some sense of Him – to be so certain of His promises, to love Him so selflessly that I ask for nothing in return.
No. I am far too weak for that.
But isn’t that the point? That it is not about me – about what I can do, what I accomplish or how I feel? That it is all about Him?
When it is all about Him, all I long for is Him and what He wants. He may give me joy and consolation, He may take it away. Either is fine because I know He is there and I rest safe in His love, regardless of what I feel.
It is not my strength or brilliance or holiness that sustains me. It is His.
And I must be all His – there is no partial on contingent giving of myself. “I will give You myself so long as…” No, that cannot be.
It is one of the few things in this life that is truly all or nothing.
“But, but…,” my weak and frightened self stammers, “it cannot be truly all or nothing. I am a work in progress. I am not complete. I’m still struggling. God is still working on me. If I am not yet all, does that mean I am nothing to Him?”
See what silly games the adversary can play with my ego? Of course, it can never be that I will be “nothing” to Him. He emptied Himself out in life and death for me.
And why would He bring me through different phases of pruning and growth if He expected me to be complete right now, once and for all? He knows of my weakness.
And He is the remedy for it as well.
The “all” of the all or nothing is about the action of my will. As Fr. Matta so gracefully instructs, we will never be held accountable or condemned for our thoughts, images or emotions.
It is only our will that represents our soul. And it must choose. It cannot say both yes and no.
He is the remedy for all of our weakness as long as the will says yes. That “yes” may experience all kinds of fearful feelings and doubting thoughts but it opens the door to His abounding grace and mercy.
This is so important to remember because, should the grace of aridity come to us, we must know that it is neither our fault that we feel no enjoyment in our prayer, nor is it a chastisement for our sin and weakness.
It is God’s grace at work, preparing us to be drawn into ever deeper union with Him.
We may also be assaulted by evil during such times, Fr. Matta warns. We may find all sorts of dreadful thoughts and images entering our minds. It is not easy to be pruned.
The lack of comfort from God gives the evil one ripe opportunity to afflict us with all kinds of ideas that might never have occurred to us before – and they are not good ones.
Yet we are told that we need not be troubled by this. It is the “yes” of our will that counts, not this involuntary onslaught of thoughts or feelings. Our will needs only to reject these and continue on with our prayer, trusting that God is still with us, even in the dark.
In His own time – the perfect time – He will intervene and we will find ourselves purified and ready to live freely in His presence.
In Him, it is good – it is all good. Let us rest in Him always. Amen.
(Comments or reflections of your own are most welcome…blessings upon you all.)