Aridity and Progress
Presence of God – O Lord, help me to seek for You and to unite myself to You, even through the aridity and powerlessness of my spirit.
Even without the presence of the physical or moral causes which we have mentioned before, it is possible to pass from a state of sensible fervor to one of absolute aridity. This happens by the direct work of God which makes it impossible for the soul to pray with the help of the imagination, or to practice acts of sensible love as before. The fact is that, whereas meditation or affectionate converse with God was formerly made with ease and comfort, the soul now finds it impossible to connect two ideas. Thoughts or reading which once moved the soul now leave it indifferent—the heart remains cold and hard as a stone. Even though watching over itself carefully in order to be faithful in mortification and generosity; even though intensifying its preparation for prayer and fervently beseeching the Lord for help, it no longer succeeds in wringing one drop of devotion from its heart. Then the poor soul worries and is afraid, thinking that the Lord has abandoned it because of some fault or other. What she does not realize is that this kind of aridity conceals a great grace—the grace of purification and of progress in the ways of prayer. In fact, by means of aridity, the Lord intends to free it from childish feelings and to raise it to the purer, firmer level of the will. When it was experiencing so much comfort in prayer, the soul, unknown to itself, was becoming somewhat attached to these sensible consolations. Hence it loved and sought prayer not purely for God, but also a little for itself. Now, deprived of all attraction for prayer, the soul will henceforth learn to apply itself to it solely to give pleasure to the Lord. Furthermore, finding no help in beautiful thoughts and sweet emotions, it will learn to walk by strength of will alone, exercising itself in acts of faith and love which, it is true, are wholly arid, but are all the more meritorious because they are more voluntary. In this way, its love for God will become purer, because it is more disinterested; and stronger because it is more voluntary.
“O Lord, blessed be Your Name forever because You willed me to suffer this tribulation. I cannot escape it, so I have recourse to You, that You may help me to profit by it. O Lord, I am deeply afflicted, my heart can find no rest, and it suffers much on account of this hard trial. What can I say to You, O beloved Father? I am in anguish; Lord, save me! This happens to me in order to glorify You by my very humiliation, but later, You will deliver me. May it please You to deliver me, O Lord, for alone and wretched, what can I do or where can I go without You?
“Give me once more the grace of patience! Help me, O God, and I shall fear nothing, even if the burden is heavy. And now, what shall I say in all these misfortunes? Lord, Your will be done. I well deserve the tribulation which is crushing me. I must bear it. May I do so patiently until the storm is past and calm re-established” (Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ III, 29,1.2).
“O my Jesus, nothing from You but dryness. But I am very happy to suffer that which You want me to suffer. I am happy to see that You show me that I am not a stranger by treating me like this.
“O Lord, make my darkness serve to enlighten souls. I consent, if such is Your will, to continue walking all my life in the darkness of faith, provided that one day I arrive at the goal of the mountain of love.
“I am very happy to have no consolation, for thus my love is not like that of the world’s brides who are always looking at their bridegroom’s hands to see if they bear a gift, or at his face in the hope of glimpsing a smile of love to enchant them…. O Jesus, I want to love You for Yourself alone…. I do not desire love that I feel, but only love that You feel” (Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Letters, 51, 90, 93, 89).
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Art for this post on aridity and progress: Photography of Bryce Canyon, Lois Sapio, 2015, all rights reserved, used with permission. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.