Monday, September 11, 2017

Our problem with prayer is often a problem with growing in spiritual maturity.

This scenario is not an uncommon one – you have very clear memories of the time when you prayed and it was so easy to feel the presence of God in your life.  Prayer was never a problem, and you could look all around you and the very sight of nature spoke volumes about God and his creative energy.  It was as if God was constantly speaking to you in many different ways, being present to you, and you wondered how anyone could say that there was no such thing as God.  And then, it somehow all went away. 

Now, you struggle to make it through 10 minutes of contemplation when before, you could bask in it for an hour without your mind drifting off to a million different places.  When before you were so full of confidence and faithful trust in God’s presence and love, now, you seem to be in some sort of a void, and it really seems as if God has decided to stop being present to you.  You now wonder what is wrong with you or your spiritual life.  If the desert is a dry place, your spirit is comparable to the Sahara.  Prayer is truly now a struggle for you.  “Is there anything wrong with me?” you ask.  “And if there is, what is wrong?” 

The simple answer is that there is nothing wrong, but even that is not the full truth.  There is, at the same time, something that IS wrong, and it has to do with your inability to conjure God and his presence and love in a more mature way. 

A person facing this dilemma is really showing signs that he or she is in a state of growth, and any young person will tell you that the phenomena of ‘growing pains’ is very real.  Any person who is sincere in wanting to develop a deep faith relationship with God and who wants to be a spiritually mature person will encounter this in life.  God, it is clear, is not a candy-giver.  While he may give what the spiritual writers call ‘consolations’ as we start out in our faith life, this is not what our faith life should consist of.  Just as a mother knows that giving treats once in a while to her young child can be a motivation or a reward, just thriving on treats alone ends up leaving the child undernourished, with a very unbalanced diet.  Any long-married couple will tell you that the honeymoon period of marriage is not sustainable, and that sooner or later, reality needs to set in and this is where the real hard task of loving with selflessness and generosity comes in.  A spouse in a marriage that constantly longs for that honeymoon experience to never end has not truly matured to live out what constitutes marital sacrifice and unconditional love.

In our initial movements toward God, it is only natural to feel easily motivated, with positive and affective images in prayer.  Neophytes in the faith journey will share this easily.  But when the desolation periods come, and they inevitably will, it doesn’t mean that God has taken a hiatus or turned his back on you.  In fact, it often means that God wants you to grow in the type and quality of your love for him. 

One thing that is undeniable is that one of the true hallmarks of a love that is pure is that it is unconditional.  It is, as the theological definition of love states, “the willing of the good of the other as other”.  In bringing us into the desert, God is really asking of us, his beloved, to purify our love for him and to love him unconditionally too.  Can we love him without asking, hoping and pining for that consolation, insight, and spiritual treat?  Our not experiencing those spiritual highs in our prayer needs to be seen as God’s trust in our love for him, where he has an interior knowing that we can love him unconditionally too. 

Franciscan Richard Rohr says that the way through is always much more difficult than the way around.  Cheap religion, he says, always takes us the way around, whilst true religion beckons us to go into and through the darkness rather than avoid it, or to find a way to explain it away.  Stepping into that darkness where feelings are no longer held out like bait dangled in front of us is stepping into mystery, and also stepping into love.  Only the truly spiritual mature will desire to step into mystery without an eye cast on what he left behind.

Jesus did say those who put their hand on the plough and look back are not fit for the kingdom of God.  Our ‘fitness’ for the kingdom of God requires a conscious and engaged willingness to look at God, and it may require that we image God and his love anew as well.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Fr Luke for this enlightening post:) God Bless.