For the past couple of months or so, I’ve been in a spiritual dry spell. I’ve mentioned before that my conversion basically started in a spiritual dry spell since I came to believe in God after a life of atheism, without ever having “felt” his presence. But shortly after my husband and I began receiving the sacraments after Easter Vigil last year, I was flooded with what they call “consolation,” a great awareness of God’s presence and the unmistakable feeling of his work in my life. In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola referred to consolation as “when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord,” and that’s exactly what it felt like. I was on fire with love of God.
And now…well, I’m not.
I don’t mean that I don’t love God, but that I’m not on fire about it. I’m in the place where love goes from being a sensation to an action. Until this spiritual dry spell began, living the Christian life to the best of my ability was almost easy (almost). I was so filled with the pure warmth and love of God’s presence that it wasn’t all that painful to, say, forgive someone who wronged me or offer up my little daily sufferings instead of whining about them. Now, without all those nice feelings, it’s a whole lot more difficult to stay on the right path. Now that I have experienced what I suppose you could call a “relationship” with God, this spiritual dry spell has allowed me to experience for the first time the feelings of being abandoned by God.
Last night I was thinking about this, and my thoughts drifted into prayer. “Why?” I called out to God. “Why do we have to go through things like this, living without feeling your presence in our lives at all?” Naturally, I heard only the proverbial crickets chirping in response. No voice of God booming in my ear to explain it all to me, no thunder-and-lightning vision to console me with a glimpse of God’s unfathomable majesty. Just silence.
Frustrated, I rolled over to go to sleep. As I was about to drift off, I was suddenly very aware of my breathing, and felt strongly drawn to think about it. I inhaled, and my blood stream was flooded with oxygen to nourish my body. I let go, exhaled, and my body was purified of deadly carbon dioxide.
I realized that a similar process happens with the soul.
It’s interesting to note that a technical term of inhaling is inspiration. And purification does not happen during inspiration. In breathing, the toxins are collected when we inhale, but they are not released until we exhale. In the spiritual life, at least in my experience, a similar mechanism is at work. Periods of inspiration have nourished my soul, strengthening and fortifying it; and this spiritual dry spell has worked to purify it. Without the nice consolations, the inspirations, it is nothing but a conscious choice, a sheer exercise of free will, to attempt to imitate Christ in all my words and deeds. There is nothing in it for me in terms of surface-level pleasure or fun emotions.
Though it’s not a perfect analogy in that the inspirations and purifications of the spiritual life are not as perfectly rhythmic as the breathing process, the analogy has helped me gain a new perspective on this difficult time. I had a year of drawing in a long, deep breath; and now it’s time to exhale.