After my last post highlighting a great email I got about dark nights of the soul and spiritual dry spells, I received this comment which I also thought was worth sharing since it offers another important perspective to consider. I had to smile when I read it, because these are definitely areas that I need to consider when evaluating the possible causes of my own recent spiritual dry spell:
I think a much safer and more useful approach to such dry periods is to take “the dark night of the soul” or “the dark night of the senses” as the least likely explanation of my predicament.
Before entertaining the notion that my condition is evidence that I am scaling the spiritual heights and that John of the Cross and I have much in common besides our communion in the Sacraments of the Church, it may be very helpful to consider other possibilities first:
- Have I fallen out of the will of God through some disobedience? Of course we are all sinners, but have I refused to follow His inspirations in a particular matter? Have I refused clear inspirations that I should cut down on my eating or drinking, that I should rid the house of television or be more faithful in tithing, etc.? Am I here and now in state of disobedience? If so, then God and I are simply not in the communion of wills that is the prerequisite for making great strides in the spiritual life such as entering on a way of passive purgation. Moreover, my lack of communion is causing me interior distress.
- Am I carrying a grudge against anyone for anything? My dad, my wife, the IRS, Muslims, other drivers, my boss, President Bush, my fifth grade teacher, God? My refusal to love is a barrier to grace — hence my inner emptiness and pain. My “dark night” is merely interior coldness.
- Am I allowing the gift of faith to be eroded by my immersion in the mass media and myriad activities? An unrecollected soul has no possibility of entering on the way of passive purgation.
- Do I have a substantial prayer life to sustain my life of faith and grace? If not, my “dark night of the soul” is a chimera. I am merely running on empty, really “out of grace.”
Personal experience and reflection…leads me to suspect that unless a person is something like a daily communicant and weekly penitent in the Confessional, and one way or another soaked in prayer, exposed daily to the word of God in the Scriptures, and the lives of the saints and their writings, the likelihood that his interior distress corresponds to “passive purification” is unlikely.
All things are possible with God, of course, including that he can take a disobedient, worldly, unloving and prayerless individual by the hair of the head and set him straight on the way to great sanctity, but all the more mundane possibilities ought to be considered first in my humble opinion.
This strikes me as good advice to use spiritual dry spells as an opportunity to take a basic inventory of our lives and see if there are any obvious ways in which we’ve distanced ourselves from God, in addition to learning about the topics discussed in the last post.