|Excerpt from DAWN ON THE MOUNTAIN—The Gift of Dryness in Prayer|
|Mother M. Angelica
Christian who strives for holiness of life experiences dryness of soul. It is to
most people a heart-rending experience. It is a paradox, for the soul becomes
confused when it realizes the harder it strives the further away Jesus seems to
How strange is a spiritual life that draws a soul to a fire only to make it feel freezing cold! It is, to all appearances a contradiction. In the world, the closer we are to a friend or loved one, the more secure and unafraid we become. The deeper the love, the more glowing one feels in the presence of the beloved and so it is as we grow in the love of God. He wants us to love Him "In Spirit and in Truth" and this kind of love is above human love—as much above as is the difference between the flicker of a match and the noonday sun.
Human love in all its beauty and warmth must be raised to a level above itself. The air at the foot of a high mountain is easier to breathe, even though it is not as pure as the air on the summit. To breathe that pure air our bodies would have to adapt themselves to the atmosphere of the mountain peak. The peace and quiet and the view from that height are well worth the effort and the pain of climbing.
We would, however, encounter one phenomenon during our climb and that is a certain kind of loneliness. The further up the mountain we travel, the fewer companions we have. There comes a time when all things seem to drop behind and we find ourselves alone. When we finally arrive on the top, the loneliness is gone for we see things very differently. We see all our former companions and possessions as they really are with no illusions, no regrets and no attachments. In this rare air of God's Love we possess Wisdom, which is the Word of God—Jesus. We see things as He sees them because the breath of His Spirit fills our souls to overflowing.
To those who live in the sunshine of the valley, our life atop the mountain is forever dull and lonely, but it is only because they do not share the view. Sometimes we come down the mountain and bask in the sunshine, but soon we must ascend again and fill our souls with the fresh air of His Love.
This is but a faint picture of dryness of soul and the beautiful work it accomplishes. There are times in life when God seems very close. The sun of His Love shines brightly. Our hearts exult and our being is rapt in the joy of His Presence. There are other times however, when His Presence fades away like a morning mist and we find ourselves shivering from the cold. Though the whole world were to love and applaud us it would all be as nothing, for the sunshine of our life—God—seems gone, and our soul cannot be consoled except by Him.
Though our poor human nature rebels at this state of soul, it realizes that somehow great work is being accomplished. The silent Hand of God moves on, purifying the faculties of our soul, detaching us from possessions, people, and ourselves, raising us to various heights of prayer and increasing our capacity for love.
If our dry spell causes us pain, increases our thirst for God, makes us strive for virtue, and during prayer, makes every other thought outside of God distasteful to us, then we can assume the dryness we experience is of God. God is calling us to a higher form of prayer and a deeper union with Himself.
In the beginning of our spiritual life God floods our souls with consolations, but before long His Love demands that we rise above the feeling level and adore Him "in spirit and truth."
In our daily life human love rests for the most part on a sense level, but since God is Spirit we must communicate with Him on a spirit-to-spirit level. We must be detached from the world and ourselves and seek Him for Himself alone. It is for this purpose that Jesus tells us "every branch that does bear fruit the Father prunes to make it bear more fruit" (Jn. 15:2).
It is those who are putting forth great effort to become like Jesus that God plunges into the darkness of dryness and into an awareness of their imperfections. So begins the purification of our faculties—Memory, Understanding and Will—and the beginning of our ascent to the Mountain of Holiness.
The first faculty to feel the pruning of the Father is our Memory. It is as if all things good and holy were blanked out of our minds. We not only find Meditation impossible but even distasteful.
It is at this state of soul that the evil spirits, who realize the importance of dryness, tempt us to give up prayer or torture us with the thought that some past sin has incurred God's anger upon us and He has left us to our miserable selves.
Another phenomenon occurs in this state of soul and that is an exaggerated view of our weaknesses, faults and imperfections that we have long accepted and fought against; they become so big that they engulf our souls like a huge monster.
Our Intellect, reasoning on a human level, keeps telling us that sanctity is not for us. It is obviously for those who have fortitude to accomplish great deeds and possess great talents and gifts.
It is nearly impossible for the soul to see how any good could come from this state of mind but if the soul perseveres in its prayers and acts of virtue in spite of how it feels, it will soon begin to realize that its purification is good and freedom of spirit will be its reward.
Dryness sharpens every faculty. It forces us to great degrees of Hope when our Memory and Imagination are dulled. It increases our Faith for we must seek Him as He is and believe His Word. It strengthens our Will by making it follow His Commandments and imitate His virtues.
Our Faith tells us that God is always Present to us and by grace He is in our souls. Dryness then forces us to live by what Faith teaches rather than what our feelings make us desire. Unless God bestows upon us the searing power of dryness we shall forever be swayed by emotional feelings designed to prod us on but never capable of changing us.
How beautiful is the cross that brings about such marvelous changes in the soul.
Dryness Of The Heart
Now we stand alone before the majesty of God, and the brightness of that light makes us recoil at the difference between us. We feel unloved and unloving. When dryness attacked our minds there was at least a shred of love residing in our hearts, but now that is gone and we are forced to love only because we want to.
We are so accustomed to love on a human level that we find loving God for Himself, either impossible or beyond our capabilities. We tend to love those who appeal to us, render us a service or are good to us. In the degree they perform these various services we love them.
Because God is spirit, invisible and all-perfect, our relationship with Him is often built on the "Rich Uncle" concept that he has everything to give and we have only to receive. That we have anything to give upsets our theology and increases our responsibility. Any friendship not based on a mutual giving will not last. Selfish love cannot exist between friends for very long and if that love is the basis of our relationship to God, it is a disaster. Yet to love on a selfish level is so basic to our nature. We tend to love Him on the same level as we love our neighbor—for what He does or can give us.
Dryness of heart—that purifying cross— cleanses our love of all selfishness and raises it to a level of unselfish love. We begin to love freely—because we want to—because God is all-lovable. The wrenching of self from our prayer time with God, by this inability to "feel" any love in our hearts, raises us to the level of the New Commandment. On this level of prayer, we pray and love God for Himself alone, not for the gifts or consolations He gives us. This new attitude and degree of love extends itself to our neighbor and we begin to love him in the same way God loves us— unselfishly.
Only through the pain of dryness—where we decrease and He increases—can we begin to love God in the way He wishes us to love. When we pray we are doing so on our will power for our poor human nature receives no compensation for its efforts.
Faith tells us that God is present when we pray and Hope tells us He listens, but only Love makes us continue to pray when darkness, boredom and even disgust fill our souls to overflowing. Only a true love will persevere in praying despite darkness and confusion.
Perhaps one of the first fruits the Spirit bears in our souls through the purification of dryness is detachment.
The people and things we are attached to are the things we love selfishly. We find comfort and consolation in them, and in proportion as our souls cling to these feelings, in that proportion we are attached.
Attachments to spiritual experiences lead to spiritual gluttony. We seek consolations, become disconsolate without them, jealous of those who possess them, and are never satisfied with God's plan in our lives. We demand from God or bring upon ourselves consolations, the fruit of which is a repugnance for suffering in any form. We run from the pruning hand of the Father and in so doing deprive our souls of the consolations at the heights of prayer. We are not willing to give up the sweetness of being aware of the Presence of God for the growth of Faith in our lives.
This unwanted and unappreciated dryness of soul brings about the virtue we do not have the courage to exercise—detachment. It has the power to strip us of the things we desire and covet most of all—feelings. By the stripping down of feelings, dryness leaves our souls open to objective thinking, clear thinking, and an unselfish concern for others.
If we are strong enough to love and commune with God, without feelings, we shall do the same with our neighbor. We shall love that neighbor with a detached love. This means we make loving more important than being loved in return.
The Spirit of God assists us in this painful mortification by giving us a dryness of soul that does not find pleasure or comfort in anything. Even nature, beautiful and majestic as it comes from the Power of God, leaves us cold and unimpressed.
The love of friends only makes us realize how much we miss His Presence. The thought of past spiritual experiences, when we were aware of His Love and Goodness, only creates a greater void that nothing can fill.
The more we reach out to creatures to fill the void in our hearts, the deeper that void becomes. Like the Bride in the Song of Songs, we cry out to everyone, "Have you seen Him whom my heart loves?" (Songs 3:3) What a blessing that God's pruning does not permit us to find comfort in anyone or anything. Surely, we would cling to the least comfort and be willing to forego our climb up the Mountain of Holiness if we could find solace in creation.
Dryness Leads To Humility
One of the most painful lessons that Dryness teaches is the spirit of Humility. Our total helplessness in the face of our inability to pray can almost annihilate our pride. We may rebel against this feeling of inadequacy, but if we accept it we can make a giant stride towards a spirit of Humility.
The humility that is the fruit of dryness is not self-imposed, so the soul is guarded against a false humility which says it can do nothing of itself but does not really believe it. Neither is this humility the fruit of persecution or misunderstanding. It is, therefore, a safeguard against the resentment that often accompanies the clashes of personality traits in our relationship with others.
It is a crushing blow to our pride to realize we must wait upon the Lord to pray well or to pray at all. We often read and reread Jesus' statement that without Him we can do nothing but this hardly reaches an experimental stage in our lives. When we kneel before Him helpless, dry and in a state of confusion, we begin to "feel" our finite condition. A reality of life becomes an experience for us—it becomes a startling fact that without Him we can do nothing—not even pray.
It is good to have an intellectual awareness of our dependence upon God—to understand how great He is and how very small we are in His sight. But when our very bones feel the crushing weight of His Holiness upon us and we are conscious of our sinner condition, we pass on from knowing about God to knowing God, for the former is knowledge and the latter, experience.
Not only does the soul possess a new sense Of its dependence upon God, but its self-knowledge is increased to an alarming degree. Every fault is magnified and the soul sees weaknesses within it that never before came to the surface.
This self-knowledge is the very root of Humility and when the soul sees itself as it really is and then gazes at the Infinite God who loves it, the reality of the vast difference between them engenders Humility, provided this knowledge is accepted with a deep sense of gratitude.
This gratitude is not only for the light given but for the gratuitous love bestowed upon the lowly soul by the Infinite God. The reality of God's personal love for a poor weak human being sends the soul into transports of joy, even though the feeling of dryness fills it with consternation and its weaknesses overwhelm it. In its very depths there begins a quiet acceptance of itself and of God and a determined effort evolves that drives the soul on to a deeper love in a spirit of sacrifice.
The soul slowly understands what humility of heart means. It does not feel crushed or broken but is overwhelmed by a 'sense' of its sinner condition, of its capacity for evil, and the thin thread that separates it from God whose "power is at its best in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9)
In Praise Of Dryness
Dryness makes us seek God for Himself. strengthens our Faith, Hope and Love. purifies our soul so we can reach for God. creates a vacuum only God can fill. increases our thirst for God. increases our desire for holiness. helps us practice the Beatitudes. gives us an appreciation of suffering and leads us to pray without ceasing.
Dryness leads us gently from vocal prayer, where we learn to speak to God; to Meditation, where we think of God; to Contemplation, where our heart merely gazes upon Him with a love too deep for words.
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