Dryness amidst tidings of comfort and joy

| Liz Kelly | December 7, 2016 | 0 Comments


It is not an uncommon phenomenon: Just at the moment when we are trying the hardest to draw closer to the Lord, spending more time in Advent prayer and the devotions of the season, we are met with a spell of aridity. All of the spiritual masters write of such periods, whether it is John of the Cross’ “dark night of the senses,” or Teresa of Avila’s “second mansion,” or more simply, a loss of the desire to pray. If you’re experiencing this in the holidays, you are not alone.

In a recent interview, I spoke with a young mother who is expecting twins. Not long after she was married, she entered what she called “a spiritual desert”: great dryness — in prayer, in her motherhood, in her life in general. Discouraged and disappointed, she persevered as best she could. One day, she recalled a sermon where the priest suggested that Advent was a time to form one’s heart into a home for the infant Jesus to dwell, an image that struck a deep chord with the expecting mother.

“Forming a little inn in our hearts resonated with me,” she said. “With ultrasound, you can see so much more of what is going on [in pregnancy], but the whole process is still very hidden from us. You are creating this space inside you for a child to grow, but you don’t actually meet the child until he is born. It requires real faith — that this child is growing and developing. You continue to nourish your body as best you can so that it remains a hospitable place for the child.”

She began to liken her pregnancy to her “desert prayer.”

“You can’t really ask,” she continued, “‘Are you there, Jesus? Do you like it in there [in my heart]?’ Just like the child in the womb, you can’t ask, ‘How are you guys doing in there? Will you just kick me so I know you’re in there?’ You don’t have a constant window there, so you seek to nourish them and trust that they are growing well. In a similar way, you are doing that with your faith and with prayer. … We aren’t always going to know, or be given the feedback that everything is well. … Giving Christ the room to grow in us is actually quiet and hidden, but it doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. … Even when it’s quiet and seemingly empty, it is often in those times that the Lord is most working and growing in you.”

Keeping it simple

She has found that simplicity in her desert prayer has been the most helpful, a truth often conveyed by the masters of prayer. The Church tells us in the Cathechism, for example, that “The invocation of the holy name of Jesus is the simplest way of praying always. When the holy name is repeated often by a humbly attentive heart, the prayer is not lost by heaping up empty phrases, but holds fast to the word and ‘brings forth fruit with patience.’ This prayer is possible ‘at all times’ because it is not one occupation among others, but the only occupation: that of loving God.”

If your usual methods for prayer in this blessed season are failing — or feel that way — you might try sitting with your favorite image of the Lord and quietly, slowly repeating his holy name: Jesus, Emmanuel, Adonai, Lord. Give him space to simply dwell in you and trust that in time, “The desert shall rejoice and blossom” (Is 35:1).

Kelly is a member of St. Michael in Stillwater. This article is excerpted in part from her forthcoming book “A Catholic Woman’s Worth: Finding, Healing, and Flourishing the Feminine Heart in Christ” (Loyola Press, 2017).

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Category: Advent