Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Desert

Unless you gave up cake for Lent...
then you can't come to the party.
The start of the Lenten season marks the one year* anniversary of my spiritual dry spell.

*Church year, not calendar year.

To commemorate this momentous occasion, I'm going to have an anniversary party. You're all invited!


Unfortunately, I'm not quite to the partying part yet. I have gotten to the point where I've accepted this dry spell - whatever it means - but I haven't gotten to the point of rejoicing. Maybe someday I will go all St. Paul and learn how to rejoice in my suffering (2 Cor 12:10, Rom 5:3, Col 1:24, etc.), but until then, I'll have to save my cake-eating and happy-dancing for other occasions.

I suppose it is fitting that my dry spell began with Lent last year. I entered the desert with Christ, but for reasons known only to God, I didn't experience the joyous resurrection of coming out of the spiritual desert when Easter rolled around. While there have been brief periods of spiritual enlightenment, joy, and revelation, I haven't been able to leave that dry, arid desert for a year - at least, not yet.

Throughout the past year, I've had many people ask me what I mean by "spiritual dry spell" and to describe what it's like. This is not a question that offers an easy answer!

Jesus Ministered to by Angels, by James Tissot
Looking to Christ, we know a little about his 40 days in the desert. He ate nothing for 40 days, and when the days were over, he was hungry (that's the understatement of the year). We hear in this Sunday's Gospel that the angels ministered to him while he lived amongst the wild beasts.

Oh, and he was tempted by that pesky Devil. Over and over again. He was offered food, power, and riches - everything that someone in a weakened state could ever dream about - but Christ turned it all down.

While we have insight into what Jesus did in the desert through the Gospel accounts, we have no inkling of what his heart, mind, and soul were going through during that period in the spiritual wasteland.

Did he feel as if God had abandoned him?

Did he close his eyes to pray and see only darkness and emptiness?

Did his heart yearn for the closeness he once felt with the Father?

I don't have the answers as to what Christ went through. I think that perhaps he had to experience that in some way, since he was human in every way but sin. We all go through periods of spiritual dryness, and these times are even more noticeable when we go from an on-fire faith life to being thrown in the desert. Each person experiences this dryness in a different way.

I can say that for me, my dry spell is not necessarily characterized by feelings or temptations, but by the lack of something - anything - which makes it difficult to describe.

This picture lacks a presence.
When I close my eyes to pray, it's not that it is dark, as if the light has been turned off. It's as if it is entirely empty, like there was never a light there in the first place. Where I once felt God's presence guiding my prayers, I now do not sense any presence at all. It is like there is a void that was once full and over-flowing. Where I used to be able to sit in tranquil silence, waiting to listen to God, the silence is now more noted by a lack of thoughts than a peaceful presence. I used to desire to go to Mass every day - like a girl giddy with love - but I no longer have that intense longing to be in His presence. Where I used to find rest before, the past year has felt as if I've been carrying a heavy burden. No matter how much I try to sit at Christ's feet, I still feel as if I'm begging to be recognized. Most significantly, it doesn't feel as if I have been carrying a cross with Christ, but  all of this has felt as if I've been all alone.

In my heart, I know that God hasn't left me, and I know that I haven't been carrying this alone, but that doesn't make the sensation of feeling alone any less. I can read and reflect on the idea of suffering all I want, but that doesn't actually make the suffering go away. At the end of the day, I can accept it all while still wondering why I'm in this spiritual state, right here and right now.

I think one of the most significant things I have learned in this past year through a lot of reflection and even more spiritual direction is that God has a plan for all of this. He has led me to this dry spell - and kept me there -for reasons only known to Him. We even read in all of the Gospel accounts that it is the Holy Spirit that leads Jesus into the desert. Not the Devil. Not some shiny object. God Himself leads Christ into the desert. Scripture doesn't say why, but we know that there must be a good - and important - reason why God would not only allow this to happen, but also to actually lead His son into the dryness. If He had a reason for doing that for Christ, then He must have a reason for doing it for me, too.

All I know is that whatever is coming for me after all of this must be big. After all, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert only to come out and begin his public ministry, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and calling all sinners to repent and believe in the Gospel. (Mk 1:12-15) While I don't see myself busting out of this dry spell standing on street corners yelling at people to repent - it's not really my style - I have come to trust over the past year that there is something big in the works. Someday, I will hopefully look back at this time in my life and think, "That's what it all was for." Until then, I just have to keep praying - begging is the more correct term - and wait. Just as Christ came out of the desert, I will someday too, still walking along beside Him.


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