Aridity and Contemplation
Aridity and Contemplation
Presence of God – Draw me to You, O Lord, by the road You choose and in any way You will; I ask only for grace to know how to follow You always.
The aridity which comes from God not only has the advantage of making us go forward in virtue, but it also brings us to a higher form of prayer. St. John of the Cross teaches that it is by means of this kind of aridity that God calls souls to a simpler and more profound form of prayer which he terms “initial contemplation.” To distinguish this aridity from that which is caused by other things, he gives three signs.
- The first sign is: “the soul finds no pleasure or consolation in the things of God, it also fails to find pleasure in anything created” (Dark Night of the Soul I, 9,2). This loss of delight in the things of God may occur, too, when aridity is caused by the soul’s own faults; but then it looks for human satisfactions, whereas in the former case, although it no longer experiences the joy of being with God, it does not return to creatures, but rather, remains firm in its decision to keep its heart detached from them.
- The second sign is that, in spite of aridity, “the memory is ordinarily centered upon God with painful care and solicitude, fearing that it is not serving God” (Dark Night of the Soul I, 9 3). In other words, the soul suffers from its spiritual insensibility, fearing that it does not love God and is not serving Him; and at the same time, it continues to seek Him with the anxiety of one who does not succeed in finding its treasure. The soul remains then always occupied with God, although in a negative, painful way, as if suffering because of the absence of a loved one. On the contrary, when the aridity is culpable, especially if it is caused by a state of habitual lukewarmness, the soul is not at all grieved about not loving God; it has become indifferent.
- The last sign consists in the fact that “the soul can no longer meditate or reflect in the imaginative sphere of sense as it was wont, however much it may of itself endeavor to do so” (Dark Night of the Soul I, 9,8). The soul would like to meditate; it applies itself, tries as hard as possible, and still does not succeed. When this state continues—for if it lasted only a short time it might have arisen from special conditions, either physical or moral—although it may have days of greater or less intensity, it tends to invade the whole soul in such a way as to make meditation habitually impossible. This aridity then means a call from God to more profound prayer.
“O Jesus, how burdensome and bitter is life when You hide Yourself from our love! What are You doing, my Friend? Do You not see my anguish and the weight which is crushing me? Where are You? Why do You not come to console me, since I have no friend but You?
“But if it pleases You to leave me in this state, help me to accept it for love of You. Make me love You enough to suffer for You whatever You choose—sorrow, aridity, anguish, or even, seeming coldness of heart. Ah! that is indeed a great love, to love You without feeling the sweetness of Your love.
“Many serve You, O Jesus, when You console them; but few are willing to keep You company when You sleep on the raging waters or suffer in the garden of agony. Who, then, will serve You for Yourself? Oh! grant that it may be I!
“The Gospel tells me, O divine Shepherd, that You leave the faithful sheep in the desert. What deep things that tells me!… You are sure of them, they cannot go astray now, for they are love’s captives; so You deprive them of Your visible presence to bring Your consolations to sinners; or even if You do meet them upon Mt. Thabor, it is only for a few moments. O Lord, do with me as You please. And if You seem to forget me, very well. You are free to, since I am no longer mine but Yours…. You will sooner weary of keeping me waiting than I of waiting for You” (cf. Thérèse of the Child Jesus Letters, 32,73,144,121,81).
I ask only one thing, my God: in this aridity let my love increase, and grant that I may remain faithful to You at all cost. May I love You more by the reality of deeds as my love becomes less sensible. Grant that the less joy my love gives to me, the more glory it may give to You. And if, in order to increase in love, I need to suffer, blessed be this trial; since You strike me to teach me, You mortify me to cure me and to lead me to a higher life.