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What's Up With Spiritual Dry Spells?

We've all experienced spiritual dry spells. Come on. Admit it. There's nothing to be ashamed of. Jen F at Conversion Diary has a fine post on a reason for it.

What you are experiencing is what is known to mystical theologians as the passive purification of the senses. God deprives us of the consolations we used to obtain in prayer because ultimately he wants us to strive after him for His own sake and not for the joys we obtain from it. The passive purification of the senses is the entry point to the illuminative way from the way of beginners. Many beginners experience this but many give up at this point and continue to live lives of spiritual mediocrity instead of entering the illuminative way...
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Lee Gilbert said...

Well, frankly, I am impatient with this teaching- not that it isn't true, but that it is often siezed upon as a working diagnosis by persons who are very far indeed from entering upon a period of passive purification. Myself, for example, over the many years of my life.

I haven't the slighest doubt that devout Catholics may encounter this passive purification from time to time. But I do 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:

A. 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.

B. 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.

C. 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.

D. 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- not that I have ever experienced the dark night of the soul- 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 extremely 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.

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