A smartphone manufacturer made news recently when it announced that, yes, its batteries only function optimally for a couple of years. Or less.
Consumers were not pleased, and rightfully so. The maker confessed but omitted any mea culpa.
Your Maker, on the other hand, has designed you so that your soul can function optimally forever. But that’s not to say there won’t be times — this side of heaven — when your spiritual batteries seem drained.
You know the feeling. In one way or another, your prayer life has become “Hail Mary, full of grace, blah blah blah ... and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Compounding the problem, those batteries, which don’t seem to last as long as they used to, also now seem to take longer to recharge.
You’ll be OK. Your Maker — to stay with the smartphone analogy — has an update, a patch, a program, to get you back in tip-top spiritual shape.
Relax. Deep breath. Spiritual tech support makes house calls. Well ... heart, mind and soul calls. You’ll be up and, uh, down on your knees in no time. Or maybe a little bit longer than “no time.” More good news: All your efforts are themselves a form of spiritually. Probably a variety of forms.
When the apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray, they were praying.
They were talking to him. To God.
And listening to him. To God.
And, one assumes, following God’s advice.
That, in very basic terms, is spirituality.
But notice they didn’t become instant experts or practitioners. Notice there were some glitches, including asking to be big shots in the New Israel That Was Going to Kick Rome Right in the Pants; including falling asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane; including heading for the hills on Good Friday. (All, of course, except Beloved St. John on that last one.)
It wasn’t until Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit that they really started humming right along. And nothing would make them stop. Not even torture, prison and the likelihood of martyrdom.
Right here, right now, you have the same Holy Spirit. He won’t just walk you through this update (or virus/malware scan), he’ll blow away the dust and cobwebs, and fire you up so you’re able to function at tip-top capacity.
|Navigating the dark night of your soul |
In a way, it’s a compliment. A vote of confidence in you.
God’s treating you the way he treated some of those who went on to sainthood. Like you, they experienced dark, barren, frightening times when God was “absent.” When faith was an act of will and not a warm and sure feeling. When prayer seemed only empty words.
In the 16th century the “dark night” was famously described by St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ávila. In our own time, after St. Teresa of Calcutta died, we learned she experienced it for decades.
It was, and is, a form of purification.
St. John puts this positive, and accurate, spin on it:
“The reason why the soul not only travels securely when it thus travels in the dark, but makes even greater progress, is this:
“In general the soul makes greater progress when it least thinks so, yea, most frequently when it imagines that it is losing. Having never before experienced the present novelty which dazzles it, and disturbs its former habits, it considers itself as losing, rather than as gaining ground, when it sees itself lost in a place it once knew, and in which it delighted, traveling by a road it knows not, and in which it has no pleasure.
“As a traveler into strange countries goes by ways strange and untried, relying on information derived from others, and not upon any knowledge of his own — it is clear that he will never reach a new country but by new ways which he knows not, and by abandoning those he knew — so in the same way the soul makes the greater progress when it travels in the dark, not knowing the way.
“But inasmuch as God himself is here the guide of the soul in its blindness, the soul may well exult and say, ‘In darkness and in safety,’ now that it has come to a knowledge of its state.”
A new way. A new country. A new and deeper relationship with God.
How? A few examples and suggestions:
1. Go back to the basics. Or put another way, the “best practices” for a practicing Catholic: Mass, confession, adoration, traditional prayers. But don’t hesitate to ask the Maker for a jolt or two of extra grace to spark those batteries.
2. Remember that — body and soul — it could be the physical strongly influencing the spiritual. It can be hard to work on holiness when you’re just plain worn out. You may benefit from what one pastor referred to as “horizontal meditations” (that is, naps). Then, too, a physical, emotional or mental condition can sap your strength and even sap your sense of hope. Chronic pain, grief and clinical depression are examples of that. Getting professional help can be the greatest — and toughest — form of prayer for you right now. And the most beneficial.
3. Shake it up, baby! What you’ve done for months — or years — may have lost its pizazz. That’s not to say the things you were doing aren’t very good, but, for now, they seem ordinary or bland. Toss in a little spice. Add a novena or chaplet. Sprinkle in a daily prayer to a new-to-you saint. Take a stab at journaling. Head out for a weekly private “pilgrimage” around the neighborhood or high school track, focusing on one virtue, a gratitude list or a litany of prayers for others. Pay attention to any spiritual nudges from the Holy Spirit when he suggests a new form or practice. The Holy Spirit may be asking, “Can you hear me now?”
4. Spend time in the desert but don’t die on the vine. Follow Jesus’ example and spend some time alone with the Father. This could be at adoration, on a silent retreat or just tucked away in your bedroom. If it helps to go someplace, go. But know when it comes to being in the presence of your Heavenly Father there’s no need to be going. Just pay closer attention to his being ... with you. The same with Jesus: he’s the vine, you’re one of the branches. Pause, consider and be grateful for the grace and nourishment that Vine is offering you. Never forcing you to accept them. (You always have free will.) Never getting on your case if you’re “too busy” and ignore them.
5. Pray with your whole body. Yes, walking, kneeling, standing, sitting — but more than that. Getting up, going out and doing something physical for others. Like what? Oh ... feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit prisoners, bury the dead, give alms to the poor. The corporal works of mercy. Each and every one is a form of prayer. Each and every one is a way of serving Jesus. (Remember Matthew 25:31-46? The Judgment of Nations? Sheep, goats ... and you.)
6. Ditto with the spiritual works of mercy. Take that tiny portion of spirituality you feel right now and give it away. Take those little loaves and itty-bitty fish and ... you get it. How? So glad you asked. You can find some suggestions if you ...
7. Use the web! Click over to USCCB.org and type in a search for “works of mercy.” In the same way, take advantage of Catholic periodicals, radio, television and other websites. There you’ll discover information, encouragement, consolation and suggestions to help recharge your batteries, refresh your heart and mind, and renew your soul.
Bill Dodds writes from Washington.