CP9 – Dry Discomfort in Prayer – Reflections from Contemplative Provocations by Fr. Donald Haggerty – Discerning Hearts Catholic Podcasts

Reflection 9 – Dry Discomfort in Prayer – Reflections from Contemplative Provocations by Fr. Donald Haggerty – Discerning Hearts Catholic Podcasts

Contemplative life is initiated undramatically—one might say in a concealed, subtle, confusing manner. One symptom is a dry discomfort in prayer like the bodily ache of a fever that does not subside. The aridity contrasts with the prior experience of prayer, when a consoling sense of God’s presence was enjoyed. Now there is little felt contact with God, nothing savored in emotion. God seems to disappear more and more into hiding. Other symptoms as well seem incongruous as signs of a growth in prayer. A focused attention on Our Lord becomes difficult. Noisy distractions disturb prayer. Petty concerns interfere with prayer and replace quiet reflections about God. The gospel pages no longer offer vivid attraction. Anxious thoughts and unwelcome memories intrude, and the mind is unable to settle down. The struggle for an attentive silence and some serenity can burden an entire period of prayer. The sense of being alone, somehow separated from God, unable to pray, does not let up.

It may seem that something has gone spiritually wrong, that unfaithfulness and neglect have damaged relations with God. The general malaise, it is thought, must be due to offending God in some way. Wrongs committed, minor failures and mistakes, become exceedingly troubling. The insecurity spreads beyond prayer, causing at times scrupulosity. Firmer resolutions in virtue are made, but the confusion continues unrelieved. Vigilance in avoiding sin, more sacrifice and self-giving to others, penitential practices—nothing removes the insipid taste in prayer. The spiritual life becomes forced labor, an exercise of willpower out of proportion to ordinary tasks. Perseverance may keep a soul soldiering on. But it is likely to question its suitability for a serious pursuit of God.

The return each day to silent prayer in this condition means to face the discomfort of silence. There can be a strong temptation to give up prayer or to find some activity in silent prayer to counter frustration. A more superficial prayer can be adopted which discards the effort of listening in silence to God. One might opt, for instance, to spend time in prayer simply reading. In that case the dryness and distraction may lift to a degree because they are less noticed. This may seem to restore relations with God. It would be a poor exchange, however, a step backward. The soul would forfeit a grace it was beginning to taste of a deeper thirst for God. The thirst of the soul for God is stronger in the desert. It is easy, nonetheless, to run for the shade.

Haggerty, Donald. Contemplative Provocations: Brief, Concentrated Observations on Aspects of a Life with God (pp. 59-60). Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.

Discerning Hearts Daily Contemplative Prompts

How can the experience of spiritual dryness and desolation, as described in the passage, serve as an invitation to deepen one’s relationship with God, rather than as a sign of spiritual failure or distance from Him?

Consider how the challenges of contemplative prayer might be understood as part of the journey towards a more profound faith and trust in God’s presence, even when He seems most absent.

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A great many religious people undertake a serious dedication to prayer. They are moved by a longing for a deeper encounter with God that beckons them as a distant light at night on the sea. Yet far fewer become true contemplative souls, for it is difficult to continue the quest for God in the face of many obstacles.

For those who are spiritually courageous and full of desire for God, this book will provoke them to persevere in this ultimate adventure in life-the more complete discovery of the living God. Thematically unified by the notion of God’s ultimate transcendence to our limited human knowledge, this work offers a rich profusion of insights on the life of prayer and the pursuit of God.

A key to spiritual growth is the understanding that the hiddenness of God becomes a paradox in the experience of a soul seeking him wholeheartedly. Rather than enjoying a more intimate familiarity with God, the soul advancing in prayer is likely to experience more intensely the concealment of God. This surprising truth undergirds true contemplative prayer. It is a reason why every contemplative soul, and every saint, is inflamed with a never satisfied thirst for God.