Consider carefully . . . so that these periods of aridity may teach you to be humble, and not make you restless, which is the aim of the devil. Be sure that, where there is true humility, even if God never grants the soul favors, He will give it peace and resignation to His will, with which it may be more content than others are with favors. For often, as you have read, it is to the weakest that His Divine Majesty gives favors, which I believe they would not exchange for all the fortitude given to those who go forward in aridity. We are fonder of spiritual sweetness than of crosses. Test us, O Lord, Thou Who knowest all truth, that we may know ourselves. (Teresa of Avila: Mansions Three: Chapter One)
We tend to measure the correctness or value of our actions by whether or not they produce “positive experiences”. If we train hard, we win. If we study hard, we get good grades. If we work hard, we advance our career. Life certainly seems to favor the enthusiastic, the industrious, and the skilled. How do we know? We get measurable results — happiness, accomplished goals, and credibility. I encourage effort and discipline but outcomes can be misleading if we measure incorrectly or incompletely.
When we experience spiritual aridity we assume something is wrong. We associate a healthy spiritual life and community with the absence of problems. (Nobody comes right out and says this, but it’s the underlying belief system of many Christians and faith communities.) So we work on fixing the problems by seeking spiritual favors or pursuing unrealistic outcomes. We “collaborate” with our spiritual leaders to create “spiritual fantasies” to avoid dealing with the real issues of our faith communities. This leaves us vulnerable to buying nearly anything sold in a spiritual package:
Yes a heart can hallucinate
If it is completely starved for love
It can even turn monsters into
Angels from above*
“Success” and “spiritual favors” are weak indicators of our spiritual condition. If we insist on spiritual measurements let us at least use correct ones: Peace, resignation to his will, humility, fortitude, and self-knowledge. Maybe our suffering and problems have nothing to do with our spiritual shortcomings. Maybe we suffer because we are spiritual adults and adults have to deal with adult issues. And maybe the ones in need of ongoing spiritual ecstasy are “children”. The immature always refuse to exchange spiritual favors and illusions for the greater gifts of fortitude and self-knowledge.
Teresa says, “We are fonder of spiritual sweetness than of crosses.” Understandable? Yes. But spiritual sweetness may be comfort food that will not produce the spiritual health needed for the grown-up life. Let’s put away the childish illusions that the spiritual life will become “successful” and “happy” if we just find the right steps.
*Jewel Kilcher: Goodbye Alice in Wonderland
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