In lieu of a Book Review this week and a regular post, here is the Introduction to my latest book . . .
A fat mother groundhog lives in the backyard of my convent. The other day I glanced out my window and thought I saw her standing like a statue. But no. It was an enormous bird! I grabbed my camera and dashed out the backdoor. Too late—the exotic creature flew off and disappeared. This experience is the perfect image for the subject of this book. God is sometimes as elusive as that bird. We yearn to come close to him, yet we can’t. Either God hides for some unfathomable reason, or we don’t have the knack of capturing him—not for a photo but for a heart-to-heart talk.
If the title Praying on Empty has seized your attention, you probably know what I’m talking about. You used to like to pray. You felt connected to God and enveloped by divine love. Sometimes you had a flash of insight about God, life in general, or your own life. A Scripture passage spoke to you with a new and personal meaning. Praying and singing with other Christians at Mass made your heart swell with joy. Prayer filled you with peace and seemed to empower you with the strength to face any trials. You felt good . . . and even holy.
All of a sudden your prayer dried up! You lost the sense of God’s presence, could hardly wait until prayer was finished, and maybe stopped praying entirely. It was as though you were in a desert and your car came to a sputtering halt with no gas station in sight. If this describes your prayer life right now—or will sometime in the future—don’t panic!
Such dark days are part of the natural (or supernatural) journey toward union with God. As my friend Jean remarked, “If you don’t experience them, you aren’t human.” Prayer vacillates between periods of consolation when we are swept up into a profound experience of the divine and periods of desolation when we feel as though God has left us stranded. Dryness in prayer might actually be a grace in disguise, and eventually you might feel at home in the desert. In fact, you are in good company. Very holy people have suffered through dry stretches in the extreme.
Pioneers in the Desert
Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta was known for her constant smile and love for the poorest of the poor. Yet the world was stunned to learn that she endured decades of not sensing God’s presence. One day Mother Teresa heard Jesus telling her to found the Missionaries of Charity. But from that day on until she died, she was granted only one more brief experience of God. In her torments she prayed, “Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love—and now become as the most hated one. The one—you have thrown away as unwanted—unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer.”
Similarly, Mother Teresa’s namesake, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, experienced a profound spiritual darkness. During the eighteen months preceding her painful death from tuberculosis, she doubted the existence of eternal life with God. Although she lacked the joy of faith, she continued carrying out its works. She wanted to believe.
Then there is the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross. He was imprisoned and beaten for trying to reform his Carmelite community. During and after nine months in a dark cell, he wrote poems about a soul on the way to union with God, including The Dark Night of the Soul. No doubt his works were rooted in personal experience.
How could God seem to abandon these three people and others who loved him so much? How could God seem to abandon you?
In Praying on Empty you explore possible reasons for experiencing aridity in prayer and acquire ways to cope with it. I’m deeply grateful to those kind people who shared with me what it was like for them to pray on empty.
Each chapter is sprinkled with prayers for expressing your thoughts and feelings when you long for God but your prayer seems to be at a standstill. Questions to ponder are offered in the For Reflection sections.
If you are desperate, you might leapfrog ahead to the last three chapters, where there are strategies to survive praying on empty. May this book serve as a map to guide you on your way through the desert to spiritual growth and ultimately to God, our Creator, who at times plays hide-and-seek.
NOTE: Praying on Empty was published by Twenty-Third Publications. It is 104 pages and sells for $12.95. Copies can be purchased by sending $13.00 to me: Kathleen Glavich, SND at 4237 Bluestone Rd., South Euclid, OH, 44121. Free shipping!
The following song/video is lovely. Hope you have time to be touched and calmed by it . . .