Ups and downs of the spiritual life in midst of pandemic

It has been a long almost three months, hasn’t it?  Now in our 12th week of church closures it truly does feel as though we are in the desert.  In some respects, it’s been a tremendous opportunity to immerse ourselves in that desert, going deeper into the contemplative life now that the demands on our time have lessened to a large degree.  There have been many moments of grace and consolation.  But the opposite is also true.  I certainly have had good days and bad days.  On the good days, I feel God’s presence and the joy it brings.  On the bad days, they are dark; I question, I doubt, and I feel depressed.  And then I feel bad about that; why isn’t my faith stronger?  The roller coaster ride of the past months has been quite the spiritual experience.

Being in formation as a Lay Carmelite has helped me to continue to weather this storm.  Knowing that our great saints have also experienced spiritual dryness has given me great comfort and I know that those times do pass, and we come out the other side stronger than ever in our faith.  Those are the times when God is pruning us in His garden.  It’s painful, and sometimes we don’t understand it, but when He’s finished, by His grace we now have the ability to flower again, and perhaps more brilliantly.

A few weeks back I was having a particularly dark day.  Dealing with home schooling and work and constantly lifting the spirits of my children was taking its toll.  My husband walked through the door at the end of a long day at work and said something to me unintentionally that further pushed me down into the doldrums and something in me snapped.  I had to get out of those four walls and see something else, have some space to myself away from the family.  So, even though it was almost supper, I left, got in my car and allowed myself the luxury of driving through the countryside surrounding our town.  Just seeing open fields, trees and winding roads soothed my frazzled soul.  On days like that, prayer almost feels like a chore.  It even feels insincere as I persevere through my prayers with no feeling behind them.  Knowing what prayer can be like, it feels forced and I feel ashamed.  On this particular drive, I remembered reading in Elizabeth Kindelmann’s diary Jesus’ words of what to do when you experience spiritual dryness:

Now, since the Lord Jesus deprived me of both His words and His presence, a great dryness was consuming my soul.  As I knelt speechless, I remembered the Lord’s words: ‘One Our Father or one Hail Mary prayed in the midst of spiritual dryness is much more fruitful than exuberant prayers of someone who abounds in spiritual favours.

p. 37, The Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, The Spiritual Diary

St. Therese of Lisieux also mentions this:

Whenever my soul is so dry that I am incapable of a single good thought, I always say an Our Father or a Hail Mary very slowly, and these prayers alone cheer me up and nourish my soul with divine food.

p. 141, The Story of a Soul

I didn’t even have the energy or brain power (does anyone else feel their brains going fuzzy sometimes during this pandemic?) while I was driving to say an Our Father or Hail Mary.  So I just kept saying Jesus’ name over and over again as I drove, then “Jesus, I trust in you” over and over again, and “Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” over and over again.  By the time I got home I did feel better.  I walked in the door and my family was happy to see me; it felt like a new breeze had blown through our home wiping away all the cobwebs of gloom and malaise.  It was a gift from the One who loves us.

St. Edith Stein writes in “The Science of the Cross”:

She is subjected to this way of continual ups and downs. ‘Immediately after prosperity some tempest or trial follows, so much so that the calm was seemingly given to forewarn and strengthen it against the future misery.  So, abundance and welfare follow upon that misery and torment.  It seems to the soul, then, that in her case, for the celebration of every feast, a vigil of fasting has been prescribed.

p. 143, Holy Thirst:  Essentials of Carmelite Spirituality

As we continue to live our faith throughout this time of pandemic, there will continue to be days of consolation and desolation, those continual ups and downs.  But navigating them with the help of our Carmelite saints and holy people (like Elizabeth Kindelmann, a Lay Carmelite herself) gives me great hope that I, too, will come out the other side as God wills it and in His own time.

Corina – Formation I Candidate

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