The long retreat morning, Office, Mass, and breakfast all being done before 8 a.m. Now its down to the chapel to pray. As soon as I start, I'm fighting with sleepiness. The wisps of dreams float into my consciousness--those eccentric and yet logical mash-ups of the people and places of the last few days. So, the answer--in holy obedience--get up, go back to my room and go to sleep. About an hour later I am awakened by the bell announcing the optional retreatant's conference. I have no intention of going.
Back in the chapel I start in on prayer again. I do everything right. Sit quietly. Let go of thoughts. Disidentify with feelings. Purify my intention. God alone the desire of my heart, God alone the end of my will, God alone the delight of my mind. After the 20 minutes I have trained myself to sit and "do" this, I get up and walk the retreat house cloister, quietly, eyes cast down, refusing all reflections and the resumption of the interior monologue. Returning the chapel, I continue where I left off, as if such an expression makes any sense with this.
And what of it? Do I get a feeling? No. An awareness of God? Not really. An experience of God? No. I can't say that it's an experience of any-thing. But it's not quite no-thing either. It does not satisfy, does not make me feel better. This is my "dryness," this is the "aridity" as the spiritual writers call it, of my so-called prayer life.
Writing about St. John of the Cross, Thomas Merton called contemplative prayer an "uninteresting wilderness," and does that ever speak to me!
Indeed, John speaks to me a lot at times like this. For years God has been trying to invite me into the "night of sense," and for years I have been resisting the invitation. The sensual satisfactions of prayer and spiritual practice from my first fervor--now lost by the kindness of God--I have replaced by running off to other intellectual delights and physical comforts, as well as pointless distractions and anodynes.
Thus, I have not been willing--interiorly, that is--to enter the night of sense. So though I am clever enough to seem spiritual, I remain shallow.
The answer: the Cross.