SPIRITUAL DRYNESS

The Stream Begins Here

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Praise has nothing to do with whipping up a frenzy of feelings and emotions. In fact, the most powerful praise comes when we acknowledge God’s goodness in the midst of the dry desert, or the dark night.      ~      Mark Mallett, Making Way for Angels

 

          In the week that was, I must have seen the word ‘praise’ light up every day. Like desert blooms after the rain, they popped up without fail everywhere every single day and twinkled their heads at me.

          Praise. Praise. Praise.

          Had I been in the same inner tumble of joy as I was some days past, praise would have come easy. But something had changed. My inner landscapes had shifted. The wildflower fields that had made praise so fluid and abundant just a short time back, had now given way to seas of sand dunes.

          Joy found another address.

          And praise became a sacrifice.

          Worse, praise became something my spirit had to be reminded of – and even then, dragged to; suddenly, everything became that much harder.

          Working in my garden one day, my aching calves called out for mercy, so, I took a break. Sitting in the heart of my green walled hermitage, gazing around me, I felt the air still suddenly.

          But it was a stillness that held itself aloof; it didn’t fall into my heart and take it captive.

          How I yearned just then to be taken captive by air hushed by heaven, its solace would have been most welcome, for  despite countless bouts with spiritual dryness, I have never been able to befriend it, not even now. This aridity came one day unannounced, made a place for itself in me, and began to blow sandcrusted winds across my spirit.

          The sun still rose to bloom white~yellow in the blues of the abode of clouds. The winds still skipped around in playful darts, flowers bloomed and died.

          Yet, even in the midst of life, the sandwinds blew steadily on.

          It was a test, but the gentlest of tests – to see if I’d falter in my giving. It was now time for me to will the song of praise unto heaven. I had to praise God even when I did not feel like it or want to; I had to, if not with love, then as a sacrifice.

          And so, I tried the words. Traced every prayer, thought and reason to find the elusive praise rhythms that could tie my spirit to the gates of heaven. Alas, like dried petals scattering in the wind, I lost them the second I touched them. It didnt take me long to admit this was not the way.

          As I sat there in the green stillness that swayed close by yet excluded me, I pondered this. I realized that the one thing as hard as praising God was for me, was – keeping still. Almost always longing to be still and resting in my God, I failed just as often to make the time and space for it. My every waking minute is spent tumbling from one activity to another. Even before I drop off to sleep each night, my last prayers are me trying to get the last word in before God.

          That moment in the emerald embrace of my budding garden, it came to me that my praise streams were close by. In May this year, for the first time, I began to take an active interest in the garden that was once solely the domain of my husband and children. Where once I was content to stand by its edge gazing in fondness at the various plants that have pearled a life in our soils, in May, in the month of Our Lady of Fatima, I found myself being drawn firmly into its embrace.

          It was as if the angel, the little Keeper of the Trees, had said, It is time.

          And so, every May evening, as the birds set their wings towards home, I began to spend time in this little palm of green cupped out of the earth. I soon added a seat here where I could sit back and rest and thus, place my heart in the stillness God asks of each of us.

          It was the sparsest of minutes, but it was more than I ever allowed myself before. And each time, I let my garden hold me in its love, the winds would begin its gentle skip around me, and the noise within would slow and cease.

          The stream begins here, my heart whispers in sudden comprehension. Not in words, not in thoughts, but here, in the earth~beds of creation. My praise for God is in the resting of the gaze of my spirit on the beauty of this garden, the stilling of my thoughts as I watch the winds hurry to its trysts across the red tangerine skies. Every time I silence the world to instead lean into the birdcalls of the gathering dusk, I form the notes of my own canticle of praise, for the only God there is.

          As I wrapped and bound my heart to this vow, I heard a sudden burst of birdsongs, such as I have never heard before. They came bright, light yet clear, from the greenheart of trees. I strained to make out whose they were but I had a fleeting sense the angels kept the feathered musicians hidden because that wasn’t what I was to keep my heart on.

          St Juan Diego had heard beautiful avian melodies before he saw the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. If what I heard was even a breath of what had fallen on this saint’s ears, then, it is my Fatima sign that the stream indeed begins here, when the world is exchanged for stillness.

When Night Falls

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          It has been quiet weeks. An endless stream of activities with threads of quiet woven through. Busy though I was, I roamed my inner home, very much bare and unadorned. Looked out the plain windows to skies of sunrises and sunsets that seemed to shift and evolve, telling me something I am not able to understand. Something is out there. But completely hidden from me, I thought, mildly vexed. Hidden perhaps because I was not emptied enough. From time to time, though, the mists would part slightly, for the briefest of minutes, and I would be allowed a glimpse of something,  quick flash of understanding, before the breath of angels blew the hazes into place again.

          Lately, mountains have been tugging at me. The mountains of Italy, specifically. When I am stressed, tired, Italian slopes and summits feel like dew on crushed leaves. Why mountains, why Italy – I am not sure. Is it a call to further pull away, and go into God’s heart, as Jesus did?

          And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray, and He passed the whole night in the prayer of God – Luke 6:12

          I tried it but withdrawing into the mountains to invoke the name of God only worked as long as I was home on leave with the hours to spare; most days, my hectic working life and family needs kept me firmly rooted to the plains. Praying as I worked? Yes, it worked sometimes; often, those prayers dangled like the wash drying in the wind.

          And yet, the bell from the mountains continued to chime its call.

          Holy Mother, teach me what I need to know, I prayed twice when I was done cracking my head over mountains and hills.

          This morning, as the rain-soaked night hours awakened to the blush of a demure sunrise, the Blue King sat on a sodden tree branch by my door and caught my spirit before it scurried into busyness. As I heard his throaty warble which had seldom fallen on my years in the months past, I knew St Francis of Assisi was calling, for this was his sign to me – the call of his blue-robed emissary – the kingfisher. With the same hidden call woven into its avian melody- Quieten Down, Listen Up.

          So, I quieted myself as much as I could. In the stillness of a dew-blessed morning reluctant to bloom pink, I waited.

          And waited.

          There was nothing. The winds chose to play elsewhere. The fat white puffs that ruled over the bright blue skies took my questions but stared back solemnly at me. No answer was forthcoming. But I was hardly troubled. A new kind of quiet had made its home within me in recent days. The pot bubbled a little less.

          When the tangerine evening winds lifted their arms to welcome the sable mists, I had the house to myself for some precious minutes. Into the Divine Mercy Chaplet, I sank my spirit.

          As the minutes streamed into hours, the angel lifted the mists for wee breaths, and Mother Teresa answered my prayer. To go into the mountains was not a journey to be planned and fitted into a schedule. The mountains was a place I was going to be taken to. Lifted by unseen hands, beyond my control, away from comfort and appeasement. Surrounded by beauty and love that would fall upon my eyes and ears and heart, dew that would nourish and strengthen my soul, but not touch my spirit in a way I can feel its consolations. From afar, I am given a glimpse of the ethereal beauty of slopes and summits where I will call home. The peace on those mountains wets and soaks into my spirit now.

          Because the memory of this must sustain me when night falls.