When the Well Runs Dry
One of the common sights in the interior villages of India is women with earthen pots on their heads and men on their bicycles going distances to fetch drinking water. When the village well runs dry either they dig the same well deeper hoping to find fresh springs of water, or they dig a new well in another area, or go in search of drinking water in nearby villages, or they would eventually migrate to another village.
The reality of a dry well made me reflect on my spiritual life when it runs dry. It is possible that our spiritual life can turn dry: lack of enthusiasm and desire, spiritual sloth, frustration, discouragement, dullness, boredom, doubt, lack of spiritual gratification … Do I give up my spiritual practice altogether or proactively find ways to re-energize my practice? A few thoughts that might be of some help…
1. Do not stop your spiritual practice: A common tendency is to give up a spiritual practice when there is no proximate spiritual gratification. In a fast paced culture where speed is desired, we tend to go on a ‘fast track spiritual practice’ hoping to reach the spiritual summit. When that doesn’t happen, dryness, boredom, and frustration sets in. Let us be realistic: the fruit of prayer is not time bound. Just like a plant that needs time to take roots and grow before bearing fruit, so too, spiritual life takes time to bear fruits. We lack patience and we hop from one practice to another, one tradition to another, one master to another hoping to find ‘here and now’ the elusive spiritual nectar. Spiritual shopping can be a hindrance in our spiritual growth. A plant that is often uprooted to be planted elsewhere never takes roots. What is needed is discipline to remain faithful to a spiritual practice. It is helpful to recall the spiritual advice of St. Ignatius of Loyola: keep your commitment to prayer and when prayer is dry, pray a little longer. We should give sufficient time to a spiritual practice, and at the end of the given time, evaluate our practice. Time and effort are needed for a particular spiritual practice. Daily practice matters. Sporadic moments at prayer are not enough. It is continuous drops of water on a rock that eventually make a dent. Don’t give up a practice without really trying it.
2. Dig Deeper: A family recently told me about their son who asked his Math tuition teacher to give him more advanced math problems so he can face new challenges for his growth. Something similar happens in our spiritual life especially when our current spiritual practice has brought us to where we are but the spirit longs for something more: deep calling for the Deep. This longing for more is the force and pull of the Spirit itself – grace from above to a life of communion with the Divine. To go deeper in our spiritual life is to say ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation to go beyond a life of laws and commandments to a life of Beatitudes; a personal relationship with him. Spiritual life is a risk for there will come a time when the Spirit will invite us to make that transition from vocal prayer to a life in the Presence. A friend of mine used to say that when the time comes we must take our spiritual life to the next level. Let us not suffer from spiritual paralysis. Let us strive to enter the inner mansion, to go beyond mere words and acts to experience the bliss of life in Jesus. The spiritual journeys of St. Francis Assisi, St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Therese of Little Flower, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Julian of Norwich, St. Mother Theresa, Thomas Merton, John Main, Abhishiktananda, Bede Griffths, Sr. Sara Grant, Ama Samy … can inspire us to take that plunge in our spiritual life as well. We have nothing to lose in taking a spiritual risk.
3. Open the windows to let the Spirit blow where it wills: Our lives are not like a frog that lives all its life in a well thinking that there is nothing beyond the well and the well is the ocean. Today we are defined by inter-being and interconnectedness. Science and technology calls for mutual dependence and willingness to learn from one other. Aren’t our lives better because we have opened our windows to let refreshing, soft, and cool breeze to come in and not being narrow minded as to where the breeze comes from? Today this is a reality both at the cultural and religious levels. Either we can choose to live in a bubble or live in the context of inter-being and interconnectedness and personalize what we learn from being with others to take us to the depth of our own spiritual life in Christ. Isn’t this what the Second Vatican Council in its document, ‘The Declaration on the relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions’ invites us to do? In a genuine spirit of dialogue we share and listen to our respective spiritual stories and disciplines and then let the Spirit guide us to use whatever is helpful and appropriate to deepen our relationship with Jesus. There are Christians who have learned methods of meditation and spiritual practices from Non-Christian religions and use them in their own journey into and with Christ. For example, Mindfulness Meditation is used to sharpen one’s awareness of Christ’s presence within. Thomas Merton’s relationship with Thich Nacht Hahn and Zen Buddhism, John Main learning the use of Mantra for Christian Meditation from Swami Satyananda, Abhishiktananda’s willingness to learn from Ramana Maharishi, Bede Griffths and Sr. Sara Grant’s exposure to Advaita Vedanta, Raimon Panikkar’s openness to Eastern approaches to God, Ama’s Saamy’s journey as a Catholic Zen Master … did not take them away from Christ, but on the contrary, brought them to a closer and a vibrant relationship with Jesus. I am reminded of a quote: have the roots of a tree and the wings of a bird to fly.
I often use Rabia Basri’s prayer when I pray to Christ.
O my Lord, if I worship you from fear of hell, burn me in hell. If I worship you from hope of Paradise, bar me from its gates. But if I worship you for yourself alone, grant me then the beauty of your Face.
Rabia was a Sufi Mystic.
Her prayer focuses on the beauty of desiring God for God’s own sake. Isn’t this the essence of all forms of prayer and worship?