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"Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me." Psalm 42.7

It happened to Moses, Elijah, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah - even Jesus! So it happens to the best of us. Times when God overwhelms us and, more frighteningly perhaps, times when God feels entirely absent. I say "feels" because, of course, God is always with us but, sometimes - and we don't know when and why - he chooses to withdraw from us. When that happens, what do we do?

The first thing is not to despair. This experience is well documented among the luminaries of our faith. St John of the Cross called it "the dark night of the soul". Our Celtic ancestors referred to it as simply "the desert", for it feels like spiritual desolation. But they actually courted the experience, seeking out wild and lonely places because they understood the benefits. We might lack their fortitude but we can learn from their faith...

When Jesus cried from the cross "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" he was not giving in to despair, he was quoting from the so-called "Psalms of lament", giving expression to the estrangement from God that we all experience on account of sin. The good news is that, because he went through this with us and for us, he removed that particular barrier. The implication of this is that while, like sin, we may yet find it snapping at our heels, its effects are limited and temporarily.

So will be these seasons of spiritual aridity - limited and temporary. While they last they can wean us off those crutches that we have come to rely on and that hamper our progress in sanctification - the process by which God reforms us into the likeness of Jesus. The crutches can take the form of our dependence on external factors, such as the approval of others, or they can be internal, including hidden vices like pride and greed.

The point is to experience a stripping away of the false idols we gather, often without realising it - like viruses on a computer - and to rediscover total reliance upon God. As that happens our desire for communion builds until it reaches fever pitch and we are ready to run back into God's welcoming arms...



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