Someone recently contacted me looking for a place to go on a spiritual retreat. They had a checklist for what they wanted a place to have, and as I put down the phone from talking with them, I felt as though I was helping them shop for a car or stove. “I want it to have this feature; I don’t want that feature. . .” I hear similar lists of wants/don’t wants as people discuss worship. I wonder if we are often blind to the ways we attempt to dictate the time, place and method of encountering God.
Ironically, I’ve been listening to a series of conferences of John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic who gave us the concept of the dark night of the soul. John speaks of the dark night of the senses, which is when you no longer have a sensed presence of God. Many of us have experienced some sort of assurance of God’s presence through our senses—we see or hear or feel something that affirms God for us.
Without a felt sense of God’s presence, especially after have had such experiences, one may wonder if God’s presence has withdrawn from them. Unfortunately, much of our contemporary Christian spirituality is dependent on felt experience. So when you no longer receive a felt experience, you may change your spiritual practices to attempt to reclaim the “rush” you are missing.
The experience of what some mystics call “spiritual aridity” may leave us casting about for something new to recreate the buzz we are missing. But when our interest in spiritual matters is precipitated by felt experience, then our focus is not on God, but on ourselves. Spiritual experience can feed the ego, and ego is exactly what blocks our view of God.
There is no formulaic way to an encounter with God. Growth in our faith happens as we are content to know God present with us without the felt experience of God. Our faith grows not as we receive affirmation through a felt spiritual experience but through keeping faith even in the darkness, when we have no option than to simply trust that God is present with us.