In my job at the seminary I often hear a common complaint from students who are nearing the end of their studies. These men and women who have dedicated countless hours to the study of God and His word suffer from a common ailment—dryness in prayer. This problem is particularly pernicious in that by its very presence, it exacerbates the ailment. I know I have experienced this. The lack of desire to pray intensifies with the need to pray. Vicious.
John of the Cross (AD 1542–1591) was familiar with this pattern. In his Degrees of Perfection he writes, “Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.” If anything, our spiritual dryness and lack of desire to prayer should serve as a catalyst that drives us to our very knees! These seminary students suffering from this ailment have often relegated the Word of God to a textbook and God Himself into a scientific specimen to be studied. This was never their intention, but slowly and insidiously, it became their reality. We need to pay attention to the condition of our heart, guarding it from the cancer of complacency and the disease of disinterest.
The Bible is no mere textbook, nor is our God a cadaver upon the ivory table of academia, despite Nietzsche’s insinuations. The first is the divine revelation of the latter, both drawing us into a living, active, and transformative relationship. Prayer is an essential component of our response to that reality. When we are disinterested in prayer, we should take the admonition from John of the Cross seriously. It is in those moments of spiritual dryness that our need for the revitalization of prayer is all the more essential. For Aquinas, prayer was a time of contemplation through which our will is brought into alignment with God. Should that not be our heart? If prayer has become an area of neglect in your life join me in echoing the below words of Samuel Johnson as he recommits himself to the discipline of prayer:
O Lord, in whose hands are life and death, by whose power I am sustained, and by whose mercy I am spared, look down upon me with pity. Forgive me that I have until now so much neglected the duty which Thou has assigned to me, and suffered the days and hours of which I must give account to pass away without any endeavor to accomplish Thy will. Make me to remember, O God, that eery day is Thy gift, and ought to be used according to Thy command. Grant me, therefore, so to repent of my negligence, that I may obtain mercy from Thee, and pass the time which Thou shalt yet allow me in diligent performance of Thy commands, through Jesus Christ. Amen. ~ Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)