This excerpt is taken from Richard J. Foster’s Streams of Living Water, which I have been pleasantly surprised to find a rather enthralling read. I feel like this passage perfectly describes my life, especially since my grandmother passed away, and as the Lord continues to reveal more of His own heart to me.
The two most common words used to describe the contemplative way of life are fire and love. Purging, purifying fire. Enveloping, comforting love. This is the stuff of the contemplative life. Put simply, the contemplative life is the steady gaze of the soul upon the God who loves us. It is an “intimate sharing between friends”
… There is pleasure, friendship, joy – deep joy. And playfulness. God laughs into our soul and our souls laughs back into God… But it is not uninterrupted delight. We experience an ebb and flow; an exquisite delight mingled with a painful yearning.
Which brings us to an opposing, almost contradictory movement in the contemplative life: emptiness. At the very moment we are entering a loving delight, we are also pulled into intense longing, yearning, searching – searching and not finding. Well, there is a finding of sorts, but not a complete finding. Perhaps we could call it a dissatisfied satisfaction. John of the Cross calls it “a living thirst… [the] urgent longing of love”.
Often the emptiness is a darkness as well. We experience Deus Absconditus, the God who is hidden from us. Dryness too – a Sahara of the heart. Throughout these experiences solitude is our welcome companion, for we are learning to be alone with the Alone. Please understand, this emptiness, this darkness, this dryness is itself prayer. It is a heavenly communion of an ascetic sort. While delight is a feasting, emptiness is a fasting, and both are needed for the growth of the soul.
… This is a rocky, desert spirituality. We are summoned to explore the desolate, barren landscape of the soul – landscape that most people studiously avoid (except perhaps in their nightmares.) It is the place where we find true hope, but only after we see how like despair hope is. It is the place where we discover that the cross means mercy and not cruelty, life and not death.