Campus Ministry | Monday, February 4, 2019
I can’t help but notice how the weather outside parallels my experience coming back to Notre Dame for the spring semester. After a wonderful Christmas vacation followed by a beautiful weekend with students on the Becoming Retreat, the following days were like a snowy, uphill climb to get the semester up and running. The grind of google calendars, meetings, exciting events and all the stuff “2018 Christian” left for “2019 Christian” to take care of hit me like the bitter cold air. Also, it’s literally cold. Really, really cold. “Couldn’t-open-the-door-to-my-car-because-it-was-frozen” kind of cold. Why does it have to be so cold?
It’s times like these that I can’t help but feel that God seems distant, far away and difficult to reach. I turn inward, I experience a dip in my energy and I lose touch with the passion that brings joy to what I know is important to me. In the spiritual life, this experience is called desolation. It is a far cry from spiritual consolation; moments in my faith life when I feel God and I could not be more connected. Spiritual desolation is a dynamic within our relationship with God when we experience feeling tepid, apathetic or disconnected. During significant moments of desolation we may even encounter an inability to have faith leaving us reluctant to be open to love.
So, what do we do when we experience desolation? From one spiritual pilgrim to another, here are some of my tips for navigating times of desolation in the spiritual life.
This is a season
Although it can feel like desolation may last forever, the truth is it does not. Desolation, like the winter months, is a season. Sometimes, the season is short, while often it can be longer than we would like. It is good to remember that the sun will shine again.
Remember a time when God’s love felt near
While in the rut of a desolate season, it is helpful to remember moments in your life when you felt God’s closeness in the past. The intent is not to simply relive a pleasant memory, but to encounter your desire to be close to God and God’s desire to be close to you. Recall the passion and excitement you had when you made the commitments to what now seem like mundane activities. Remind yourself when you experienced community, love and belonging. The practice of remembering can invite us to rediscover our purpose and God’s tenderness.
Being isolated is desolation’s favorite activity. Therefore, reaching out is key. For some, this might mean inviting a group of friends over for dinner, while others might opt for a coffee date with a trustworthy friend. Told your grandma you would call her two months ago? Give her a ring or call your parents, siblings or close family member. Do you really need to talk but don’t know where to turn? Hit up your rector, campus minister or stop by the counseling center. Campus Ministry offers spiritual direction and drop-in sessions called “Need to Talk” every Monday through Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in 113 Coleman-Morse. In times of desolation, it’s important not only to practice strength but also courage. You do not have to endure this season alone.
Stay faithful to your prayer
If you have a consistent prayer practice, stay faithful to it. If lighting a candle at the grotto or going to Mass has been a consistent part of your prayer life, continue doing so. If prayer is new to you, simply find time in your day where you can create space in your life to encounter the movements in your heart. Try a quiet walk around the lake or doing yoga in the mornings. In time, you might discover what you have been seeking has been seeking you all along.
Blessings to each of you in whatever season you might find yourself. Be kind to yourself and to others, for there is no telling what each of us has to carry in our lives each day.
Stay warm, Notre Dame.
Christian Santa Maria serves in Campus Ministry as the Assistant Director of Retreats and Pilgrimages and can be reached at [email protected]. Learn more about Campus Ministry at CampusMinistry.nd.edu.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.