Spiritual Desolation

"Magnificent Desolation."  Those were the first words spoken by the second man on the moon as he stood on the new terrain.  And more striking than the first man's words they are. True progress for mankind is ultimately in the spiritual and moral realm, and sometimes we advance through desolation and darkness.

Desolation, or desolatio, has the Latin word for sun, solis, in its root.  The sun is darkened or declined in this style of prayer. We do not feel the warmth of God.  Prayer is, instead, flat, dry, and difficult.

Desolation is a legitimate reality in the spiritual life.  Prayer is not always meant to be consoling or sunny, if you will.  As Saint Paul writes, "There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory" (1 Corinthians 15:41).

Desolation that separates us from God is always to be rejected.  But not every disconsolate prayer does that.  For instance, when we pray with our sins, as Saint Ignatius of Loyola would have someone making the Spiritual Exercises do in the First Week, this certainly is not 'consoling.' But the painful recognition of our sinfulness can lead us to a greater awareness of our desire for God.  We do not truly want to sin, we see clearly.  We truly want God and recommit ourselves to him.  The painful prayer with our sins led us to that commitment.

So, yes, let us "blow the trumpet at the moon" (Psalm 81:4) the next time we experience some desolation.  Like it did for Buzz Aldrin, the harsh landscape can cause us to look not down to our small steps, but outwards and upwards to the heavens.

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