Coping with Spiritual Paralysis

Periods of impasse, of oppressive grief, of darkness engulfing the soul are inseparable parts of religious life.

Reprinted from Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way with permission of St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

"For the enemy has pursued me; he hascrushed my life to the ground; he hasmade me sit in darkness like those longdead." (Ps 143.3)

In times of spiritual

aridity

, prayer does not stop. There is nothing todemand that it stop, since the entire soul is still inclined toward God andrighteousness. It is not as if it has lost its power or will to strive or to pray, forspiritual aridity has no effect except the absence of the solace, pleasure, and lovingencouragements that are the companions and fruits of prayer.



Spiritual

languor

, on the other hand, affects the will. Here, the attack isaimed even at our attempt to pray and to persevere in prayer. A man may standto pray, but he finds neither words to say nor power to carry on. He may sitdown to read, but the book in his hands turns, as St. Isaac the Syrian says, "intolead." It may remain open for a whole day, while the mind fails to grasp a singleline. The mind is distracted, unable to concentrate on or follow the meaningof the words passing before it. The will, which controls all activity, isimpotent.

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Although the desire to pray is present, the power and will to do so areabsent. In the end, even the desire to pray may fade. Man becomes unable andunwilling to pray, adding to his suffering and sorrow. His problems seementirely insolvable.

If man tries to plumb the depths of his soul, he finds himself at a loss, forits depths are beyond his reach. It is as if his spiritual footing has been lost,alienating him from the essence of his life. If he tries to examine his faith andsecretly measure it in his heart, he finds that it has died, gone. If he knocks atthe door of hope, if he clings to the promises of God he had once cherished andlived by, he finds in what he used to find hope has now turned to ice. Hope isstuck in the cold present and not willing to move beyond it.

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