It’s dry in the desert. The desert has always held a special attraction for the spiritually hungry. In the bible, “Driven into the wilderness” is a common theme; from the prophets, through Jesus, to Paul. Thus, “dryness” is a frequently used term to describe experiences that occur in the solitude of the wilderness and the desert.
In the monastic tradition the lure to the desert is continued. In an attempt to maximize silence and solitude, and to withdraw from the world, the earliest monks went to the desert. These “desert fathers” pursued a life of radical self denial and prayer. Their descriptions of the adversities found in such an environment and life style have become the forerunner of later concepts. Thus, “dryness” is a term that often refers to the multiple hindrances to pursuing a life of prayer.
Here is sample writing from a desert father that typifies their experience:
“The next struggle is dryness. It is akin to dejection and especially felt by wandering monks and solitaries, a persistent and obnoxious enemy to such as dwell in the desert, disturbing the monk, especially about midday, like a fever mounting at a regular time, and bringing its highest tide of inflammation at definite accustomed hours to the sick soul. And so some of the fathers declare it to be the demon of noontide which is spoken of in the psalms. When this besieges the unhappy mind, it begets aversion from the place, boredom with one’s cell, and scorn and contempt for one’s brethren, whether they be dwelling with one or some way off, as careless and unspiritual minded persons. Also, towards any work that may be done within enclosure of own lair, we become listless and inert. It will not suffer us to stay in our cell, or to attend to our reading: we lament that in all this while, living in the same spot, we have made no progress, we sigh and complain that bereft of sympathetic fellowship we have no spiritual fruit; and bewail ourselves as empty of all spiritual profit, abiding vacant and useless in this place; and that we that could not guide others or be of value to multitudes; have edified no man, nor enriched any man with our precept and examples.”
This sort of discouragement and desire to abandon a life of prayer is to some degree or another common experience to anyone who practices contemplative prayer. On any given day the discipline of prayer could be assaulted by feelings of dryness. The remedy is perseverance and faith. The reward is communion with God and a transformed life.
Periods of dryness can be short or long. They can be isolated or occur with other trials. The wisdom of the ages has accumulated, and the testimony of many is that waiting on God has brought great rewards. This can be revelation, periods of comfort and consolation, closeness to God, inward purification, or increased fruitfulness in ministry.
See also Aridity.