Spiritual dryness  

Posted by Denis Haack in ,

My conversations with young adults convinces me that contrary to the expectations of secular thinkers, the postmodern generations tends to yearn for spirituality. They desire to embrace mystery, an expression of awe that is both alive and ancient, meaning that transcends space and time, and a sense of the divine. It is a good yearning, an expression of bearing God’s likeness in their very being.

I am struck by the fact that this postmodern yearning parallels an emphasis in the fundamentalist Christian group in which I was raised. Though I never heard them acknowledge it, this group had been shaped by a movement known as Pietism. Pietism was a movement of spiritual renewal that began in Lutheran churches in 17th century Germany. It said that true religion was more than mere belief, liturgy, and duty, and would properly express itself in a growing personal relationship with God as Father in the heart of the believer. Spiritual disciplines like prayer and Scripture reading would warm the affections for God, allow the Christian to hear his voice and love his presence. Given the dead orthodoxy of the church at the time, Pietism was a needed corrective.

Over time, however, the pietistic emphasis in my fundamentalist background took on some accretions that still plague evangelical Protestants today. The first is a tendency to downplay belief, liturgy, and duty as if they are somehow problematic in themselves. Not true—all three are to be vibrant and lovely expressions of faith according to the Scriptures. The second is the conviction that if a believer is not filled with warm affections, and sense of God’s presence something must be wrong. Slowly personal experience and feelings become a standard by which to measure spirituality. That, of course, leads to a growing feeling of guilt that only complicates matters further. In taking this step, a good emphasis had morphed into a legalism that is utterly destructive of grace.

Spiritual dryness, if that is [God’s] will at the moment, is as much to be loved and obeyed as spiritual fervor… It takes repeated aridity… to bring home to us that our own so precious feelings contribute nothing to our salvation; that, in fact, they generally stand in the way of our perfection. Spiritual dryness can finally lead us, after much pouting, actually to give thanks that it is not because we see God that we have joy. It is because he sees us.

Source: Gale D. Webbe in The Night and Nothing.

This entry was posted at Thursday, November 04, 2010 and is filed under , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Having been shaped by the same forms of piety it took me a long while to learn that the practice of spiritual disciplines did nothing to increase my standing with God. Although I believed I was “saved by grace,” I somehow thought that my work of praying and reading would make me more pleasing to him – that he would love me more. I agree that times of spiritual aridity is something we must endure and our perception of is-God-really-there-for-me is not dependant on our emotional sense of his presence. However, I wonder about the phrase “after much pouting.” Rather I would say the times of dryness (especially when I was younger) at various times caused self-doubt, bewilderment, or sadness, and even a searching after Him, but pouting? Hmmm.
At this point in my life I enjoy the practice of spiritual disciplines as they constantly reorient my great tendency to wander farther into my own natural darkness.

November 4, 2010 at 11:24 AM

"Slowly personal experience and feelings become a standard by which to measure spirituality." This quote speaks to the personal experience of the justified sinner who's experience continues to fall short of God's standard and subsequent feelings of guilt are a result. This standard does not disappear after one is justified. Ones experience also includes living with others and ths subsequent feelings about those interactions. This gets more complicated all the time it seems. These experiences can be looked on as a test of spirituality, not just of one's own. As in all test, one can do well or not so well. Even one's assesment of the test can be a test, as these thoughts or assesment can be true or false. This is something that seems to be a part of being a fallen and redeemed man or woman.

November 4, 2010 at 12:41 PM

Thank you. Your last paragraph of the post is really helpful, I have never thought of my times of spiritual dryness quite like that. I can definitely relate to the pouting part.

November 5, 2010 at 7:47 AM
24/7 Mom  

I found this post particularly interesting because of my own history with spiritual dryness. I agree and disagree with you, likely because we come at scripture with different presuppositions. Can we come out stronger? Absolutely! Always God's will? Well, there we'd have to discuss our presuppositions (both perspectives theoretically based on scripture) for hours. I'll just say I disagree. I do give a hearty "Amen" to growing through it in the end, though. My remarks might not fit into the formulas of some doctrinal perspectives, but I'm ok with that. God isn't finite enough to fit into formulas. I would love some comments. My spiritual wrestling isn't over by any means.

November 6, 2010 at 12:06 PM

As usual, thanks for this discussion. I completely agree with the first part. In fact, I have a quote posted from Albert Einstein: "One cannot but be in awe
when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life,
of the marvelous structure of reality.
It is enough
if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery each day.
Never lose a holy curiosity."
I love it because it brings me back to a place of contemplating Who God Is....which is all there is to me.
I'm curious about the disagreements. I would love to hear more from 24/7mom, why she thinks her presuppositions differ. I think there may be something interesting there.
I love liturgy, it's such a beautiful reminder of many elements of my faith. And yet, I haven't been to church in a couple years, because the other aspects of church became too much for me...I know they're my own issues to work out, and chewing on this may help me resolve them a little.

November 9, 2010 at 9:38 AM

It's constantly amazing to me how our pilgrimage together has involved carefully trying to sort out things from our heritage, some that turn out to be good and healthy and some that turn out to be destructive. Perhaps everyone has to do that, I don't know, but we sure have. I certainly have pouted--if by pouting the author means being disappointed in being left in dryness when everyone else seems to be happily living in a cool oasis.

November 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

I quite agree. When you point out that "one's assessment of the test is a test" you reveal the complexity of our situation as fallen but redeemed people. It often doesn't seem that way at the moment, so we interpret our condition as failure instead of a challenge to walk by faith.
Thanks for commenting.

November 9, 2010 at 12:13 PM

Thanks for taking the time to comment. It's nice to know that I'm not the only pouter on the planet.

November 9, 2010 at 12:14 PM

24/7 Mom:
Oh, I would love to hear more from you. It could be a fascinating conversation.

November 9, 2010 at 12:16 PM

As you can see from a comment I've left, I'd love to hear more, too.
Many people love liturgy but feel distanced from the church. It's a sad reality shared by more than a few. More than once in my pilgrimage I've considered walking away. The reason I haven't is that I do believe there are graces I need available only through the church (especially centered the sacraments and other means of grace).
May you find beauty and mercy in this stage of your pilgrimage.

November 9, 2010 at 12:26 PM
Mike Green  

The photograph you are using is a copyrighted piece of work. Please respect the photographer. If you would like to use my photographs, please send me an email. In the meantime, please remove this image.
Mike Green

November 10, 2011 at 1:23 AM

Mr Green,
My apologies. It was not my intention to violate anyone's copyright or to use your photograph inappropriately. I have removed it from my blog.

November 10, 2011 at 4:53 AM

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