Wrestling with Consolation and Desolation

I am having a difficult time reconciling the concept of desolation as a tool in God’s hands and the promise of Jesus that we will never thirst. On the one hand, experience and the word of people who testify in words and in love that they are disciples of Jesus Christ speak of desolation as a valuable, and perhaps necessary, experience. On the other hand, the testimony of this same Jesus.

I know that the classical writers (John of the Cross), experienced periods of desolation and describe them as part of the maturation process.  Zaleski reference Mother Teresa’s fifty years of spiritual darkness. Teresa of Avila says that dryness and desolation of spirit may be better signs of progress than sweetness. Therese of Lisieux wrote “Do not believe I am swimming in consolations…my consolation is to have none on earth.” Jesus himself cried out in anguish at having been forsaken by His Father.

But Jesus said “…whoever drinks of the water that I give him shall never thirst…” (John 4:14) and “…he who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” (John 6:35). Furthermore, Jesus says “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” (John 15:7).

I do not know how to reconcile this. Perhaps I misunderstand either the words of Jesus or of His followers (hrm… could be a translation issue… maybe suffer from thirst versus feeling thirsty?). Perhaps those who speak of desolation neglected to seek His presence or grieved His spirit in some way. Or, perhaps, having been in intimate contact with the the unbearable glory of God, everything else pales to such a degree that it can only be comprehended as darkness.

I need to read more about this (starting Ascent of Mount Carmel now) and welcome comments.

2 thoughts on “Wrestling with Consolation and Desolation

  1. Linda

    The classical writers almost all refer to these dry times when the Lord withdraws the sense of His presence in order to get us in touch with our thirst and to keep us from taking our relationship with Him for granted. John of the Cross especially wrote a lot on this cycle of consolation/desolation. Like you, I don’t "enjoy" these times but can see their value. Here’s a quote from Edith Stein I got this week… "In the childhood of the spiritual life, when we have just begun to allow ourselves to be directed by God, we feel His guiding hand quite firmly and securely. But it doesn’t always stay that way. Whoever belongs to Christ must go the whole way with Him. He must mature to adulthood: he must one day walk the way of the cross to Gethsemane and Golgotha." The time came when even Jesus experienced desolation and the sense of God’s withdrawal in His life. (Isaiah 53). Personally, it’s not easy to walk through the days of desolation when I know from His promises that He’ll never leave me and yet His presence isn’t felt/sensed. Those are the times when I really know that I’m walking by faith and not by sight. He’s still there, just hiding. Reminds me of in Song of Solomon when the bride twice seeks and can’t find her lover. Once was for no cause and the other time was when she had been slow to respond to his knock. She looked all over for him and couldn’t find him. When he was ready, he made his presence known.

Leave a Reply