Spiritual aridity is a condition of soul in which a person derives no consolation or satisfaction from prayer. This absence of spiritual gratification makes it very difficult for one to produce the intellectual and affective acts of prayer. According to spiritual writers, aridity may be due to different causes. It may be caused by such infidelity to God's grace as lukewarmness in the service of God, habitual venial sin, habits of sensuality, vain curiosity, inconstancy, superficiality, lack of esteem for spiritual goods, or excessive activism.
Aridity may result also from the physical discomfort caused by sickness, by heat or cold, or by the lack of sufficient sleep. Or it may be the effect of the mental uneasiness caused by worry, family problems, absorbing occupations, overwork, or a lack of the natural ability for a particular method of prayer. Certain mental or emotional problems also may cause aridity in the spiritual life.
Finally, aridity may be sent by God to humble the soul and purify it of its excessive attachment to consolation in prayer. But if this aridity is accompanied by the signs of purgative contemplation, by an inability to meditate upon the things of God, a disinclination to fix the mind on other objects, and an anxious solicitude about backsliding and not serving the Lord, then the dryness is an indication of a more accentuated divine influence. In this case, aridity manifests a divine call to enter upon a new, more simplified form of prayer—a contemplative loving attentiveness to God.
When the aridity is caused by infidelity, a person may find the remedy in a greater diligence in his practices of the spiritual life and in a more careful effort to correct his defects. In the case of the aridity caused by physical discomfort or mental uneasiness, a person should seek the means for alleviating the causes of these ills. If this alleviation is not attainable, the endurance of the aridity can then be the occasion for the practice of greater virtue, especially patience. When purgative contemplation is the cause of the dryness, a person should not continue to try to meditate or force particular acts, but he should remain at peace, in a simple, loving attentiveness to God in pure faith and love, without the desire to experience or feel anything.
See Also: purification, spiritual.
Bibliography: francis de sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, ed. and tr. j. k. ryan (New York 1950) 2.9; 4.14–15. john of the cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, in Collected Works, tr. k. kavanaugh and o. rodriguez (Garden City, N.Y. 1964). a. f. poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer, tr. l. l. yorke smith, ed. j. v. bainvel (St. Louis 1950). j. de guibert, The Theology of the Spiritual Life, tr. p. barrett (New York 1953). r. daeschler, Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique. Doctrine et histoire, ed. m. viller et al. (Paris 1932–) 1: 845–855.