“…they are like children who are prompted to act not by reason but by pleasure. All their time is spent looking for satisfaction and spiritual consolation; they can never read enough spiritual books, and one minute they are meditating on one subject and the next on another, always hunting for some gratification in the things of God. God very rightly and discreetly and lovingly denies this satisfaction to these beginners. If he did not, they would fall into innumerable evils because of their spiritual gluttony and craving for sweetness. This is why it is important for these beginners to enter the dark night and be purged of this childishness.”
On Spiritual Gluttony
By Steven Riddle on November 5, 2006 8:40 AM
Being a Carmelite can be difficult. Heck, let’s face it, it is difficult. The dedication to a life of prayer is all well and good, but it is ethereal and a matter of grace overcoming the tendency one might have to seek more sensible satisfaction.
from Dark Night of the Soul Book 1 Chapter 6
St. John of the Cross
[On Spiritual Gluttony]
2. Such individuals are unreasonable and most imperfect. They subordinate submissiveness and obedience (which is a penance of reason and discretion, and consequently a sacrifice more pleasing and acceptable to God) to corporeal penance. But corporeal penance without obedience is no more than a penance of beasts. And like beasts, they are motivated in these penances by an appetite for the pleasure they find in them. Since all extremes are vicious and since by such behavior these persons are doing their own will, they grow in vice rather than in virtue. For through this conduct they at least become spiritually gluttonous and proud, since they do not tread the path of obedience. The devil, increasing the delights and appetites of these beginners and thereby stirring up this gluttony in them, so impels many of them that when they are unable to avoid obedience they either add to, change, or modify what was commanded. Any obedience in this matter is distasteful to them. Some reach such a point that the mere obligation of obedience to perform their spiritual exercises makes them lose all desire and devotion. Their only yearning and satisfaction is to do what they feel inclined to do, whereas it would be better in all likelihood for them not to do this at all.
3. Some are very insistent that their spiritual director allow them to do what they themselves want to do, and finally almost force the permission from him. And if they do not get what they want, they become sad and go about like testy children. They are under the impression that they do not serve God when they are not allowed to do what they want. Since they take gratification and their own will as their support and their god, they become sad, weak, and discouraged when their director takes these from them and desires that they do God’s will. They think that gratifying and satisfying themselves is serving and satisfying God. . . .
6. They have the same defect in their prayer, for they think the whole matter of prayer consists in looking for sensory satisfaction and devotion. They strive to procure this by their own efforts, and tire and weary their heads and their faculties. When they do not get this sensible comfort, they become very disconsolate and think they have done nothing. Because of their aim they lose true devotion and spirit, which lie in distrust of self and in humble and patient perseverance so as to please God. Once they do not find delight in prayer, or in any other spiritual exercise, they feel extreme reluctance and repugnance in returning to it and sometimes even give it up. For after all, as was mentioned,1 they are like children who are prompted to act not by reason but by pleasure. All their time is spent looking for satisfaction and spiritual consolation; they can never read enough spiritual books, and one minute they are meditating on one subject and the next on another, always hunting for some gratification in the things of God. God very rightly and discreetly and lovingly denies this satisfaction to these beginners. If he did not, they would fall into innumerable evils because of their spiritual gluttony and craving for sweetness. This is why it is important for these beginners to enter the dark night and be purged of this childishness.2
Perhaps everyone longs for some surety of the effectiveness of communication; looks for some sign that the message has been received and acknowledged; looks for some hint that love sent out is returned.
In the matter of prayer, such longings are not to be trusted. In fact, in the matter of prayer, such longings are a temptation away from prayer. If one enters prayer with the notion that one needs to “get something out of it,” one will fail every time because there will come a time when nothing sensible does come out of it.
But there are several reasons why this attitude is wrong. If someone were invited to a friend’s house for a quiet cup of tea (coffee) and a sit out on the back porch watching the world go by, most would not immediately ask, “What will I get out of it?” This simply isn’t the way most people look at friendship. Time is spent because it is profitable, in ways untold, to spend the time. If one’s fiancé said, “Let’s go for a walk” most people would not ask, “What can I expect from it? Will I know that you love me more by the end of it?” Why then, when it comes to prayer, are expectations so different? In prayer, one is invited to spend time with the Bridegroom of the Soul, the closest, most intimate friend anyone will ever have. But the attitude many, if not most, strike is, “Show me how this will be good for me.”
Or think of the matter in another way. When one has been spending a great deal of time in physical training, one doesn’t enter the weight room with the expectation that there will be any sensible difference by the time one leaves. In fact, if one is wise, one doesn’t really desire any sensible difference because the difference one is more likely than not to sense will be pain. So with prayer, the constant practice of which is remotely analogous to weight-training, one does it to maintain one’s grace-won place in the Kingdom, not to “be promoted” to Sainthood. The purpose of prayer is not to earn a place at the right hand of God, but to remain in the place that God’s grace has fashioned for one. That, in itself, is the life of heroic sanctity–to advance in holiness, to advance in being what God would have one be, to weed out all imperfection from life and to move as God would have one move. These are achieved not through the sensible satisfactions of prayer, but through simple and humble obedience, humility, and gratitude. One advances not by advancing, but by remaining precisely where God would have one be and not questioning one’s station but accepting the will of God in the matter of one’s place in the kingdom.
Spiritual Gluttony, the desire to sniff out the sensible consolations of prayer and focus on them, stands in the way of accepting God’s will. It amounts to saying, “So long as you do what I like, I shall visit. But as soon as you stop paying out the wealth of your generosity, I shall seek other venues for satisfaction.” The desire for sensation overpowers the desire to serve and to be with Our Lord to the detriment of each person who succumbs and of all the people that surround them. Prayer is not about sensible consolation, but about obedience, humility, gratitude, and joy in the presence of an intimate friend.