St. John Cassian recalls the wise words of the abbot Daniel in the Egyptian desert. Why do we sometimes feel so close to God, and other times so far away? Don’t despair, says Daniel: even in those dry spells, God has your benefit in mind.
We asked this blessed Daniel why it was that as we sat in the cells we were sometimes filled with the utmost gladness of heart, together with inexpressible delight and abundance of the holiest feelings, and why it was that for no reason we were suddenly filled with the utmost grief, and weighed down with unreasonable depression.
To this he replied, “Three reasons for the mental dryness you speak of have been given by the Elders. It comes either from carelessness on our part, or from the assaults of the devil, or from the permission and allowance of the Lord.
“There are two reasons for God’s permission and allowance. First, so that being for a short time forsaken by the Lord, and observing with all humility the weakness of our own heart, we may not be puffed up on account of the previous purity of heart granted to us by God’s visitation; and that we may also learn that our previous gladness of heart resulted not from our own earnestness but from His gift, and that for the present time it must be sought once more from His grace and enlightenment.
“But a second reason for this allowance is to test our perseverance, and steadfastness of mind, and real desires, and to show in us with what purpose of heart or earnestness in prayer we seek for the return of the Holy Spirit when he leaves us, and also so that, when we discover how hard we must seek for that spiritual gladness we lost, we may learn to preserve it more carefully, when once it is secured, and to hold it with firmer grasp. For we are generally more careless about keeping whatever we think can be easily replaced.” –St. John Cassian, Conferences, 4.2-4