“But while waiting in patience for progress, we must also avoid another misconception about growth in the contemplative life. It is conceived by some that the way of worship, contemplation, and solitude is strewn with flowers and roses – by no means. For the way is an arid wilderness. It has no comeliness that we might desire it in itself. Let is suffice to know that Christ described it as a narrow gate, and a tough, rugged path. You will then ask, “Am I truly heading for God? But where is he?” This is only the beginning of the ordeal that your soul will undergo on the way. It will find itself destitute of any help from any human being. It will feel devoid of any spiritual comfort or sign whatsoever – even of one word of promise of encouragement. Common sense will become your adversary. Thus, your faith will be tested and vision will be denied you.
At the onset of this spiritual dryness, many can no longer bear the sight of the rugged path ahead. They turn back. They speak with the perplexity of Nathaniel: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn 1.46). As for those who carry on in faith in such conditions, they are truly blessed. “If you would believe you would see the glory of God” (Jn 11.40).
However, if you intend to follow this path, you must also be forewarned that even faith will not sustain you with the same strength throughout the whole journey. It will fail you from time to time, for on the way you will seek your former pleasures. Your heart shall crave once more for Egypt with its leeks and onions. Your self will come out and blame you: Why have you led me to the wilderness, to kill me? Both your soul and mine are poverty stricken and well nigh incorrigible. We shall hanker after meat in the wilderness. We shall ask for a sign on the way but none shall be given us.
Many are those who have stood bewildered, asking: Where are we? What is the purpose behind our journey? What were we doing coming this way in the first place? But these are questions of doubt, a cry of retreat. Many have turned back before the end because they preferred to live by sight.
They asked for a sign for themselves, thus proving their lack of faith. Their wish being rejected, they gave up the trail and flung themselves with a vengeance into the arms of the madding crowd. They plunged with all their might into the countless crazes of this world and have become obsessed with them. This they have done not because they see any real benefit to these activities, but because they want to escape the truth that confronted them. For fear seized them when they were forced to face the fact that they had to walk by faith alone and not by sight.
Had it not been for Moses, Israel would not have journeyed for a single day in the desert. Yet, Moses journeyed forty years in the hope of reaching the promised land. His only resource throughout this long struggle was faith. By means of his towering faith, he managed to lead an obstinate people forty years in a most arid wilderness. We need the leadership of Moses for ourselves so that we can walk by faith. By faith we can push ourselves to go on even though we can see nothing. However long our struggle may last, we should keep on going along the way of God, for we are certain that at the end of the trail lies the heavenly Jerusalem prepared like a bride for her bridegroom. But so long as the journey goes on, we should be satisfied with God’s faithfulness to his promises, the secret encouragements that he gives us, and his voice speaking to us out of eternity.”
[Fr. Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life]