Musical-Spiritual Dryness
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,173
    I realize that I probably come across as a complete and total jerk, if not completely insane, so I apologize from the outset. I had considered adding this question to my vacation guilt thread, but decided not to resurrect that monstrosity. This is probably going to be a rambly, stream of consciousness, Gertrude Stein, mess of gobbledygook, adding to the insane feeling, but I am just typing this as things come to me (I'm on my phone, so major editing ain't gonna happen).

    I have been back from vacation for sixteen days, and I have to say that I am miserable. The Sundays haven't been too bad, mainly because I enjoy the discussions (on a wide variety of topics) with my choir members; but the weekdays have left me feeling depressed and miserable.

    Last week (the week I returned) attendance was averaging 25-30 people (after two weeks of music-less Masses, mind), which was the highest since pre-covid days; this week, attendance plummeted again to 10-15. We have had music at daily Masses for over 100 years, but I have a feeling that it's time to kiss this "tradition" good bye: I get the impression that people are now genuinely afraid of singing, and are actively avoiding Masses with a lot of music. The music, I'm sure, is what many here dream of: Entrance, Offertory and Communion Chants in English, Latin chant Ordinaries, good hymns, a nice early 20th century tracker, etc., but it is such a chore to get through the Mass: I don't pray, I just execute, and I know that I am rushing some things to try to get out as soon as possible and go home. I go through all of the motions, genuflecting, sign of the cross, etc., but I question if I really believe any of this stuff. Intellectually, I know the Church's teachings on the Mass and the Sacraments, I know that I am singing the words of the Church; intellectually I give my assent to this, yet I doubt. And it is that doubt that makes all of this so hard: because I feel like I'm playing for the congregation, like it's a concert, and not for God, the low attendance bothers me so much more than I know that it ought to.

    I don't really know what I'm asking. I know all of the spiritual and "inspirational" quotes and platitudes that I would spout if someone came to me in this dilemma; but it just seems so insipid and banal, and unhelpful. I guess I really just wish that I enjoyed doing this again or looked forward to Mass rather than seeing it like a drudgery to be gotten through.

    Basically, does anyone have any advice? (Moving isn't a practical option, at present.)
  • I know it might be a little too soon to recommend this after a vacation, but - An Ignatian retreat does wonders.
  • Carol
    Posts: 823
    Persevere. Remember even Mother Teresa of Calcutta felt as you are feeling. Know that I and others on this forum will be praying for you.
  • ServiamScores
    Posts: 2,550
    Salieri, I can really relate to some of this. I’ve gone through some pretty rough phases, and happen to be in the midst of a “medium-rough” phase right now. Just the other day I slipped during a meeting with my pastor and mentioned that I hadn’t been coming to daily mass “…because… reasons.” That was poor-English code for: I’m feeling really burnt out at the moment, especially with mass. As it is, I attend at least 4 times a week (three on the weekends and at least one daily mass). I’m just a bit “massed out”.

    I’m sure we can all relate to this:
    I don't pray, I just execute
    I have long joked that it takes me three weekend masses to get [maybe] one’s worth of prayer in. (That, and I need to hear the sermon three times to get it through my thick skull.)

    I went to the sacred music institute retreat in Cinci two weeks ago (highly recommend, by the way) and a new-found friend there stated in exasperation that he simply couldn’t understand why people are so lukewarm about everything related to church, especially the liturgy. That, too, was a sentiment I knew all too well.

    I’m finding I really need to recalibrate and laser my focus back on Christ. I get too caught up in all the externals. I am, one might say, too corporeal. (I am acutely bothered by ugly churches, for instance. It’s too easy for me to forget that Jesus is there, too.) I tried praying the “Jesus prayer” in earnest for an extended period for the first time just recently and it did me much good.

    Perhaps you need a good surrender to Jesus moment (and a reconsecration to Mary) to reset your soul. Lay all your burden upon Him; He will comfort you in His own way.

    I will pray for you too. (I don’t count my prayers as worth much, but every penny counts.)
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 529
    Brother Salieri

    Listen to this singing:

    And please consider that this is still summertime and the low attendance may easily be explained by people traveling, being at the lake house, going fishing, etc. and is not necessarily a reflection on your work, but perhaps that airfare was cheap this week or relatives were available for a reunion….

    Also that this dull sense of uncertainty is how life is for many people, including myself, and that even Christ himself in the garden of Gesthemane was not quite sure where God was and which end was up. And of course the psalmist[s], whose confused cries for help we all know so well. Take care of yourself and keep doing what you’re doing.
  • You are far, very far, from being alone in your spiritual dryness.
    Take comfort in that.
    Doubt is, I think, a necessary component of religious life. Struggles come with the faith.
    If we were always atop the mount of Transfiguration, we would be in Heaven - not here in the trenches..
    I once had a very good friend who was a devout Catholic, spent several years in a monastery, and served as choirmaster and organist at his church, and he and his family led a rather Benedictine life. He once said to me 'Jackson, there are times when I wonder if this whole thing isn't actually a gigantic hoax'. I was astonished!

    Don't let the Devil get you down. He is overjoyed at every pitfall.

  • Liam
    Posts: 4,831
    It sounds like your vacation may have been the beginning of what you have needed. Spiritual dryness and darkness of the soul/senses - desolations in Ignatian-speak - are, normally, part and parcel of the process of spiritual maturation.

    Consolations are not meant to be dominant let alone pervasive in the life of the disciple of Christ - Jesus didn't promise them to us in that way.

    The sensory absence is a sign of incompletion, of unmet desire, and that, counterintuitively as it may seem, is a sign of God's presence. Sensing the gap between where we are and whither we hope to go is a vital part of keeping us heading forward. (Hebrews 11 is something of a little Gospel on this point.)

    These are experiences to which our culture (and much of our spiritual culture, including Catholic culture across the ideological spectrum - it's not limited to the postconciliar side) are allergic to sensing for too long. There will be strong temptation to avoid sensing them by filling them with seemingly-worthy substitutes that we will rationalize the heck out of.

    Just as boredom can be a vital part of the creative process, so much more are these (sometimes many-years long) chapters in our spiritual fruitfulness.
  • Carol
    Posts: 823
    One other thought. If you have time and are not doing it already, try doing something of service for others, such as working in a soup kitchen, a food pantry, playing music in a nursing home or for children. There can be joy found in the action of helping others.
  • Prayers!
    Thanked by 1Salieri
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,891
    I discovered that if anyone wants to learn to hate the church, work for it. You will never view it in the same light again.
  • Carol
    Posts: 823
    My husband says the Roman Catholic Church is the hardest group to volunteer for.
  • SalieriSalieri
    Posts: 3,173
    Thank you all for your advice, encouragement, and, especially, prayers, they are greatly appreciated.
  • I think the devil knows these material things "matter" to us (i.e. number of people in the pews, numbers in choir, that pesky person who just has to complain about the organ, etc.) So often I think that we are going through a present day Bread of Life dicourse. We, as musicians, preach the truth with our priests by extension of their ministry. The truth is hard to hear sometimes. The truth requires commitment. The truth does not offer apologies for being what it is. The truth can be hard. When we know the truth and someone takes a chip away at it, no matter how small, we notice and it hurts. We feel pain and focus on it, no matter how little it is. For some, the truth causes pain in spirit. (
    Perhaps someone had/or aided in an abortion, they go to church and hear that aboetion is wrong. I.e. the truth can be hard to hear especially if we are on the other side of the truth.

    Back to my Bread of Life dicourse point. When the crowds heard Christ they said this was to hard to hear and left. Christ then turned to the remaining apostles and asked if they would leave as well. We have that choice to "leave," and so often the gut reaction is the walk. However, I know what God does endures forever. Thus I believe "Your Words, Lord, are Spirit and Life." This line from Psalm 19 is a daily mantra for me, as well as Psalm 139, "Search me, O God, and know my heart." I am reminded that those who have put their trust in God are happy indeed.

    I'm not sure if any of this helps you. Your work is valid, it is important, and it does matter to your congregation. If you do what the church asks and teaches, those faithful must be saying in their hearts, "Lord to whom shall we go? You along have the words of everlasting life."
  • Carol
    Posts: 823
    Stillkeeping you in my prayers.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 5,103
    Still praying.
    Thanked by 1Salieri
  • doneill
    Posts: 206
    There have been times when I have felt totally uninspired and slog through a liturgy, and then somebody will come up to me and say how much they appreciate something - I think, really? but of course never say that out of politeness. And then sometimes I've been totally inspired, just to have people complain. Could it be that the whole V2 business of active involvement has detrimental side effects like this? That if we don't feel something, it's not happening?
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 1,142
    Praying. Asking the intercession of St. Jude.
    Thanked by 1Salieri
  • Carol
    Posts: 823
    Hopefully this is not a lost cause! (Read in purple.)
  • PeterJ
    Posts: 87
    I can sometimes feel spiritual dryness when I just get deeply exhausted / worn out.

    I get the sense that you’ve had a lot to battle with psychologically (perhaps specifically: emotionally). COVID has been hard on everyone, and then hot-on-it’s-heels the enormously tragic situation in the Ukraine and what that means for all the poor people involved and international stability in general, and now a cost of living crisis. I’m seeing a lot of general apathy/low energy/irritableness all over at the moment - I assume these are the ripples of the issues I’ve just mentioned. Further, you’ve been grappling with big decisions about staying or going as a church musician. And no doubt you, like many of us, feel very deeply a sense of hurt at so many of the bad things going on in the church right now. And you hadn’t taken a proper break for a while before your last vacation.

    On top of that, your job as a full-time church musician will pull continuously on your reserves of emotional energy in (i) the music that comes from your heart and (ii) in dealing with inherently difficult people (ie other church musicians (!) and clergy).

    It is perhaps not surprising that you do not feel refreshed after your relatively short, guilt-ridden vacation.

    Sorry if this sounds like I’m spouting platitudes, but may I suggest that you should first of all give yourself a big pat on the back for the fact that you’ve been keeping going for so long. Second, rather than spiritual dryness per se as the root cause, is it possible that your emotional/psychological well has simply run dry? If so, knowing yourself, how might you get topped up again?

    Praying for you.
    Thanked by 2Elmar Salieri
  • (By comparison to previous, this will be boring)

    If grace builds on nature, could you just be physically exhausted?
    Thanked by 1Salieri
  • I know when I’m feeling blue that what helps is to exercise a bit. I remember that St. Philip Neri found one of his disciples to be a bit glum, so he challenged him to a foot race. Perhaps you just need a jolt of adrenaline.
    Thanked by 2Paul F. Ford Salieri
  • Carol
    Posts: 823
    I am still praying for you.
    Thanked by 1Salieri