It is easy to imagine that when we pray, we turn away from those dark parts of our self that are sinful and marked by evil. John of the Cross’s masterpiece, The Dark Night of the Soul, attacks that naiveté, and begins by working through each of the seven deadly sins in turn, describing how each of them enters with us into our devotional lives. Pride, Greed and their ilk actively keep us from prayer, but they also deeply affect the ways that we enter into and experience prayer.
For instance, spiritual gluttony affects our prayers by encouraging within us the desire to greedily costume the joys of prayers for our own sake, to enter into the spiritual disciplines without moderation. We consume the “sweet” experience of God’s presence, and can so crave that experience that we lose the importance of prayer that exists even when that experience eludes us. John writes,
“So much are they given to this that they think when they derive no spiritual sweetness, they have done nothing, so meanly do they think of God…But these persons will feel and taste God, as if he were palpable and accessible to them, not only in communion but in all other acts of devotion…This effort after sweetness destroys true devotion and spirituality, which consists in perseverance in prayer with patience and humility, mistrusting self, solely to please God.”
And so the early chapters of the book go, working through each of the capitol sins in turn, showing how they become barriers to the practice of prayer, in turn working against our faith in its value and distorting our experience of prayer.
Through this, John drives towards a very theocentric idea of prayer—prayer is a place of God’s action, not something that we can simply manipulate and force into giving us the experience we desire. He calls us to be humble and perseverant in prayer, in faith that because of God’s grace, prayer is valuable even when it feels empty and useless.
This is helpful to me.