What is the relationship between prayer and conversion?
Part IV: Three Conversions Through Trial: Trial III
This trial is a sort of lethargy one feels at the length of his life, finding no enjoyment in prayer or reading. Contrary to the first trial, which was a hungering, this trial is distaste for food. Adultery no longer attracts you, but neither does the word of God delight you…Be on guard that this inertia and disgust do not overtake you. This is no small trial. Cry out to the Lord that he may free you of these circumstances, and once freed from this trial, confess his mercies to him.
from St. Augustine Answers 101 Questions on Prayer by Fr. Ermatinger.
The third trial of the soul’s journey typically comes sometime after the second trial, after a soul has been sufficiently refined and advanced along the path of prayer and penance to God. Because the acedia that is present in the third trial is also present in the previous trials, a man might mistakenly assume that he has entered into the third trial. This is often the result of a not-so-hidden pride and attachment to one’s own power rather than a humble reliance upon the mercies of God. The attachment to any sin, spiritual adultery made more shameful from knowing God as the true Bridegroom of one’s soul, is an indicator that the third trial has not yet begun. Here in the third trial, spiritually adulterous desires are no longer attractive – the soul has eyes and ears only for her Creator and Savior. It is precisely at this stage in the journey that that which has previously delighted the soul – that which has been seen and heard – stops. The Fisher of Men no longer allures, the pull of the line stops, His radiance becomes hidden. Even the memories of such things bring no pleasure to the soul when they are brought before the mind’s eye.
Why should God do this? Because His desire is that the soul should love Him alone; not His gifts nor Him as Giver of gifts. This is no small trial for it requires the soul to persevere in absence, not under its own power but upon utter abandonment to God who no longer is felt, delights, or brings joy. What is fought against here is stagnation; that certain complacency that can set in when where one no longer desires to return to where one has come from, yet the destination no longer has its allure, and the journey is naught but toil. This explanation is simpler than what a soul in the third trial faces for the path through is abandonment to the humility of the situation; to rely upon God in the face of a darkness that is deeper than when the soul was sleeping. Upon completion of the trial, the soul will again be adorned by God, but the joy will no longer be in these good gifts, but rather in Him for Himself. Truly then will the soul cast the crowns that it has been given down before the glassy sea singing the praises and glories of His Name.