Week 32 Prayer Exercises
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1 I resolve to spend no more than 15-minutes in each formal prayer session and to do so in some place apart; a technology-free zone.
2 For the sake of God’s greater glory, I continue a life-long process of praying with meditations one through five in Sacred Story prayer. I enter my prayer at least once daily as St. Ignatius suggested. This prayer will carry me for life. It will deepen my faith and my wisdom and awaken me to God’s truth and love.
3 By God’s grace, I continue opening my heart to learn spiritual discernment. This week I explore definitions of spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation as Divine inspiration and counter-inspiration.
I will awaken to the present moment.
I will awaken to my spiritual nature.
I will not make any decisions based on fear.
I will practice Sacramental Reconciliation monthly.
I will ask Jesus for help when I am troubled.
I will thank Jesus daily for life’s gifts.
I will say this affirmation aloud once daily:
Awakening to Sacred Story Discernment Guidelines
Guidelines for Fundamental Healing and Spiritual Growth
Take some time this week to read and reflect on this fifth lesson in discernment. We will examine the Divine inspiration of spiritual consolation and the counter-inspiration of spiritual desolation. Start paying attention to your affective moods to feel the states of consolation and desolation in your story. This process requires a graced awakening, so ask God for the “eyes to see” your story through the lens of these spiritual lessons. Be patient as you slowly learn this way of understanding your story.
Is Prayer Helping or Hurting?
Some might say: “Until I started this prayer, I never felt bad, but now I do. I wonder if it is hurting instead of helping.” If you find yourself asking the same question, you probably were feeling bad before you started the prayer discipline. You just were not aware of the pain or of your true feelings. There are many ways for us to “self-medicate” our pain, whether that pain is spiritual, emotional, or physical. The process of spiritual awakening brings to the light pre-existing spiritual conditions, that previously we were simply not conscious of. Now that you are becoming more aware, and actually feeling what is happening, you can ask for God’s help and God can help you. Sometimes the presence of discomfort and pain is the first step to healing. Welcome it and invite Christ Jesus to heal your life and heart!
Guidelines for Fundamental Healing and Spiritual Growth
The practice of Sacred Story prayer makes one aware of the spiritual forces at work in one’s life and in the world. Ignatius became a master at discerning these spiritual movements. He left guidelines for understanding how they work. You have learned already that there are three distinct sources influencing your thoughts, words, and deeds:
1) your own emotional, psychological, and intellectual make-up shaped by concupiscence and your unique history
2) the Divine inspiration of consolation working to draw your thoughts, words, and deeds in the direction of your authentic human nature
3) the counter-inspirations of the enemy of your true human nature, seeking to pull you away from your authentic self
God (Divine-Inspirer) and the enemy of human nature (counter-inspirer) each seek ultimate influence over how your history unfolds: God for eternal love and life, the enemy of human nature for eternal despair and death; God for eternal relationships; the enemy of human nature for eternal loneliness.
Both God and the enemy of human nature are aware of your strengths, weaknesses, wounded memories, hopes, dreams, and fears. God desires to stir your conscience towards freedom and light, and bring you healing and hope.
God will build on your strengths, inflaming your holy desires and healing what is hurt and broken. The enemy of human nature seeks to silence your conscience and hide it in shadows. He will work to magnify your problems, diminish your holy desires and inspire hopelessness.
We identify and distinguish Divine inspirations from counter inspirations by their intellectual and affective traits, or signature characteristics. Ignatius defines two distinct types of inspiration. The first type, caused by Divine inspiration of the Spirit, he calls consolation. The second type, caused by the counter inspiration of the enemy of your human nature, he calls desolation.
Divine Inspiration: Consolation defines the feelings and thoughts of a healing heart returning to God and/or residing in God. God always inspires movement towards reconciliation and union. The signature characteristics of Divine Inspiration include being passionate for God and loving all things in God; tears of remorse and sadness when you fail, yet feeling loved by God despite your failures. You may experience tears of love for Christ who suffered the consequences of all sin, including your own. It is every increase in love, hope and faith that magnetizes your heart towards holy things; and all experiences of peace and quiet in the presence of your Creator. The Divine inspiration of consolation is manifest in humility that views eternal life, lasting love, and faith in God as the hope of the single-hearted, and the ultimate goal of those “willing to risk seeing reality as it truly is.”
Counter Inspiration: Desolation defines feelings and thoughts that are the direct opposite of consolation’s Divine inspiration. The signature characteristics of counter inspiration are darkness and confusion of a broken and wounded heart, soul, and spirit; magnetic and compulsive attractions to sensual and base appetites; restlessness, anger, cynicism, and temptations that make all things geared towards faith, hope and love appear dull, absurd and even destructive to your heart. You will feel a lazy, lukewarm and sad spirit as if separated from God. The counter inspiration of desolation is everything that magnetizes a broken heart towards cynicism, lusts, isolation, anger, despair and aloneness. The counter inspiration of desolation is manifest in an unyielding pride that views eternal life, lasting love, and faith in God as illusions of the simple-minded, and the result of those “unwilling to risk seeing reality as truly it is.”
Spiritual Pleasure and Success
Illicit pleasures of our higher spiritual nature often reside in our attitudes like one’s personal definition of success. I can be comforted by my own self-righteousness and contemptuous of others.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income’ (Lk 18: 11-12).
The Pharisee, while fulfilling the rule of law, was trapped in a false identity. Spiritual attitudes (world views and our definitions of success) need discernment to determine whether or not they are of God. Just because they are legal, does not mean they are of God!
Consolations can make you feel bad when they move you toward your authentic human nature. The bad feelings caused by movement toward authenticity are something that applies equally to both your lower physical nature and higher spiritual nature. If you are accustomed to physical pleasures or lifestyles and relationships that fall outside the boundaries of the Commandments and/or Church teaching, the inspiration to cut loose from those pleasures can make you feel distress and anxiety. Remember that Ignatius panicked and felt distress when he realized that he would have to live without the pleasures of his first thirty years for the rest of his life.
The distress you feel when moving toward authenticity in your physical nature is also true when you are moving toward authenticity in your spiritual nature. If you are accustomed to spiritual pleasures that fall outside the boundaries of the Commandments or Church teaching, such as a false definition of success that has shaped your life, you may similarly feel distress, panic or anxiety when contemplating a change. This is because you are uncertain of what lies beyond the false definition of success. It may feel like a frightening void.
Thus the movement toward authenticity can create fear and distress for both your physical and spiritual natures. The fear aroused by the invitation to live authentically needs to be strongly confronted, because you are being invited towards life, not death. You must learn to resist the fear when moving toward authenticity as defined by the Commandments and Church teaching.
Counter inspirations called desolations can make you feel good even if they move you away from your authentic human nature. The good feelings caused by movement away from authenticity apply equally to both your lower physical nature and higher spiritual nature. If you are accustomed to physical pleasures that fall outside the boundaries of the Commandments and/or Church teaching, the inspiration to stay committed to those pleasures can make you feel relief—feel good.
The relief you feel when moving away from authenticity in your physical nature is also true when you are moving away from authenticity in your spiritual nature. If you are accustomed to spiritual pleasures that fall outside the boundaries of the Commandments and/or Church teaching, like a false definition of success that has shaped your life, you may similarly feel relief—feel good—in remaining committed to that false identity.
The inspiration to “stay just where you are” will most likely be supported by many logical justifications for why it is best not to change course. By staying put, you have consciously or unconsciously been manipulated by your fears. The fears aroused by the invitation to live authentically need to be strongly confronted because you are being invited towards death, not life. You must learn to resist the fear when moving away from authenticity as defined by the Commandments and Church teaching.
This is an important discernment lesson. It is critical to understand that inspirations caused by the Divine Inspirer, as well as those inspired by the counter-inspirer, can both feel good or feel bad, depending on your lifestyle and the corresponding state of your heart and soul.
So, always pay attention to definitions of authenticity regarding human nature as defined by the Commandments and Church teaching. It is advisable to keep an eye on the direction the inspirations lead, (away from authenticity or towards authenticity) more than whether inspirations make you feel good or feel bad.
(Ps 19: 14)