Week 33 Prayer Exercises
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1 As before, I will visualize the week ahead and imagine where I can find technology-free zones for my 15-minutes of formal prayer each day. I will consider changing the number of prayer sessions each day (from one to two or from two to one). I will make a conscious choice to adjust my prayer schedule, if I judge it a wise decision that will deepen my daily commitment to Christ.
2 I pray for the grace to make a life-long commitment to daily pray movements one through five in the Sacred Story prayer. I will enter my prayer at least once daily as St. Ignatius suggested. I recognize that this prayer will carry me for life, deepening my faith and wisdom, and awakening me to God’s truth and love in every thought, word and deed.
3 I continue to ask God’s grace to understand spiritual discernment in my life. This week I will explore definitions of spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation as embedded attitudes or lifestyles that can shape my Sacred Story.
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 sixth lesson in discernment. We examined the Divine inspiration of spiritual consolation and the counter inspiration of spiritual desolation last week. This week we focus on identifying the ways in which these spiritual states manifest as lifestyles. Continue to pay attention to your affective moods to feel the states of consolation and desolation in your story. Look too for embedded lifestyle attitudes that bear the signature characteristics of consolation and desolation.
Consolation and desolation manifest as lifestyles. We can consciously or unconsciously live a life that is either aligned with life or death. The book of Deuteronomy powerfully captures this reality. God placed before the people Israel two distinct choices:
See, I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I am giving you today, loving the LORD, your God, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and ordinances, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. If, however, your heart turns away and you do not obey, but are led astray and bow down to other gods and serve them, I tell you today that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, obeying his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land which the LORD swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give to them (Dt. 30: 15-20).
If we have become insensitive to God’s presence, we can be moving away from the Author of Life in our Sacred Story. We may not be aware of this because of a silenced conscience. If you live in a culture or a sub-culture that is also insensitive to the Author of Life, you can be doubly challenged to find the path back to life.What Are Inordinate Attachments?
If we lack freedom before created things, St. Ignatius says we have an inordinate attachment. I can be inordinately attached to wealth, age, health, people, material goods or a definition of success for my life. An inordinate attachment can be almost anything I control (or want to control) that affects my Sacred Story. The goal is not to get rid of the things that are inordinate attachments. Ignatius tells us that we want to get rid of the attachment to the things. I may have $100 and be inordinately attached to it. Ignatius would advise that I neither keep nor give the money away, but pray for the spiritual freedom to either keep it or let it go. My discernment to keep or surrender is made according to whatever action advances me further along the path of my Sacred Story. The Foundations Prayer from Week Twenty-Three E&W, articulates this principle of spiritual freedom from attachments. If you are sensitive to the Author of life, then your Sacred Story is moving in the direction of producing fruit that endures to eternity. This will be true even if you live in a culture that is insensitive to life’s Author. A culture oriented away from God can make choosing the good more difficult, but Christ guarantees the fruit produced. He promises:
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Mt 5: 11-12).
We can also choose to align ourselves with sub-cultures that are counter to the life proposed by the Commandments, Scripture and the teaching Church. It is difficult to be objective about anti-Gospel lifestyles when we are immersed in these sub-cultures simply because we become habituated to them.
These self-selected sub-cultures can diminish one’s ability to gain objectivity or to discern effectively. These anti-Gospel sub-cultures can be economic, political, artistic, ethnic, intellectual, sexual, athletic, addiction-based, and Web-based, just to name a few. The main challenge is that we can cocoon in these cultures, allowing their definitions of happiness, success, the good, the beautiful, and the moral to isolate us from the data coming from deep in our heart, or from any other source.
This process of cocooning marks the impenetrable individualism of the present age. For these reasons, consolation and desolation can be described more comprehensively as lifestyles so one can measure the arc of one’s life—one’s life-style—against the traditional categories Ignatius defined as the signature characteristics of human nature’s Author or its enemy.
Thus your individual lifestyle can be discerned as either influenced by the Divine-Inspirer or the counter-inspirer. You can identify the trajectory of your story first by reflecting on how you live. If your story and the balance of thoughts, words and deeds are aligned with the Commandments, Scripture and the teaching Church, then you are choosing life. If not, then it is time to pray for light.
Divine Inspiration as a Lifestyle
Are you evolving under the Divine inspirations aligned to thoughts, words and deeds harmonious with the Scripture, Commandments and the teaching Church? If so, the Divine author of your human nature will provide “heart-verification” to alert you to thoughts, words and deeds that can move you off the true path. The Divine-Inspirer will awaken your reason and stir your conscience.
When this happens you will feel sadness, anxiety, grief and remorse, the result of thoughts, words, and deeds that lead away from God. God grants these feelings if you are moving towards the counter inspirations of anti-love—anti-Christ. Such feelings can be difficult and intense. Yet they are a gift and a certain reminder that engaging the Gospel values of your Faith belief and practice, will bring you the peace and hope you seek.
Counter Inspiration as a Lifestyle
Are you evolving under the counter inspirations opposed to love? Are your thoughts, words and deeds opposed to the Commandments, Scripture and the teaching Church? The enemy of your human nature is able to hold you in the grip of your disordered appetites by deceit and false appearances. What leads you away from God, from Love, appears pleasurable, and is presented as good, life-giving, fashionable, enlightened and sophisticated.
Leading away from the sheltering safety of God’s love and your authentic human nature, these thoughts, words and deeds, as excessive appetites, are aptly named false loves, and false loves speak powerfully to broken hearts. If you are in the grip of the counter inspirations of these false loves you will feel aversion to engaging the Gospel values or be hostile to the Commandments and guidelines of the teaching Church. You will experience difficulty practicing and persevering in your faith.
This is an important discernment lesson. Think of Divine inspiration (spiritual consolation) as a healthy lifestyle that may not feel healthy because it is not supported by the culture or sub-cultures in which you live. Think of counter inspiration (spiritual desolation) as an unhealthy lifestyle that might not feel unhealthy because it is supported by the culture or sub-cultures in which you live. So as you learned last week, always keep an eye on the direction the inspirations lead, more than whether inspirations make you feel good or feel bad.
If you want to map some of the influences in your life, make a small chart of the various sub-cultures where you spend most of your time each week: corporate culture, work environments, Internet, social groups and associations, exercise or athletic environments, groups aligned with arts and or entertainment, political parties, and the cultures of film, television and or radio where you spend time. Next to each sub-culture, write what you believe is its signature characteristic regarding its overall influence on your lifestyle. Does the sub-culture support Divine inspiration or support counter inspiration? In other words, is the sub-culture congruent with the values of Scripture, Tradition and the teaching Church?
Some of these sub-cultures may be fixed parts of your life due to career, family, or region. Others may be affiliations by personal choice. Do some of the sub-cultures force you to conceal your religious beliefs? Do you have what St. Ignatius defines as an inordinate attachment to any of these sub-cultures and the values they espouse? Does your affiliation with the sub-culture move you further along in your Sacred Story or obstruct your movement? Does your affiliation with the sub-culture increase the ease or difficulty of developing your authentic human nature as guided by the Commandments and Church teaching?
(Ps 141: 3-5)