Develop the habit of distinguishing between two inspirations leading in opposite directions
By Father William Watson
In previous columns, we’ve discussed how God (the divine-inspirer) and the enemy of human nature (the counter-inspirer) are both untiringly ambitious over how our story unfolds.
God seeks to influence our story for eternal love and life, while the enemy of human nature seeks to influence it for eternal despair and death. God desires eternal relationship for us; the enemy of human nature desires eternal loneliness.
If you have not yet established a 15-minute daily prayer time in a technology-free place, Lent is a particularly good time to do so. St. Ignatius suggested a regular daily prayer time as a means to deepen faith and wisdom and awaken to God’s truth and love.
Beginning this Lent, make a commitment to pray for 15 minutes each day — no more and no less — and trust that with God’s grace, this prayer will carry you through your entire life.
In past months we have discussed St. Ignatius’ description of the three distinct sources that influence our thoughts, words, and deeds: our own interior life (emotional/intellectual); consolation (the divine inspiration drawing us in the direction of our authentic human nature); and desolation (the counter-inspiration of the enemy of our true human nature pulling us away from our authentic self).
Pray for the grace of discernment
During Lent (and beyond!) pay special attention to your emotions to discern these spiritual states of consolation and desolation. This process requires a graced awakening, so during your daily prayer times ask God for the “eyes to see” the characteristics and traits of consolation and desolation in your own story. God will always answer our request for such insights.
Discernment is the habit of distinguishing between two different spiritual states by conscious awareness of their signature characteristics.
God desires to stir your conscience toward freedom and light, and bring you healing and hope. God knows your strengths and weaknesses. God will build on your strengths, kindle your holy desires and gradually heal whatever is wounded. The enemy of human nature also knows your strengths and weaknesses, and will seek to silence your conscience, magnify your problems, diminish your holy desires and gradually inspire hopelessness.
Spiritual consolation — divine inspiration — defines the feelings and thoughts of a healing heart returning to or residing in God. God always inspires movement toward reconciliation and union. Every increase in love, hope and faith that magnetizes your heart toward holy things, and all experiences of peace and quiet in the presence of your creator, are characteristics of consolation. Divine inspirations are manifest in humility that views eternal life, lasting love and faith in God as the hope and ultimate goal of those “willing to risk seeing reality as it truly is.”
Spiritual desolation — counter-inspiration — is the direct opposite. Counter-inspirations magnetize a broken heart toward cynicism, lusts, isolation, anger, despair and loneliness. 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.
Beware your initial ‘feelings’
Be aware that if you are accustomed to physical pleasures or lifestyles and relationships that fall outside the boundaries of the commandments or church teaching, the inspiration to cut loose from those pleasures can make you feel distress and anxiety. During his own awakening, St. Ignatius panicked and felt distress when he realized that he would have to live without such pleasures for the rest of his life.
Counter-inspirations, on the other hand, can make you “feel good” even if they move you away from your authentic human nature. The counter-inspiration may encourage feelings of complacency, to “just stay where you are.” The fears aroused by the invitation to live authentically must be strongly confronted because counter-inspirations are inviting you toward death, not life.
Both consolation and desolation can “feel” good or bad, depending on your lifestyle and the corresponding state of your heart and soul. To assist your discernment, pay attention to the definitions of authenticity regarding human nature as defined by the commandments and church teaching.
And remember to pray for the grace to “wake up.”
Think about the things that make you feel good and the things that make you feel bad. Consider whether these things are moving you toward union with God and reconciliation or undermining your faith in God and leading to cynicism and isolation.
Commit yourself to praying for 15 minutes daily — no more, no less — over the next four weeks. Pray for the grace to discern the difference between inspirations in your life that come from God and those counter-inspirations that come from human nature’s enemy.
Jesuit Father William M. Watson is the founder of Seattle’s Sacred Story Institute (www.sacredstory.net).
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