bird mobile from fabric found in dumpster
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the ‘mood swings’ of faith – how I can be filled with utter certainty about something one moment, and have that certainty dashed on the rocks the next. It makes me feel so fickle, and honestly, a bit crazy. I think to myself, “I must be manic to experience such wide swings of belief and conviction.”
In the midst of trying to “count my blessings” and remembering what is “really real”, I also remembered a course I took last year at the Francis House of Prayer on St. Ignatius’ Rules for Discernment. There are two sets of rules for discernment that Ignatius writes about in his Spiritual Exercises and we focused on the first set.
We read “The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everday Living” by Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV. This book offered a wonderfully close reading of each phrase of the rules, punctuated by examples from ordinary life. As we read each chapter, focusing on one rule at a time, we also rewrote each rule in our own words, helping us to distill the rule into our own lives.
In the introduction, Gallagher offers some helpful definitions. “The word spirits, as Ignatius uses it in this context, indicates those affective stirrings of the heart – joy, sadness, hope, fear, peace, anxiety, and similar feelings – with their related thoughts, that influence our life of faith and our progress toward God” (p. 3). And a little further on the same page: “for Ignatius, discernment of spirits describes the process by which we seek to distinguish between different kinds of spiritual stirrings in our hearts, identifying those that are of God and those that are not in order to accept the former and to reject the latter.”
All last year, I experienced the rules for discernment as an amazing tool for understanding the daily swings of my faith. By paying very close attention to those affective stirrings, I began to notice events and thoughts that would trigger them, either toward an increase of faith, hope, and love (consolation), or a decrease of faith, hope, and love (desolation). By noticing them as they were happening, I was able, with God’s help, to take action against the desolation, and to savor the consolations.
At the end of the introduction Gallagher puts it succinctly: “The basic message of Ignatius’s fourteen rules for discernment is liberation from captivity to discouragement and deception in the spiritual life” (p. 6). This is what he perceives as the “major obstacle to faith”, and judging by my own experience of the past few days, I’d tend to agree.
What I would like to do next is something that I’m not quite sure is a good idea, but I feel prompted to do it nonetheless. I’d like to offer my own rewritten versions of Ignatius’ rules, along side the translations that Gallagher gives in his book. The reason I’m not sure whether this is a good idea or not is that I wonder if it is too out of context. Although Ignatius himself just lists the rules, it is in the context of his broader Spiritual Exercises. In the end, I hope this can give you a taste of what a difference these rules can make in the spiritual life, and might prompt you to further inquiry and reading, for which I highly recommend Gallagher’s book.
Keep in mind that discernment of the spirits is about being aware “of the contrasting spiritual movements of the heart, coupled with an effort to understand and respond wisely to them” (Gallagher, p. 3). As each rule is presented, read slowly and carefully through Gallagher’s translation, before proceeding to mine rewritten version of it. Again, I didn’t rewrite them because I felt that they were deficient in any way. Rather, rewriting something in one’s own words is an excellent exercise in truly coming to understand it. If you would like to offer your own rewrites as well, I invite you to do so in the comments section for that rule. Finally, if something is unclear please do not hesitate to ask about it.
The header for the rules says this:
Rules for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them.
RULE 1 (Gallagher)
The first rule: in persons who are going from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose apparent pleasures to them, leading them to imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses a contrary method, stinging and biting their consciences through their rational power of moral judgment.
RULE 1 (mine)
In persons who are unaware of God’s presence and are not able to detect the inner movements of the Spirit, they are drawn away from God by imagining “the good life” and by being enchanted by all those things they think they deserve because they’re “worth it”. They are drawn away from God by seeking satisfaction and fulfillment in things that tell them that they’re important, successful, and valuable. They are drawn back to God when they are made aware of God’s presence and when their eyes are made to see clearly that things other than God will never satisfy and that all they have are gifts from God. They are drawn to God when their focus is shifted from living for self alone, to living for God alone.
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