Welcome to my Lenten reflection for the fourth week of Lent. (To view previous reflections refer to the list at right).
Each week’s reflection is drawn from a chapter of Days of Deepening Friendship. While it is not necessary to read these chapters to participate, it will likely enhance your experience. This week’s reflection is based on Chapters 29-30.
Let’s get started.
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Listen to this week’s audio reflection:
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. -Mark 12:34
Lent is a time for soul searching, and whenever we examine our lives, we pray for discernment. We want to go in the right direction. We want to follow the best of all options. So we try to open our hearts and minds, and we ask the Holy Spirit for understanding.
Times of soul searching are often quite emotional. We may experience a lot of sadness and grief for our sins, our failures, our dashed hopes. Then again we might experience surges of gratitude and joy. We may be filled with the conviction that God is truly with us, and so we feel completely free and light.
When we go through spiritual upheaval or renewal—and sometimes those are one in the same—we can experience emotional extremes that aren’t easy to interpret. Am I feeling down because it’s February and I’m sick of winter? Am I in a good mood today because I’ve cut back on fatty foods during Lent and my body is cleansed for a change, resulting in more energy? Am I crying through my prayers because the Holy Spirit is speaking to me, or because it’s been so long since I’ve really talked to God that there’s a lot of pent-up emotion? And was I joyful yesterday mainly because we sang one of my favorite hymns?
St. Ignatius of Loyola directed people to pay attention to consolation and desolation, and spiritual directors today help people understand what those are and how to work with them. I like to think of consolation and desolation as the broad spectrum of our spiritual intuition. Desolation is the dark and negative end; we experience desolation when our spirit is wrestling with a hard decision, when we sense sin in our life, or when some aspect of our life is not well and we must face it. Consolation is our spiritual sense that we are going in the right direction, that God is blessing us, that our sins are forgiven and our relationship with God is healthy.
Because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we can trust that the Spirit is working with our natural sense, emotion, desire, and intuition. If we’re sensing an emotional darkness, that is probably a sign that we need to attend to something. If we desire to take a specific action, it may well be that our very desire will help us fulfill God’s purposes for us. And as Christians we can learn to rely on our hunches as we discern the best thing to do.
However, because we are human and are affected by everything from the weather to fatigue to our own mixed motives, we have to bring all of our signals and inclinations to God in prayer so that we can understand the dynamics of our interior life and interpret them appropriately.
Consolation and desolation can make us feel emotionally volatile sometimes, but these indicators are gifts from God, who designed us to be wise and discerning. Lent is a wonderful time for revisiting the way we work with our emotions, our dreams, our desires, and our misgivings. In Christ we are spiritually alive, and we can make choices as mature daughters and sons of God.
A Spiritual Exercise for This Week
If you know someone you can talk comfortably with about spiritual matters, set up a time to talk about consolation and desolation. That is, discuss what kinds of interior signals help you understand what’s going on in your lives. How do your emotions, desires, and intuition help you make decisions?
If you can’t have this discussion with a person you know, then go to some spiritual autobiographies and find out how other Christians have made discernments about the spiritual life.
Pray for help with understanding how God is leading you through consolation and desolation. Sometimes just being more aware of these matters takes us a long way in learning about them.
I invite you to post your comments and questions and I will respond throughout the week. I will also be available every Wednesday from 10 am-Noon CST to communicate with you in real time. Don’t forget to join me next week (I’ll send a reminder).