It’s hardly fair—to the material or to readers—to limit discussion of consolation and desolation to one post! But these topics will come up in some form during Lent. Also, many of you in the DDF community are already somewhat familiar with Ignatian spirituality and terms such as consolation and desolation. So here is a brief summary.
Consolation and desolation are states of the soul that, if we pay attention to them, can guide our steps and aid our prayer. When in consolation, we are growing in love and grace, moving toward God and God’s desires for us. When in desolation, we are moving away from God, and we experience a diminishment of peace and other marks of spiritual growth and health.
It’s important to understand that consolation does not always feel good, and desolation does not always feel bad. False consolation can give us feelings of pleasure and satisfaction in situations and activities that are not enhancing our spiritual growth. And sometimes when we are moving in the right direction, we can experience emotional turmoil, even deep sadness.
Many, many writers and spiritual teachers have described desolation and consolation, but I always fall back to Margaret Silf’s effective summary (from Inner Compass, 84–85):
- Turns us in on ourselves
- Drives us down the spiral ever deeper into our own negative feelings
- Cuts us off from community
- Makes us want to give up on the things that used to be important to us
- Takes over our whole consciousness and crowds out our distant vision
- Covers up all our landmarks
- Drains us of energy
- Directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
- Lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people
- Bonds us more closely to our human community
- Generates new inspiration and ideas
- Restores balance and refreshes our inner vision
- Shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
- Releases new energy in us
As we learn to recognize when we are in desolation and consolation, we can respond accordingly—changing course (through prayer, community, discernment, spiritual direction) when in desolation, and staying the course when in consolation.
Please feel free to add to our wisdom on this topic.