Discerning Deeper Call to Action

Discerning a Deeper Call to Action and Experiencing Consolations in Ignatian Spirituality

Prayer

I have been a business owner and cabinet maker for 45 years.  In this role I have trained many apprentices.  Some I trained had taken classwork in trade school in order to “be” a cabinet maker.  A better term would be to “become” a cabinet maker.  Cabinet making is a skill and an art.  One cannot become a journeyman cabinet maker only by going to school.  One must experience the actual work of cabinet making and do it for many years.  One must learn every day.  In a lifetime, it is unlikely all aspects of cabinetmaking will be mastered so one can say, “I know everything about cabinetmaking and I can do it all.”

Likewise, it appears that “becoming” a spiritual director must be approached humbly, as an art more than a science, and a call to learn spiritual matters by experience as well as by knowledge.  Experience is crucial else one harm another by bumbling around dabbling in matters too great for oneself.  I feel the SPT 598 Spiritual Direction Practicum course conducted by Sr. Susan Arcaro and Sr. Barbara Young and in my case, supervision by Bob Fitzgerald, is a transition from head knowledge to experience as a journeyman would train an apprentice.  The spiritual maturity and kindness, calmness, and peacefulness of the three are a consolation in itself to acknowledge and emulate.  Thank you!

Speaking of the “head knowledge” of this course, our assigned books were Candlelight, by Susan S. Phillips,[1] and The Call to Discernment, by Dean Brackley.[2]  Also suggested reading was Silent Compassion, by Richard Rohr,[3] and Spiritual Direction, by Susan K. Ruffing, R.S.M..[4]  In addition, Looking into the Well, by Maureen Conroy,[5] was added as optional reference material.  I read all the books and benefited by each one, especially by The Call to Discernment.

I want to note the “experiencing” part of Spirituality in this essay.  I believe that Spirituality can only be known by experience.  Even if we are given a specific spiritual consolation, or a revelation directly by God Himself, it is an experience.  It is, by experience, that we have all been called to pass along our own calling by God to the rest of the world:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, etc.[6] 

Going entails passing along our experiences, our Faith story, the Gospel, and for those of us in this class, our experienced based Ignatian Spirituality learned not so much by knowledge, but by love.  This love, or affectionate awe, is derived by our desires to know Jesus more clearly, to follow Him more nearly, and to love Him more dearly.  In other words, just as a skilled carpenter, such as Jesus was, passes along this experiential knowledge and skill, art, and love, so do we, pass upon the specific graces with which God blesses each of us.

All the books we have read this semester reflect this experiential sharing by spiritual masters.  Likewise, the experiential knowledge, the examples of following, and loving Jesus are being passed along to us by our journeymen teachers, Sr. Barbara, Sr. Susan, and Bob Fitzgerald.  Thanks to all for this labor of love.  It is my desire to share this love with others as I have been so blessed to do with my directees.  Also, I want to share as an example of everyday life what a wonderful consolation it was to me to share with one of my physical sisters the Examen Prayer.  My sister expressed her burden to me of being somewhat addicted to list passed praying and going over the same list year after year habitually and not letting go.  I gave her two versions of the Examen Prayer and suggested she look up videos of the Examen Prayer on the internet and perhaps drop some of the list-based praying she said was burdensome to her.  She told me how helpful this was to her.  I share this because it is just one example of how our classwork this semester is bleeding off into my daily life and living with others. What a blessing it was to share spiritual matters with one I cradled in my arms when she was a baby.

I feel this Fall’s class is where the rubber meets the road regarding Ignatian Spirituality.  Now is the time to discern our specific calling to this skill and art of experiential Ignatian Spirituality.  May we discover how much we love others, how much we want to help others, as Ignatius did.  May we go into all the world as tools in His hands.  Now is the time for action.  The course name, Practicum, points to action and experience.  Our response to the call is action.

I would like to share some insights I experienced from reading the books for this past semester.  Candlelight draws on many years of the Spiritual Direction experiences of its author, Susan S. Phillips.  Dr. Phillips using actual cases of her directees (names changed) to illustrate for us how the art of Spiritual Direction is actually done.  One of the greatest consolations of her book to me was her 21st chapter, Planted by the Waters.  What resonated with me was that I should not try too hard on my own, but trust that God has called me to this work of spiritual direction and will of His desires supply nourishment to bear fruits of His grace, not only in me as I help others, but also provide His direct nourishment to the directees I am trying to help.  In this work of God’s grace as both the director and the directee sit in the candlelight of His Presence, this grace acting upon both.  I wrote an extra essay about Grace being a “middle voice” of Spirituality,[7] this is, that both Director and Directee are participants in the action that another, (God,) initiates.

Also, in Candlelight, Susan Phillips indicates respect for taking a Sabbath each week.  “There’s a feel of Sabbath to spiritual direction.  We enter into the rest that God blessed and called “holy,” a time of reflecting on the wholeness of creation and union with God.”[8]  For many years after leaving the Catholic Church at about 20 years of age, for matters of conscious, I observed the seventh day Sabbath (Saturday) of the Ten Commandments.  A little over 20 years ago I came to a better understanding of the New Covenant, and that our rest is actually in Jesus, who started His work in us, and I no longer observe the letter of the law, evening Friday to Saturday evening Sabbath rest strictly, but I respect those who attend to their spirituality in this manner.  It was a consolation to me to see how Dr. Phillips valued the Sabbath in relationship to spirituality and a reminder to me to respect all people’s beliefs.

The Call to Discernment was in my view the deepest and most profound of the books we were assigned this semester.[9]  Brackley takes a journey through the Exercises[10] as if one were experiencing the actual Exercises week by week.  I have taken the 19th Annotation of the Exercises and reading The Call to Discernment brought back my actual experiences of the Exercises to life once again.  When doing the Call of Christ, the King part of the Exercises, I received my first desires to promote Ignatian Spirituality, and specifically to write a book about my journey and to share the Exercises with others.  This book, Let God In: One Ignatian Journey is soon to be published and I am also in discernment regarding the promotion of this book which is a fruit of this calling. The 19th Annotation was an additional conversion experience for me.  It is just one of the factors which led me back to the Catholic Church of my youth.  The Call to Discernment speaks to the heart of my personal theology of non-violence and social justice and deepens my commitment and call to promote Ignatian Spirituality, not just for Catholics, but for others who may be Protestant, or of another Faith Tradition, or no tradition at all.

Next, I will mention Silent Compassion[11] and Spiritual Direction[12] in relationship to how these two books also led to responding to the call of God and my own personal discernment.  I already follow Richard Rohr’s daily meditations.  I use apophatic (wordless, thoughtless) contemplation in conjunction with kataphatic (with words and thought) meditation in my personal spiritual practices.  Ignatian Spirituality is largely kataphatic.  Silent Compassion was reinforcement for what I already do.  Spiritual Direction was valuable to me with its heavy emphasis on actual experience in spiritual direction and mutuality with God.  Experience is mentioned throughout the book.  Experience is what we are gaining this semester in the Practicum.  We are spiritual directors in training, gaining experience.  Ruffing is a master of her trade, passing along her knowledge and experience to others who include myself as an apprentice.

Looking Into the Well[13] was very helpful in understanding how to provide Verbatim’s and Process Notes.  The book is helpful not only to supervisors of Spiritual Directors, but to Spiritual Directors themselves as a continuing reference Source.  In process notes for my first directee session I wrote:

I thought I was going to have a real problem with the Verbatim, but now that I have done two pages requested, I could go on and on.  I was feeling apprehensive because I am so hard of hearing and have trouble listening.  I tried to “bone up” for a few days in advance, reading Looking Into the Well and making notes [from Candlelight] and typing them up, then a couple of days before the first session it came to me that I was trying too hard and I needed to let the Holy Spirt lead.  He/She did.  I am crying as I write this… There was so much more in this session I could have put in the Verbatim.

In closing, I want to speak of my class experiences of consolation this semester.  Our commonality of spirit in periods of prayer was very important to me.  Several of us shared different prayer presentations and Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan offered succinct and helpful handouts relating to prayer.  Our prayer time was experiential in nature with each of us learning from each other’s efforts as if we were a team of prayer warriors.  Experience in prayer is crucial to all spirituality.  Bob Fitzgerald was very effective in advising exactly the right things and pointing out principles directly from the Exercises to clarify my concerns.  Thanks to all, including my classmates!  Finally, as a journeyman passes along his trade to future generations of apprentices, let it be so with Sr. Barbara and Sr. Susan, and Bob Fitzgerald, as those of us in our Fall 2018 class offer ourselves as tools in God’s hands and continue to discern just how, when, and where we will work to help all God’s people!

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

[1] Candlelight: illuminating spiritual direction, by Susan S. Phillips, Morehouse Publishing, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-8I92-2297-8 (pbk.)

[2] The call to discernment in troubled times : new perspectives on the transformative wisdom of Ignatius, of Loyola, by Dean Brackley, The Crossroads Publishing Company, 2004, ISBN: 0-8245-2268-0 (alk. Paper)

[3] Silent Compassion : finding God in contemplation, by Richard Rohr, Franciscan Media, 2014, ISBN: 978-61636-757-2 (alk. Paper)

[4] Spiritual Direction: beyond the beginnings, by Janet K. Ruffing, Paulist Press, 2000, ISBN: 0-8091-3958-8 (alk. Paper)

[5] Looking into the Well: Supervision of Spiritual Directors, by Maureen Conroy, Loyola University Press, 1995, ISBN:0-8294-0827-4

[6] The Go-Anywhere Thinline Bible Catholic Edition, NRSV, by HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, p. 945, Mat. 28:19

[7] https://jcooperforpeace.org/?s=middle+voice

[8] Ibid, p. 189.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Ignatius of Loyola

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

Moods

Moods

            A few years ago one of my nieces lost her little boy, Cole, to brain cancer.  It was a terrible time for all seeing little Cole suffer.  He was only 5 or 6 years old but he put up his bravest fight, and the best attitude he could, only to lose in the end as we all will one day.  At his funeral his mother, right before they closed his little casket, somewhat impulsively rescued one of Cole’s little teddy bears from the little casket to save in for her memory.  I can’t imagine the desolations and moods she was feeling.

In our lives we all live with streams of consolations and desolations like the birth of one’s child or the death of a loved one.  We also die our own little bitty deaths each day, offset by good moods and attitudes.  I transferred my business to someone else about a year and a half ago and this person has decided to move out of a smaller building my office has been in for over 40 years.  I am still a consultant, but my office will now be in another building. I am feeling a bit driven.  I quote Margaret Silf, “Did we say yes because we felt we really, deep down, wanted to do it, or did we go along with it to please someone else or to avoid conflict, but against our deeper inclinations?” … “If we are feeling driven, then the prompting that gives rise to it is not from God, but from the force fields of our own (or other people’s) kingdoms.” [1]

It is human that we face challenges and turmoil.  “We all know that we are subject to moods.”[2]  There are “good” moods and “bad” moods, “consolations” and “desolations.” It is likely that feelings of turmoil are “not of God but has to do with our own kingdoms.”[3]  Chapter 7, Tracking our Moods, of Inner Compass speaks to evaluating our moods in Examen prayer.  Desolations and Consolations, Examen Prayer and discernment in relationship to The Spiritual Exercises have been the focus of our classwork.  I will speak primarily to this chapter, yet keeping in mind some of Silf’s foundational thoughts in other chapters of Inner Compass.

How can we know which are consolations and which are desolations?  Silf recommends centering ourselves in stillness, (p. 79) reviewing our moods in prayer.  Turmoil, fear, and apprehension are indicators of desolations that draw us away from God.  Periods of peace, insight, and stillness of heart are indicators of consolations.  We Examen our moods daily, making a “review of consciousness” (p. 81) our prayer priority.  Silf lists indicators of consolation and desolation (pp. 84-85).  Moods that are inward driven, or downward driven, or selfish, are likely to be desolations and lead us away from God.  Visions and moods for greater good, uplifting and joyful thoughts, are likely indicators our moods are motivated in consolation to draw us closer to God.

However, we might just be tired and need a good night’s sleep.  We can’t be happy all the time.  “Consolation is not the same as happiness.”[4]  I spoke with a woman today whose mother had 7 children and a Doctorate degree, teaching at Loyola University.  She was also a Spiritual Director.  She discovered she had cancer and joyfully faced her death.  In her latter stages, when she would wake up, she would smile and be happy until she discovered she was still alive.  She was looking forward to death, but this is an exception…  Or is it?

We can choose how we react to pain (p. 89).  We can focus outward and Godward.  “When this begins to happen, we may experience a real breakthrough, leading to the discovery that God is actually drawing us closer to him through the very event that appears (at the Where level of ourselves) to be so destructive.”[5]  It is possible to joyfully face death, to have our bags packed and believe all is well, but it is not guaranteed that this is what is going to happen.  An indicator that we might die well may be how we die daily.  “Every day of our lives will bring its own share of little dyings, and in the sense we are called to rebirth every time we react by turning toward God instead of in upon ourselves.  To be born again is truly a continuous process.”[6]  Maybe we should consider how we face our daily dying, how we address all the little losses, how we age and if our moods are turning inward upon ourselves.  Even in daily death we can garner up a smile, opening our arms to the God of our consolations.  Maybe memories of all our past consolations and good moods where we felt we were in the arms of the God of unconditional love are stored up for the times of desolations.

If I were a mother or father who had lost a little boy to cancer, If I had clinged to his little teddy bear pulled from the casket, maybe I would know more about these things.  If I were God, and lost even one of my beloved children to eternal death, maybe I would know His moods and feelings.  If I were my little bitty great-niece looking down from heaven, maybe I could be glad and rejoice in the trials I have had, even death.  Maybe Cole, my great-nephew, could tell me more about facing death each day, which I need to know, and how it is to live in heaven.  An inner compass points us in the stillness of our hearts, centered in and pointed in prayer, to God who loves us to and awaits us. The compass is the Spirit in us, (p. 102) who knows how to connect us and lead us to the Divine Mystery, three-in-one.

John Cooper

[1] Inner Compass, by Margaret Silf, Loyola Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8294-1366-9, p. 86.

[2] Ibid. p. 79

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. p. 86.

[5] Ibid. p. 89.

[6] Ibid.

Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

(An Essay regarding The Screwtape Letters,[1] by C.S. Lewis and St. Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment[2])

            A key to discernment in the life of a Christian per The Screwtape Letters, is understanding humility and pride… “All virtues are less formidable to us [Satan and demons speaking] once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility” (Letter 14, p. 81).  Satan wants us to take false pride in our humility whereas God wants us to accept our areas of giftedness and give the glory to God alone, using our giftedness in service for His greater glory.  Turning away from self to God’s desires, letter 14 continues, “The Enemy [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free of any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents…” and “to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things” (Letter 14, p. 84).

Ignatius wants us to see God in all things and recognize Him in all decisions and desires.  Ignatius understands the wiles of the enemy, Satan.  Satan is likely to use reverse logic on us, just as Screwtape advises Wormwood.  Rules of Discernment I, (Note 314. 1.) states, “In the case of those who go from one moral sin to another, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose [tempt] apparent pleasures.”  Satan rewards for our sins.  On the other hand, Ignatius advises that if we are in a good spirit, Satan reverses his logical method on us and “Then it is the characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles” etc. (note 315 2.).  Forgetting the self is a key to discernment.  Attention must turn outward, away from “self” and ego for proper discernment.  Both Screwtape Letters and The Spiritual Exercises advise that we have an enemy (n. 314.1).  The enemy’s desire in the Screwtape Letters to alter our awareness of the self.

One of the temptations of our enemy can be false consolations which counterfeit God’s true consolations.  Temptations can be matters of the mind, or of our imaginations, just as well as physical feelings.  Pleasure may come from actual infidelity or from imaginary infidelity.  Deep and lasting love is justified by decisions of chastity, poverty, and obedience, whether married or not married.  In the contemplative spiritual life, spiritual chastity, spiritual poverty, and spiritual obedience bring depth, width, and height to the practice of discernment in Christian living.  Our enemy would like it otherwise because he does not like such transcendental relationships (Letter 18, p. 108) lived in lasting humility, filled with love.  Life in the practice of discernment is not only about transcendent theories of love, or worship.  This life involves a type of dying, of giving up everything to live only in the love and grace of God.  Everything is brought to light in Examenation for discernment.

C.S. Lewis speaks of “ownership.” “The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged” says Screwtape (Letter 21, p. 125).  Mankind is to think he “owns” his body, to do with as he or she pleases.  Ownership and attachment are to be valued for everything – “my” house, “my” wife, “my” country, etc. until we are completely addicted to possessions (Letter 21, p. 126).  Pride and clinging to ownership without consideration of how “things” are to be used to praise, reverence, and worship our Lord is a way of deception.  God already “owns” everything and desires us to be “stewards” of all things given to us for His greater glory. Demanding that things are “ours” brings destruction to all, just as Satan wants.

One area I find C.S. Lewis himself may not have properly discerned is the ethics of war.  Does he to think that the death of humans in battle guarantees their place in heaven?  Screwtape says, “Or do you not realize that the patient’s death, at this moment, is precisely what we want to avoid?” (Letter 28, p. 165).  What about the Christian German soldiers, and Jews, killed and cooked to ashes in German prison camp ovens?  Are they going directly to heaven?  Are German prison camp guards sending these Jews directly to heaven?  Is Screwtape mad at Hitler too?  Perhaps C.S. Lewis has been triple tricked by the enemy in this one area.  In Letter 29 Screwtape asks, “Are we to aim at cowardice – or at courage, with subsequent pride – or at hatred of the Germans?” (Letter 29, P. 171,).  Screwtape is confused.  “There is here a cruel dilemma before us.  If we promote justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces … a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor” (Letter 29, p. 173, 174).  The Myth of Redemptive Violence continues.

How are Christians to practice discernment?  When presented choices about loving or killing, following Jesus to the cross, or not following Him, dying daily to the self or feeding the self, what are we to do?  What are we to do with the choices between two or more good things?  Proper discernment is crucial.  It is crucial not to be deceived by the ploys of Satan as are imagined in The Screwtape Letters and spoken of in The Spiritual Exercises where Ignatius warns us about the trickery and false consolations of Satan.

For a Christian in the practice of discernment, there are always choices.  The first choice may be between humility and pride.  Another choice may be between love and hate, or war and peace.  Always discerning, always choosing, hopefully always in view of what is best to love, reverence, and praise our Lord, for His greater glory!

John Cooper

[1] Ltd. Annotations copyright, 2013, by Paul McCusker, ISBN 978-0-06-202317-9

[2] From The Spiritual Exercises, by Ludovico J. Puhl, S.J. ISBN-10 0-8294-0065-6