In his great wisdom, St. Ignatius gave us realistic, practical, applicable tools that we can use when we’re faced with dilemmas and decisions. When we feel stuck in a spiritual rut or when we’re feeling called to something beyond what we can envision in this moment, among other notable and mundane life happenings, Ignatian discernment offers a way forward. As much as Ignatius emphasized the importance of our feelings, emotions, inner compass, and certainly prayer life in discerning decisions, he also believed in the role our intellect plays in the spiritual life generally and discernment particularly.
As our Into the Deep team continues to move through aspects of Ignatian discernment, this week, we’re invited to consider an important piece of the discernment process, the data-gathering step. This is the step where we find and name the facts related to our discernment. Ignatius’s spiritual writings remind us that one’s inner compass and prayer life go hand-in-hand with one’s intellect. We need both to fully hear and heed God’s different calls in our lives. Facts, data, reason, intellect–these things are not the enemy of prayer or relationship with God, but rather, they all complement each other and work in tandem.
I have lived in intentional community in Jesuit-influenced settings for more than six years, and when I add to that a number of years of marriage and family life in my adulthood plus participation in several types of faith-based communities where discernment played a central role, I can easily see the importance of facts and nitty-gritty details as woven through my–and our–discernment processes. Often in communal settings, working from a starting point of consolations and desolations doesn’t lead to consensus or agreement on how best to proceed, and it’s helpful to let other facts and pieces of information also inform our group decisions.
As a twenty-something Jesuit Volunteer in Central America, my fellow JVs and I had committed to values of living simply, seeking justice, building community, and growing spiritually. As we tried to find our way in a new culture and with these values as guideposts, our fact-finding missions included everything from determining which foods and meals were cheapest and most ethically sourced, to ways we could engage in counteracting the lingering impacts of colonization and racial injustice as foreigners and historic oppressors. Facts helped make decisions about how we spent our time as individuals and a group and how things like transportation, safety issues, and cultural norms might impact that. In all of these things, there was a place for prayer, for purposeful conversations and sharing, and, yes, for concrete information.
Participating in ministries and teams at parishes requires more than just all of us sharing how we feel about something. We can have great intentions, driven by calls to Gospel justice and working to build the Kin-dom here on earth, but there might be important reasons that we aren’t able to move forward right now. Trying to grow a recycling program is dependent on things like parish finances, pick-up arrangements, and volunteer commitment. Offering assistance for parishioners with economic hardships to attend an annual social justice conference hinges on budgets and money earmarked for this purpose. Space available and volunteer capacity directly impact whether a parish can host two weeks of a rotating winter shelter for unhoused neighbors.
And now, as a spouse and parent, the details and logistics that drive daily life show up in decisions big and small in our house. While my science- and data-driven mind does love information and facts, I find that being in touch with my heart, my gut, and my inner voice of wisdom–all of which, I think, are extensions of God speaking to and moving in me–can easily overshadow the fact-finding invitation Ignatius extends to me as part of my decision-making processes. On the contrary, on one of the many personality assessments available, the Kolbe Index, my spouse is classified as a “fact finder,” and he lives up to this in always seeking to be informed, well-researched, and thorough in his own thought processes. We balance each other well when we’re discerning decisions for our family and are able to call the other to consider what might not come as naturally. As much as we may or may not want to make a particular choice for our family, awareness of concrete things like our individual schedules, community commitments, financial situation, and transportation options often have to factor into our discernment process.
Ultimately, what we’re encouraged to consider in this aspect of discernment is that facts matter and are not to be given an insignificant role. Sometimes, taking them into consideration will affirm what we’re feeling about a potential decision in terms of consolation or desolation, and other times, we realize that the thing we’re considering just isn’t feasible in the present moment. But bringing them together with our prayer lives and our inner awareness will help us figure out what’s best and what God might have in store for us.
- Peruse and use our discernment resources here.
- Be sure to take a look at the Four Steps of Discernment handout.
- Consider using one of the following prayers in your personal or communal discernment.
Prayer for Communal Discernment, by Debra Mooney
Good and loving God, our source of love and light,
Thank you for bringing us together today in a spirit of generosity.
May we honor one another by keeping an open mind.
May we voice our truth and listen with an open heart.
May we discern your will to unite in fruitful outcome.
We ask for your wisdom and grace to use our talents for the betterment of others.
With gratitude, we offer this prayer in your name. Amen.
Deep Listening (Author Unknown)
God of silence and God of all sound, help me to listen.
Help me to do the deep listening to the sounds of my soul, waiting to hear your soft voice calling me deeper into you.
Give me attentive ears that begin to separate the noise from the sounds that are you–
You who have been speaking to me and through me my whole life, for so long that you can seem like background noise:
Today, help me hear you anew. Amen.
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