These past weeks have all been about the search for the “what.” What is God asking of me? St. Ignatius gave us a simple process to know what to do next with our lives. His First Mode of Discernment was to ask questions, get facts to consider, and ask for the grace of clarity without doubt. What a gift that is! The certitude this grace offers allows for the freedom to see the path forward. If God gives us this gift, discernment is over. We know what to do. We can take a cleansing breath. The facts, the clarity, the freedom from doubt allow us to say “Yes” and peacefully walk down this new path of God’s will.
St. Ignatius knew that it’s not always so easy or so clear. Often, there are no facts at first. This was as true for him as it is for us. God gave us our intuition, our senses and God loves to help us use them. I think of this Second Mode of Discernment as God’s whispers. We are like wind chimes and it is easy to picture and hear the gentle notes play against that breath. Soft chords attract my heart to the sound. Sometimes the wind keeps up without stopping getting stronger until I must stop and listen. All are whispers which speak to the heart and for St. Ignatius, his feelings and his tears were his guides. He understood that they were the language spoken by the Holy Spirit. Noticing these feelings of consolation and desolation and the context within their presence were like a compass for him. They can be so for us.
It wasn’t until I was praying the Spiritual Exercises that I learned the fact that feelings are treasures and when experienced as consolation or desolation were the language God chooses to speak to me, too. Those whispers have been my guides throughout my life. During the Exercises and within Ignatian Spirituality, I found my belonging in the Sacred Heart. Like the creation of a piece of art, discernment is a process. It requires time and noticing. We are paying attention and tracking how we feel…calm, content, eager or are we anxious, afraid, alone? Discernment of spirits and discernment of God’s will combine in each of us. God uses our spirit to inform us of our belonging. In time, there is clarity and understanding which companions us forward. Bringing all this to God in prayer, journaling and praying the Examen has become my essential support. Working with a spiritual director or a trusted person is an important component that St. Ignatius advises and both have helped me.
There are times when the Second Mode is still not enough. It doesn’t mean we flunked discernment. St.Ignatius wants us to be persistent and turns us to a Third Mode and it is the most analytical and clear cut of all. We pray to know the advantages and disadvantages of a decision. God’s grace steps in to confirm the “this or thats” of our choices.
Each of these modes can bring us to a conclusion and through God’s grace a courageous decision is before us. How do we know? Take a breath, take a walk. Think about all that has gone before in this discernment process. The big question is how do you feel? What do you notice? Do you feel ready? Does it feel like it’s time to get to work? Feeling nervous is normal. Still not sure? God might be encouraging you to sit within the Holy Spirit’s grace and let it steep a bit more.
You will know when you are ready to boldly answer God’s call. When you are, it can be like the theme from the movie, “Rocky” playing in your ear. It could also be that profound sense of rightness you felt holding your baby during the quiet night feeding. Clarity quiets the nerves and helps us know what God asks of us. However daunting or surprising the “what” is, keep in mind that God isn’t going to ask anything of us that we can’t do…and our “Yes” is all God needs to shower us with even more grace and courage to support us. We truly are not alone on this adventure.
St. Ignatius thought of everything. His check and then check back approach to prayerful discernment reminds us to also check the fruits of our decision, of our actions. When I first heard this, not all that long ago, I had no idea what he meant. Fruit? I still struggle to check back and reflect on what is happening. I’m happiest when I am digging in and “doing” something! Well, so is the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Holy Spirit have become my mile markers. Looking back to see what happened, how I am feeling has become a welcomed pause. The more I remember to tap into the Examen, the more centered I feel on this new path. What does the Spirit’s expression of happiness look like in my life in this moment of missioning? That is a frequent question I ask in prayer. I’ve learned that the Holy Spirit has a gift basket full of fruit…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control. What of these do you notice within you? How do you feel? Can you say “peaceful” and smile in surprise? Can you say “patient” and then laugh at the wonder of it? This is true discernment of spirits and it is that grace which draws us into the deep…and “deepens God’s life” in each of us on this bold, Pilgrim journey of Love.
- Ponder: “Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God’s life in me.”– St. Ignatius as paraphrased by David l. Fleming, S.J. from the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises
- Meditate: Meditating on these words has offered me comfort and reassurance:
- “I am obscurely convinced that there is a need in the world for something I can provide and a need for me to provide it. “Someone else can do it. God doesn’t need me.” But I feel like He is asking me to provide it. “If you love me, feed my sheep.” The wonder of being brought by God around a corner and to realize a new road is opening up, perhaps which He alone knows. And that there is no way of travelling it but in Christ and with Him. This is joy and peace…whatever happens. The results don’t matter. I have something to do for Him. If I do that…everything else will follow”. ~Thomas Merton
- “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some kind of work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know what it is in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. God has not created me for nothing. I shall do good. I shall do God’s work. I shall be an Angel of peace, while not intending it if I do but keep God’s commandments. Therefore, I will trust God, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness serves God, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve God. God does nothing in vain. God knows what He is about. God may take away my friends. God may throw me among strangers. God may allow me to feel desolate, my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still…God knows what He is about.” ~John Henry Newman
- Listen: Consider prayerfully listening to Take Me There and Meet Me There
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