Discernment of Spirits: Interior Movements in Prayer Periods
Ignatius designed the sequence of the exercises based on his own prayer experience. What happens within the rhythm of the four phases of the exercises is the awareness of interior feelings that suggest movements either towards or away from God:
He began to realize the difference between consoling feelings such as joy and peace, shame for his sins and the grace of sorrow and anguish at the sufferings of Christ and feelings of desolation such as complacency and despair. Consolation and desolation as used by Ignatius come to be two technical terms, which recur constantly in the texts of the Exercises… (P.Sheldrake, The Way of St. Ignatius Loyola, 1991, p.18)
These are some questions to consider when discerning spirits. It is recommended to consult a spiritual director to help you see God’s role in your life.
- What is the state of your Christian life?
- How oriented to God are you?
- What are you grateful for?
Ignatius used some images to determine the movement of spirits. A sponge represented the good spirit that gently absorbs the grace to pay attention to what is true, good and beautiful is called consolation.
- Do you notice the signs of the Holy Spirit; i.e. “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”(Gal 5:22-23)
- Does guilt cause you to pray more and seek counsel?
The evil spirit causes disturbing thoughts like water hitting a rock, scattering in all directions, that distracts good intentions for self and others is called desolation.
- When there are feelings of apathy and neglect in prayer.
- Times that you note more anxiety, fear or temptation in your spiritual life.
- Avoid making major life decisions in these times. Rather look back to when consolation seemed to become disturbed.