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Consolation and Desolation
April '05

One of the spiritual disciplines I practice is the Daily Examen, developed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century and described in his book, The Spiritual Exercises. The idea is to look for the movements of God throughout your day. Ignatius expected that God would speak through our deepest feelings and yearnings, what he called "consolation" and "desolation." For us, consolation is whatever helps us connect with ourselves, others, God, and creation. Desolation is whatever disconnects us.

I love doing the Examen every night. It is a very short form of journaling, and it helps me to see patterns in my day. (It was through the Examen that I started to notice how important swimming had become in my life! See "Lessons from the Water" in my April 2005 Ann-a-Gram.) It needs only to take five to ten minutes at the end of each day. You can also ask these questions while thinking over a larger amount of time, for example a month or a year at a retreat.


There are three useful questions to help you get at what your day's consolation is, offered in the book, Sleeping with Bread:

What draws me close to God?
For what am I grateful?
What gives me life?

As Margaret Silf puts it in Inner Compass, the experience of "consolation:

  • 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 with 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" (p. 53)


Again, from Sleeping with Bread:

What pulls me away from God?
For what am I least grateful?
What drains life from me?

Again, as Margaret Silf says, the experience of "desolation:

  • 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 things that used to be important to us
  • takes over our whole consciousness and crowds out our [life] vision
  • covers up places where God is active
  • drains us of energy" (pp. 52-3)
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