Consolation and Desolation

Ignatius defines these terms in a very specific way, that is different to their common usage. This makes it important when using the terms to be clear about their meaning. One really helpful explanation which I have been reminded of since writing my book comes from understanding the spanish / french roots of the words.

consolacion – is literally con=with/towards sola=sun/light

desolacion – de=against/away from

So consolation is facing or turning to the light and desolation facing or turning away from the light.

This makes so much sense with Ignatius’ definitions of these words.

Looking towards God’s light, the effect on the person’s spirit is ‘warming’, uplifting, positive. Looking away from the light, one is in ones own shadow looking ahead is into darkness, where it is difficult to see clearly, find the way etc. To Ignatius, the task in desolation is not to try and find the way, but to turn towards the light.

Margaret Silf in Landmarks has this diagram:

Graphic from Landmarks, Margaret Silf showing a person's orientation towards the sun and away from the sun

This awareness of the shadow here, is rather different to the modern psychological use of the term shadow, which describes aspects of ones inner psyche that are normally avoided, denied, even hated. Personal growth involves facing and befriending this shadow.

The distinction is that in discernment the shadow helps reveal ones orientation, in psychology the shadow may be a cause of spiritual orientation, but its presence doesn’t indicate a particular spiritual orientation.

The profound wisdom of Ignatius, is that the best place to look at what causes orientation away from the sun is from God’s point of view. That light is needed to reveal the underlying causes and to enable turning.  He was psychologically astute enough to realise that when one is in the shadow one cannot see well enough to be clear about its cause. Don’t we all know that when we are in a bad inner place, its more difficult to find clarity about things.

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