Non-Spiritual Desolation by St. Ignatius

Desolation = from the Latin desolatus, “to leave alone,” “is a condition of affective heaviness that instills sadness and depletes energy for living.”

Non-spiritual desolation can either be:

  1. Physical: tiredness, injured. Due to overextending ourselves and not providing for sufficient nourishment, exercise, and rest.
  2. Emotional: depression, lonely, death of a friend.

Non-spiritual desolation is a normal and even holy part of our lives here on earth.

  • A mother who stays up late to care for her sick children will be tired.
  • But as good stewards of your health and for the sake of your spiritual life, if non-spiritual desolation is too persistent, you need to do something about it.

Nevertheless, “non-spiritual desolation is frequently a springboard for spiritual desolation… it constitutes a fertile source of spiritual desolation and so a potential hazard for the spiritual journey” (Gallagher, DS, 61).

The enemy works with our non-spiritual vulnerabilities.

Example 1

  • A man pushes himself to the maximum for a number of months, without proper rest or exercise. As he grows increasingly weary he finds relationships at work and at home becoming heavier to sustain (nonspiritual desolation).
  • A time soon comes when prayer, too, has become heavier and God seems farther away than before (spiritual desolation).

Example 2

  • A woman has struggled in certain relationships and finds herself anxious and depressed. She takes no steps to cope in a healthier way with what becomes an ongoing condition of depression (nonspiritual desolation).
  • The day then comes when her energy toward her habitual spiritual practices wanes and, for a time, she loses hope of growing in love of God (spiritual desolation).

“Thus nonspiritual desolation, viewed from the perspective of the spiritual life, is more than a humanly heavy movement in need of healing: it also constitutes a fertile source of spiritual desolation and so a potential hazard for the spiritual journey. The less we do to overcome physical (tiredness) or psychological (depression) nonspiritual desolation, the more likely we are to experience spiritual desolation as well. If we are tired or depressed, the step to discouragement in our God-given calling, to diminishing fidelity in prayer or in God’s service generally, is very small. From the perspective of the spiritual life and specifically in regard to avoiding spiritual desolation, it is imperative that we be wise stewards of all dimensions of the humanity God has given us” (Gallagher, DS, 100-1).

Therefore, for the sake of our spiritual lives, it is important that we, as good stewards of our humanity, do something in address non-spiritual desolation (especially when it persists) because the enemy will attack us in this vulnerable area / weak place (see Rule 14). For example, exercise when you are feeling stressed or go for a walk in nature with a friend.

“Take care, then, of the body for the love of God, because at many times the body must serve the soul” (St. Teresa of Avila).
  • For the love of God = for the sake of our spiritual lives and for our progress in the love of God.
  • Prudent care of your body can be like closing the door to the enemy.
  • Key insight = use non-spiritual remedies to overcome non-spiritual desolation.
 Confusion: A Sub-Category of Non-Spiritual Desolation
  • Confusion in and of itself is not a problem.
  • Confusion only becomes a desolating experience when we allow ourselves to be upset about not knowing – when our uncertainty or lack of knowledge leads to a disturbance within us.
  • STORY = John Kavanaugh asked Mother Teresa to pray for him to have clarity. She said, “I’ve never had clarity and certitude. I only have trust. I’ll pray that you trust” (25).
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