Tag Archive: Discernment


AMDG

Definition of afterglow

1a glow remaining where a light has disappeared
2a pleasant effect or feeling that lingers after something is done, experienced, or achieved
      ” basking in the afterglow of success”

We all have experienced ‘the afterglow’ of a sunset when the sun has dipped below the horizon and the sky lights up in vivid colours.  Equally after a great experience, a wedding or a party we might bask in the afterglow of friendship and love.  If you are football fan like me, you might experience the afterglow of your team’s success, winning a trophy or an exciting game (like beating Man City 3-2, or Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Utd).  St Ignatius also had a helpful insight about the afterglow of a religious experience.  Occasionally, or perhaps more frequently in life we might have a direct experience of God, which Ignatius calls ‘Consolation without Cause’.  There is also a type of ‘spiritual afterglow’ after this type of experience. Often we are so gripped by it that we start making plans for the future, getting married,  changing career direction,  or maybe start developing a project and imagining all the good it’s going to do….  Ignatius wisely warns us to be careful and to test these plans with someone wise who knows us, or if we are lucky enough –  a spiritual director.  He specifically mentions this in his rules for discernment of the second week. Here is David Flemings contemporary translation:

Eighth Rule.  When a consolation experience in our life comes directly from God there can be no deception in it.  Although a delight and a peace will be found in such an experience, a spiritual person should be very careful to distinguish the actual moment of this consolation-in-God from the following, the afterglow which may be exhilirating and joyful for some period of time. It is in this second period of time that we begin to reason out plans or to make resolutions that cannot be attributed as directly to God as the initial experience which is non-conceptual in nature. Because human reasoning and other influences are now coming into the total picture of this consolation period, a vey careful process of discerning the good and evil spirits should be undertaken, according to the previous guidelines, before any resolution or plan of action is adopted.

Decisions and projects that are formed in the afterglow can overstep the evidence of the experience of consolation. Over time they can lead to frustration, to losing motivation and momentum (often seen in Founders Syndrome).  It can also be spiritually undermining and leading us to doubting the original and genuine experience from God.  It can even more poisonous in that we begin to mistrust God in any future experiences. There are obvious parallels in political power often described as hubris e.g.  Tony Blair and Iraq, David Cameron and the Brexit referendum. Both successful leaders, effecting change until they reached too far.  If only they had an Ignatian Director accompanying them!

AMDG   Homily Given at the Holy Name, Manchester  on Sun 18th Jan 2015

spamWe live in an age of spam – no matter what form of communication is invented – the postal service. Phones, emails, texting, tweeting, messaging – sooner or later someone will start to use it to bombard us with unsought for invitations….  Win a car… Lose Weight…. Make Money etc etc…. and it doesn’t matter what spam filter is invented to counter this… some always sneak through.  And so we waste time deleting things, clearing our inboxes etc…. and during Exam Time you don’t need to be reminded how precious time is!  That’s why I’ll keep this homily Short….

So in an age of spam – in an age of an incredible volume of communication- what seems like infinite opportunities it is important to develop a skill we Jesuits call Discernment…..   On a superficial level discernment is the ability to know what voices bring us life, and what voices lead us deeper into death…..  Who should we listen to – what invitations should we respond to – What is spiritual spam and where is the genuine voice of God.

Eli_and_SamuelThe First reading – Story of Samuel – is a lovely example – the Child who hears of the voice of the Lord but doesn’t understand. The Master Eli who patiently coaches him in the way of the Lord …..  It is the voice of Lord that brings us abundance of Life, a life, a joy, a freedom that is without limits – I have come so that you may have fullness of life…..   So often we can’t discern the voice of the Lord on our own – and in many religious traditions you can see how beginners in the faith often search for someone wiser, often older, to accompany them.  Here at the chaplaincy we have over 60 students now who come for ‘spiritual direction’ every so often – many to Fr Ian – but also to the other priests, and other trained spiritual directors – you are welcome to come and see me if you are interested in finding out more….   It is this accompaniment in the spiritual life that often sharpens our skills of discernment and leads us to fullness of life.

In the Gospel we see that when we discern God’s voice and when respond to the Lords invitation to come and see….  When we find the messiah…. A future that we had never dreamed of opens up before us.  And the message of the Lord is counter- cultural – we are told in the Second Reading that ‘our bodies are not our own’ but rather Temples of the Holy Spirit …..  if we really believed that, if we lived that, we wouldn’t care if we were not the right shape, we would be freed from the oppression of hyper-sexuality, we wouldn’t waste our time and happiness on chasing an elusive dream – but discover a life of freedom and joy.  So let us be like Eli, and Simon Peter, and Andrew and try and discern his voice amongst all the noise that surrounds us, so that we can respond, we can go and see and say’ speak Lord your servant is listening’ …. And remember we can’t do it on our own……

 

AMDG

images (3)At the heart of the Second Week of the Exercises – is making an ‘election’ – i.e. answering the question how should I lead my life.  This can be a formal election, e.g. shall I marry this person, shall I make this career change, shall I enter religious life, or an informal election – shall I recommit myself to my work, shall I tweak this or tweak that i.e. should we be more focused on the poor etc.  The type and gravity of the election will dictate the time spent on it.   We can learn a lot from this process about decision making in general, even the day to day decision we make about what we invest our time and energy in.   What is brilliant about the exercises is that it creates the conditions of inner freedom and attentiveness that allow these decisions to be made on a sound footing.

Recent discoveries about how we make decisions – for good and for bad –  are fascinating but also echo certain movements already there in the exercises, which perhaps explaining how Ignatian Spirituality is growing in popularity and seems so relevant to so many people.   For instance the research of Nobel Prize winning Economist Daniel Kahneman is fascinating.  Counter intuitively Kahneman points out how so much of decision making process is not – rational.  For instance he talks about the difference between our remembering self and our experiencing self.  For instance we may enjoy a wonderful holiday for 12 days and then something happens at the end, a big blow up row with a companion,  a delay at the airport, an accident that ruins that last couple of days is what we remember.  So ignoring our experiencing self  ’12 days of happiness and relaxation’, we write the holiday off as a disaster.  Worryingly Kahnemann says that it is our remembering self that makes future decisions.

booksSimilarly when faced with a choice to make about the future, surprisingly maybe, fear seems to operate more effectively than hope. Specifically aversion to loss seems to operates much more strongly than the benefits that can accrue if we change. This is a significant barrier to inner freedom,  and can tie us down to the past, and it works even more strongly at an institutional level than it does at an individual level.   This ‘loss aversion’ – that the disadvantages of change loom larger than the advantages of change –  and the significance of our remembering self explain why Ignatius puts such a premium on ‘magnanimity’ and generosity of spirit as we enter the Exercises.  The disposition days are precisely to allow this inner freedom to grow before the retreat formally starts.  Remembering with gratitude is particularly important, and a grace that we pray for, knowing that we cannot do it on our own.