“Discernment of spirits” – Introduction

Periodic determination of spiritual well-being (“discernment of spirits”)

A. Introduction

Every now and then – sometimes even several times a day – you could take your “spiritual temperature.” How am I right now? Am I in Consolation or Desolation?” Ignatius of Loyola described this kind of temperature-taking in his First Set of Rules for the Discernment of Spirits in his Spiritual Exercises. What follows is a modern interpretation.

Ignatius derived the Rules for Discernment from his own experience of God. He intended the Rules to be a way for people to understand, recognize, and receive – or reject – interior movements that are stirred through God’s action. Thus the Rules of Discernment become for us our basic tool for doing our “inner work.” This is subtle stuff! So read and absorb slowly.

A good part of spiritual life has to do with paying attention, and especially paying attention to what is going on within ourselves. One of Ignatius’ great gifts to spiritual practice has been the insight that our feelings matter in our spiritual journey towards God. Discernment of spirits relates to our intentional work with our feelings. A crucial aspect of Ignatius’ thought about feelings is that they are often indicators of our progress towards or away from God. For Ignatius, we are always either moving deeper within our own Ego or deeper within our sacred Self. “Ego” and “Self” refer to the two discernible poles of our being: “Ego” is the controlling core of our socio-biologically driven organism, while “Self” is our tenuous relationship with what is beyond us and transcends us. The heart of discernment of spirits is the development of a “technology” that helps us assess our feelings in terms of whether we are moving away from our Egos and towards God and God’s presence within us in our Self, or deeper into our self-centred Ego.

What Ignatius proposes is a daily practice of determining whether we are consonant with God’s desire for the world or not. (Continue) (Return to Suggested Practices)