St. Ignatius, on imaging his future while he was recovering from his grave injury, “did not consider nor did he stop to examine this difference until one day his eyes were partially opened and he began to wonder at this difference and to reflect upon it. From experience he knew that some thoughts left him sad while others made him happy, and little by little he came to perceive the different spirits that were moving him; one coming from the devil, the other coming from God” (Autobiography, no. 8). This was St. Ignatius discerning the distinctions between the spirits at work in his heart. Those that left lasting joy were from God.
As we continue to develop in this Christian community, we also continue to help one another in discerning our personal vocations, or how we answer God’s invitation with our lives. We also seek to attend to the truest desires and longings of our hearts and use those as compasses to recognize how God is at work within us.
In the context of Ignatian spirituality,
Discernment of spirits is the interpretation of what St. Ignatius Loyola called the “motions of the soul.” These interior movements consist of thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions. Spiritual discernment of spirits involves becoming sensitive to these movements, reflecting on them, and understanding where they come from and where they lead us. (ignatianspirituality.com)
Cultivating an ability to recognize and discern these interior movements is a very important spiritual practice and “life skill” for the spiritual camino.
Each person has “thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions and attractions.” What St. Ignatius teaches us about all of those movements is the need to first recognize them. Sometimes the hardest part is being honest with ourselves about how we are inclined. We’re capable of self-deception or denial. When we root ourselves in being God’s beloved and ask God to accompany us on this inward journey, it is easier to be honest with ourselves.
Second, after recognizing these interior movements, we must discern them. That means holding them up to the light of God and prayerfully listening for the truth about these movements. Sometimes that leads to a deepening of understanding about a movement. For example, we may recognize an attraction to a person as an interior movement. In discerning that attraction, we can ask, is it an attraction that draws us closer to God’s love and human community? Is it an attraction that distracts us from something else in ourselves that we really must face (like a fear of loneliness)? Is it something else altogether?
This meeting explores the idea of “Discernment of Spirits” by reflecting on “The Voice of God” and “The Voice Not of God.” By listening to the story of a woman who has engaged this discernment process, we can begin to recognize the ways that these two voices play out in our hearts. This might be a good meeting to invite a guest speaker – a Jesuit, a guide, a campus minister, a spiritual director, a pastor, or some other wisdom figure who has a strong sense of these movements.
Supplies: Two large sheets of paper and markers
Ask for the grace to be able to recognize what different voices are at play within our hearts and how they point us toward or away from God.
Share about a time this week when you either felt great energy, cohesion, and sense of purpose, or a time when you felt really detached, distant, and discouraged.
Introduce “The Voice of God/the Voice of Love” and “The Voice Not of God/the Voice of Fear” using your own words. Then invite someone in your group who has a gift for reading expressively (maybe the theatre major!) to read the passage below.
“I’m being urged from the inside to do something really crazy. I’ve tried to put it out of my mind, get away from it for over a year, let it go, but it keeps coming back to my heart. It is nothing bad, illegal or immoral. In fact, it is something that I could easily say is for the Greater Glory of God, for helping others on their path. You can probably insert just about any healthy dream, wish, hope, or vision you have had in it’s place. In fact, do that… right now. Say to yourself, “In five years I can see myself… what? What are your wildest dreams? (Ignatius was big on using your imagination to envision your calling.) At first there is this flutter of something in your heart. Awe? Excitement? Inspiration? A YES!
But then… the Voice sets in. The Voice of Sarcasm: “Yeah right, like that could ever happen.” The Voice of Hopelessness: “I could never pull that off. I’m not good enough.” The Voice of Insecurity: “I have no idea what I’m doing.” The Voice of Fear: “I’m going to look really foolish. It’s not worth the risk of being humiliated.” And with that any flutter in the heart is firmly squashed (insert image of smashed butterfly laying on its side with one wing up… weakly waving… weakly…waving.)
That longing to act is still there. That dream keeps coming back. And the cycle begins again. So I asked God in prayer ever so reverently, “What the heck??”
And there is a new Voice, one I almost dare not believe. “Look at the Voice you’ve been listening to,” It implores. “It is not Mine. I see you only as fully capable to be everything I have gifted you to be. I desire your wholeness. I desire for you to shine as my beloved child. The Voice of Sarcasm, Hopelessness, Negativity, Fear, that is the Voice of the Spirit Not of God that seeks your brokenness, your emptiness, your uselessness to serve others.”
I was a bit shocked by the revelation that I have been worshipping the Spirit Not of God in so many messages I believed to be true about myself.
I’m not really sure I have fully come to grips with the Spirit Not of God. I tend to think it is really my own weakness rather than a Spirit from outside me. And yet I know without hesitation that my Strength comes from a Spirit beyond my own capacity. But in the end, whether of my own making or something beyond me, the result is the same reticence to grow and serve as I perhaps, maybe, possibly, haphazardly have been gifted or called to do. Is it easier to believe the Spirit Not of God? Does it get us off the hook to believe for whatever reason we simply can’t respond to that longing in our hearts? Is it too much responsibility to accept that calling as uniquely ours?Uniquely mine. I sit with it for a good while.
The butterfly wing begins to flutter ever so slightly.
The Voice of Sarcasm gives way to the Voice of Certainty: “With God, all things are possible.” The Voice of Hopelessness gives way to the Voice of Hope: “I could pull it off.” The Voice of Insecurity gives way to the Voice of strength: “I have so much to share that other people need to hear or know or be empowered by.” The Voice of Fear turns into the Voice of Courage: “This is absolutely insane and I’m going to love every minute of it no matter what happens!” Even the Voice of Resistance becomes the Voice of Invitation: “Just come and see.” I so want to believe that this is my calling because when I am doing it, I feel so whole, so full, so dead on. But to even chance that that desire of my heart is God’s wish for me is staggering.
And the Voice says, “The Force of the Resurrection is the Force at work within me to do the will of God. Fly, butterfly, fly.”
Lisa Kelly, This Ignatian Life
- In what ways do you relate to the woman who wrote this passage?
- Does it sounds familiar to you?
- When in your life have you listened to the wrong voice?
- Which voice has most power over you?
- In your own life now, where do you think the Voice of Love is speaking and where do you think the Voice of Fear is speaking?
If time allows, use two large cartoon “word bubbles” made out of poster board to invite group members to list phrases that could be the Voice of God and the Voice Not of God. Allow people to respond to what is written.
- What has struck you as you have been listening to others share? Do you notice any patterns or commonalities?
- How have you been feeling throughout the meeting? Comfortable? Anxious? Curious?
- Is there anything you would like to share after listening to another person share?
- What is remaining with you? What do you hope to explore more deeply or reflect upon this week?
Try to notice one time this week when the Voice of God or the Voice Not of God seems to be speaking to you. Take a few moments to talk with God about that movement.
Pray from your heart, or use a prayer like the one below that relates to this topic.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson
“This law of love, which the Spirit inscribes in our hearts, expresses itself anew in each situation of our daily lives. This Spirit-inspired love respects the uniqueness of each personal vocation and enables us to be open and free, always at the disposal of God.” (CLC-USA General Principles #2)
“The good spirit, however, strengthens and encourages, consoles and inspires establishes a peace and sometimes moves to a firm resolve. To lead a good life gives delight and joy, and no obstacle seems to be so formidable that it cannot be faces and overcome with God’s grace. The good spirit thereby continues an upright person’s progress in responding to God’s continuing invitation.” (Spiritual Exercises, )
“O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts…” Psalm 95:7-8
“Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come to you and eat with you, and you with me.” Revelation 3:20
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:1-11