Spiritual Discernment and Creativity with St. Ignatius

June 27, 2020

In my last post I gave a short introduction to Fr. Timothy Gallagher's work on St. Ignatius.  I also promised a blog series on my process with Fr. Gallagher's books on discernment, Discerning the Will of God and The Discernment of Spirits.  It's my idea to apply the rules of St. Ignatius to my own creative dilemma.

This post is the first in that series.

The Dilemma

I have a lot of issues around my writing.  When I try to write fiction my writing usually takes on a life of its own and goes places I don't want it to go.  When I try to write book length nonfiction I experience a LOT of self-doubt.  I sometimes wrestle with new ideas for the blog and occasionally wonder if blogging is worth the time and effort.

These doubts presents in various but related ways:  I don't feel qualified to write on any of the various ebook topics I come up with.  When I try to qualify myself by writing about my experiences in an introduction, I feel like I'm bragging.  When I read back over what I've written I almost always dislike it.  I worry that if I put it out there no one will read or, if they do, they'll hate it.  

I have had experiences that can explain the low self-esteem that feeds into these doubts.  I also feel that spiritual warfare plays a part and believe that my past involvement in the new age and occult puts me at above average risk.  According to experts that is not unlikely.

Archdiocese of Denver exorcist Fr. Chad Ripperger lists past involvement in the occult as one of three ways a person can open a door to diabolic interference.  The other two are mortal sin and having had experiences that Father refers to as "very disordered."

This makes me three for three.

Because of all this, I struggle with my writing, pray about my writing and try to work through my issues with writing in journal entries and blog posts.

My Ideas

The process I wrote about in my recent nonfiction book idea article (now on my new website here) did help me come up with two potential nonfiction book projects.  One that I felt drawn to (my personal testimony) and one I perceived as easier to write (a short ebook on blogging).

My idea for writing my testimony was to talk about the occult but not only the occult.  I also wanted to talk about the Church and the many ways my Catholic faith has helped me.  This is a book I've been trying to write for some time.  But each time I make the attempt, whether sooner or later, I get to a point where I am BESET by doubt.

Questions overwhelm me.  Most go something like this:  What makes you think you're qualified to write book like this?  Can you hear how conceited you sound?  Do you actually think anyone will read and / or like this?

To further muddy the waters, I have been thinking of reopening my etsy shop and focusing on religious art and and the buying and selling of vintage religious items.  Because my youngest son is active on ebay and my middle boy has some interest in sculpting their is a possibility that this could be a family activity.

Unfortunately, when it comes to art, I have a lot of insecurities, different than but almost as toxic as those I have around writing.

And then there is the blog.  Which I kind of always feel good about, even though I do change things a lot and sometimes worry that I'm wasting my (kind of limited) time with it.

Bigger Questions

I believe that all these doubts are a product of spiritual warfare working through my own low self-esteem but that doesn't make it any easier really to dismiss them.  So I wonder if writing my testimony is part of God's plan for my life.  I wonder if writing - in any way, shape or form - is part of God's plan for my life.

I wonder if God wants me to focus on my family instead.  I wonder if God would prefer for me to be a better mom to my three grownup sons (two of whom have very serious medical problems), take better care of the house in which we all live, make better meals, finish stripping and staining the woodwork in the front hall, take better care of the strawberries that are being choked out by weeds.

I often think that if God were really on board with the writing idea, I'd know.  Or at least not have all of these questions.  I ask myself if my ability to get lost in my writing means I have a vocation or if it just means that I find writing easier than sanding the front steps or pulling weeds.  

Through prayer and reflection I've distilled all of these concerns into a few larger questions.  Does God want me to write a book?  Or do art?  Or completely dedicate myself to family?

If He does want me to write a book, what kind of book - and on what?

These were the kind of questions rattling around in my head when I first heard Fr. Timothy Gallagher speak on EWTN and these are the questions I hoped I thought I might be able to answer through Father's books on St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, and author of the 14 Rules of Ignatian Discernment.

Deciding on What I Should Decide On

I began with Fr. Gallagher's second book, Discerning the Will of God, because that was precisely what I was trying to do.  I didn't get far in, however, before I realized that I needed to read Father's first book - which explained the 14 Rules of St. Ignatius in detail - first.

Although I haven't gotten far with Discerning the Will of God, there was something in that bit I did read that made a lot of sense to me.  This was the idea that 14 rules shouldn't be applied to anything that scripture or Church tradition clearly defines as morally necessary - because those kind of decisions can be made based on info we already have.

Morally necessary activities would include, for example, commitments like caring for our family.  So clearly, wherever God led me I would be expected to continue making my home and family a priority in my life. I found that surprisingly reassuring.

The Rules of St. Ignatius then are for discerning between morally acceptable, good and better, choices.  Because my vocational decisions were morally acceptable they could be examined through the 14 rules.  So I came up five questions about vocation wrote them out as questions.
  1. Can I effectively combine creative activity with the responsibilities of home and family - and is doing so part of God's plan for my life?
  2. If I determine that creative activity is part of God's plan for me  - what kind of projects would be best?
  3. If I discern that God favors writing - should I write fiction or nonfiction or both?
  4. If the answer to #3 is nonfiction - what specific book project would align with God's plan for my life? 
  5. Is it possible for me to do more than one creative activity or project (such as two different books or art plus writing) - and could that be God's will?
  6. Where does the blog fit in in all of this?

The Entry Point

At that point it occurred to me that Fr. Gallagher had made in his talk on EWTN was worth looking at.  It is what Father refers to as the entry point or necessary condition for working with the rules.

This necessary condition is to be completely open to the will of God.  This openness, Fr. Gallagher explained, should present as an attitude of absolutely neutrality.

While neutrality means that we should be completely unattached to any given outcome, Fr. Gallagher also pointed out that it is beneficial to have a bias toward the outcome that is most in line with the teaching of Jesus. Examples would be the outcome that pays less, has less statues or provides the greatest opportunity for service.  I believe that Father called this a beneficial predisposition.

I felt I was very close to a beneficial disposition in terms of my family because I want to do my best for them even if it means sacrificing other things that are important to me.  I felt that I had a beneficial disposition toward art because one of the reasons it attracted me was that I felt it might be more conducive to family life.

I knew I wasn't completely beneficially predisposed in terms of my writing.  I really don't care about making money with any future ebook which was good.  My overriding desire with nonfiction is to be of some help to people which was also good.  My overriding desire with fiction is to entertain people.  I could see that I had a bias toward being well-received, however, and that it was very important to me that people liked my writing.  I knew I had a strong attachment to writing a nonfiction book but thought that it might be possible to fulfill this need through blogging.

Where I Ended Up

I know that I need to pray about my particular biases but feel that, for now, having an awareness of them might be enough.  So I feel that it does make sense to go forward and work with the 14 Rules of St. Ignatius as presented in The Discernment of Spirits.

Which means, as it turns out, that this series will probably focus on Fr. Gallagher's first book on Ignatius though it is possible that the series will spill over into book number two.

I know that I'm expecting a lot of Fr. Gallagher and St. Ignatius and am very aware that I have a lot of confusion around vocation for many of different reasons.

There are so many different things to consider, in fact, that I can't help thinking that it will be pretty darned miraculous if St. Ignatius CAN help clear it all up.  But instead of feeling discouraged by that thought, I feel reassured.  While that may seem counter intuitive, to me, it makes sense.

Saints are named saints, after all, because of the miracles they do.  
Please check out my second post in this series (St. Ignatius and the Discernment of Spirits) for a discussion of Fr. Gallagher's introduction to the rules and rules one and two as I am applying them.

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