Spiritual Warfare & Discouragement: The 4th & 5th Rules of St. Ignatius

August 8, 2020

The Fourth Rule of St. Ignatius

The fourth is of spiritual desolation.  I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to low and earthly things, disquiet from various agitations and temptations, moving to lack of confidence, without hope, without love, finding oneself totally slothful, tepid, sad, and, as if separated from one's Creator and Lord.  For just as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way that thoughts that come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts that come from desolation.  - The 4th rule of St. Ignatius as translated by Fr. Timothy Gallagher in The Discernment of Spirits

Where This Rule Found Me

Last week, started on a wonderful note.  I had just decided to start a new podcast and recorded my first episode.  I spent time in the garden.  I toggled back and forth between the fiction and nonfiction manuscript.  I worked on my etsy shop.  I blogged.

And then desolation hit.  Not regular old, every day desolation.  Spiritual desolation, which does as Fr. Gallagher explains in The Discernment of Spirits, strike hard at your life of faith.

It began when I relistened to my first podcast.  I'd made the mistake of referencing the nonexistent url barbaragraver.com/podcast when I should have just said go to my site and click on the menu item.  This meant that I would have to redo the intro.  

No big deal really but one more thing to add to what was already a very full plate - which was something I became more and more aware of as I listened to myself rattle on about all my creative projects.

I felt suddenly overwhelmed.  Is it really possible, I wondered, to do all that stuff?

Ironically as I signed off I said, on impulse, that the next podcast would be about prioritizing and overwhelm and the tendency that creative people had to take on too many projects.  Because that was where I was at.  Exactly.  And it was beginning to take a toll.

The Discouragement of Darkness, Disturbance and Earthly Things

I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to low and earthly things, disquiet from various agitations and temptations, moving to lack of confidence... - From the 4th rule of St. Ignatius as translated by Fr. Timothy Gallagher in The Discernment of Spirits
I started to have trouble sleeping.  I worried about the copyright status of the images I had picked for my newest round of prayer cards.  I imagined a host of worst scenario outcomes.  The confidence I'd felt about doing the podcast vanished.  I wondered why I was still working on my novel when I had two nonfiction ebooks to write.  Continuing with this blog seemed daunting.

I wondered if it might not be better to just close the Etsy shop before I got into trouble.  I was ready to give up on the podcast and the novel.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue with this blog.  But I had committed to this series on Ignatius.  There was a post due this week on the fourth and fifth rules.  it was a commitment I had made, to God.

So I pulled out Fr. Gallagher's book and read the fourth rule. As I did, I was struck by how closely my own negative feelings aligned with what St. Ignatius described.  Then I read what Fr. Gallagher had to say about darkness of the soul.

If the good spirit gives "inspirations" (rule 2) that communicate light and clarify the way toward God, the enemy, conversely instills a darkness of soul with precisely the contrary effect. -  The Discernment of Spirits

I realized that what was happening to me - right then, right there.  The soul darkening blight of spiritual warfare.

The Reality of Spiritual Warfare 

As I'll be talking about next week in my Creativity and Faith podcast faith-based creatives are prime targets for spiritual warfare.  But so is everybody else who is trying to live their Christian faith.

And, sadly, this is the place where humility or low-self worth (whichever comes first) can work against us.  It's hard to imagine that our seemingly insignificant Christian service or content creation or witnessing matters.  But let me assure you, to the opposition, it does.  And we are all at risk.

If we accept that we may have a target on our backs and are potentially subject to diabolical influence, the need to discern between the good spirit and the bad becomes immediately apparent.  Which is why making this distinction is central to the rules of St. Ignatius.

St. Ignatius probably thought of these spirits angels (as in guardian angels vs. dark angels) and to me this makes perfect sense.  But whether you think of the forces that oppose you as a (relatively) lowly demon or the father of lies himself, understanding that your sense of discouragement or dark thoughts may be coming from opposition changes things.

For me, at least, it puts everything into perspective.

This perspective is the first step but it isn't an end in itself.  But one thing we know about Satan (and his minions) is that they are masters of mixing factual material with lies. 

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” - Matthew 4:5-7 (NRSVCE)
And that is exactly what the devil did in the passage above.  Jesus didn't fall for obviously.  But we do or I do anyhow - pretty darned regularly.  As far as earlier this week goes, I knew that some of the dark thoughts running through my mind were untrue but I wasn't sure about all of them.

The Fifth Rule Brings Clarity

In a time of desolation never make a change, but be firm and constant in the proposals and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which one was in the preceding consolation.  Because as in consolation the good spirit guides and counsels us more, so in desolation the bad spirit with whole counsels we cannot fine the way to a right decision. - The fifth rule of St. Ignatius as translated by Fr. Timothy Gallagher in The Discernment of Spirits

As Fr. Gallagher points out this rule contains two parts - a guideline and the explanation.  The guideline is clear - in a time of spiritual desolation never make a change.

In the Discernment of Spirits Fr. Gallagher provides several clear examples of how spiritual desolation looks and feels that helped me to feel certain this was where I was at.  He made the explanation part of the fifth rule clear as well:

During spiritual consolation the good spirit is guiding and counseling us.  The time of spiritual consolation is thus the time to accept the work of God... In times of spiritual desolation however, the bad spirit is a t work, "With whose counsels we cannot find the way to a right decisions.  -  The Discernment of Spirits

My first step, then was not to make any kind of decision until my sense of spiritual desolation passed.  I did not close my etsy shop.  I did not give up on the podcast.  I did not take down my blog.  I didn't go on YouTube and announce that I was no longer writing fiction.

Instead I waited.

I waited and prayed and thought about the things I had felt inspired to do in my period of consolation.  It was no coincidence, I realized, that these were the very things I was feeling negative about now.

How This Helped

As my uncertainty, and the low hanging dark cloud that went along with it, passed, I began to practice discernment - tentatively AND prayerfully.

After praying the examen one night, I recalled the projects I had felt inspired to do when I was caught in the upward pull of spiritual consolation and wrote them down.  It didn't matter how I felt about them earlier in the week during my period of spiritual desolation, I now knew.  What mattered was the way I had felt about them when inspiration hit.

I identified the things that had me feel inspired and upbeat and full of anticipation.  Podcasting was on the list.  This blog was on the list.  The Etsy shop was on the list.  The novel was on the list.

Other projects, like the nonfiction ebooks, were not.

At this point I was ready to make some decisions.

I thought about why I had been vulnerable to spiritual attack.  In some ways I had set myself up for the dark force onslaught by hanging on to all of the projects I wanted to do - even when I was receiving good spiritual direction to do something else.

I will talk a bit more about how the good spiritual direction went down in next week's podcast but the point I want to make here is that the God stuff is supposed to come first.  I felt led to this blog and the podcast and the etsy shop and fiction writing.

And because I was applying the rules of St. Ignatius (and praying my nightly examen) I believed that my sense of when God was leading and when He was not was probably accurate.

I recalled that I had noticed no leading to do the new God inspired stuff on top of all of the other projects I had going on.  Or to do it after those projects.  Or to do it in between.

I hung on to the old stuff because it was my idea.  I was attached to it.  And now, having put Satan and his influence behind me, it was time to let go.

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