Consolation and Desolation… two words that I came across during a Spirituality Day recently held in college. In relation to Ignatian Spirituality they are used to help us discern which direction our life is taking us – is it toward God (consolation) or away from him (desolation).
Consolation also brings us closer to people, so that we are aware of their joys and sorrows and shows us where God is active, both in our life and theirs. It charges us with energy, so that we become more creative and our focus is away from ourselves. Whereas desolation, cuts us off from people, so that we turn in on ourselves. We are bombarded by negative feelings and become withdrawn, totally drained of energy and unable to sustain an interest in those things that previously had meaning for us.
It’s deeper than just being aware of the things that make us happy and trying to do more of them and avoiding the things that make us sad. It’s more about having an understanding that there will be both moments of consolation and desolation in our lives; but that in wishing to draw closer to God, even if negative doubts seem overwhelming, God’s will for us ensures that our hearts, both God’s and our own, continue to beat in harmony.
It is also possible that these moments will occur simultaneously. This fact was brought home to me as we listened to a piece of music. The choir were singing a psalm and the different voices oscillated between the clear high notes of the trebles and resonant, low tones of the baritones and basses as they exchanged verses. Yet even as the one range sang, the other did not remain silent, but was still audible if muted
As this thought occurred my eye was also caught by one of the trees outside, its leaves filling the frame of the window, as the wind shook them and light and shadow danced together. On a sunlit day this produced a feeling of warmth and happiness as the large leaves absorbed and reflected the light, but I could also imagine on a wet, winter day, the dark bare branches would be oppressive and shadowy. Yet in both scenarios neither light nor dark was completely absent
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it
My mind then raced to think of other examples where the presence of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ might not only be present, but might be necessary for us to appreciate the need for both to exist concurrently. Things such as batteries, where positive and negative terminals have to be present in order for power to flow through it. Or when racing a car on a track, where the exhilaration of driving at high speeds needs to be tempered by a fear of the consequences of crashing and so teaches us to develop braking and manoeuvring skills. Of maybe even a margarita cocktail where the combination of saltiness and sourness adds to the whole experience!
We only need to think of the disciples at Easter. Theirs was utter desolation as they abandoned Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and had to deal with their fear and response to what they had done; yet just like Peter, they kept their focus on God, so that their and our consolation came through the cross.
Yet even as we acknowledge that there will be consolation and desolation in our own lives, if we continue to maintain our focus on looking toward God then our consolation should never remain self-centred – there are many other directions in which God is trying to catch our eye!
Oh Master, grant that I may never seek,
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul