Finding God in Desolation

Finding God in Desolation

Do not fear desolation; face it with perseverance. Do not evade it. And in desolation, try to find Christ’s heart, to find the Lord. And the answer will come, always.”

This invitation has emerged for me a few times in my life, most notably when undertaking the third movement (or ‘week’) of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life some years ago. I was wrestling with a few unhealthy attachments, and gifted with the capacity to sit with what Pope Francis calls “a healthy restlessness”.

“…if there is not a little dissatisfaction, a little healthy sadness, a healthy capacity to dwell in solitude and to be with ourselves without fleeing, we run the risk of always remaining on the surface of things and never making contact with the core of our existence.”

I was sitting in the dirt with my friend hanging on the tree above, slowly dying before my eyes. Half agony. Half hope. And I had a mystical experience of floating out into space… my body being clawed away by successively finer nails and needles – through my skin, my flesh, my organs and my bones – until there was nothing left but my soul. Eternal. And untouchable. Through space. In that moment, I discovered God. There in the pit. In the depth of my darkness. And I realised that no matter how many attachments that could scour away at me and yank me into a thousand different directions, the source of all love would still be there. With me, in it, and at the end of it. So in the pit of desolation came this immeasurable grace.

This moment of deep grace has stayed with me ever since. I’ve processed it successively over the years, by painting it, putting it to music, writing poems about it, recreating it, and retelling it. For me it answers the question that Pope Francis poses this month, Why are we desolate? Because often, in the desolation, if we don’t flee ourselves and stay on the surface… an answer does come… we see a deeper love, a most profound love. That changes everything.

Thank you to Robyn Wunder for this contribution to the JISA Discernment Series. Robyn is a Spiritual Director, giver of the Spiritual Exercises, Psychotherapist, and works with Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia. She lives on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, finding inspiration from expansive water, the constancy of waves and the company of eucalypts that grow on her doorstep. And she loves spending time with her 13-year-old boy girl twins.