Noticing movements of the Spirit – a slow tender process

Noticing movements of the Spirit – a slow tender process

The Rules of Discernment for the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius #313 – 327

St Ignatius’ note at the beginning of the Rules for Discernment is important: ‘These rules are for understanding to some extent the different movements produced in the soul and for recognising those that are good, to admit them, and those that are bad, to reject them. These rules are more suited to the first week’.1

In the first week of the Spiritual Exercises the giver and receiver are both engaged in noticing the movements of the Spirit. The receiver begins to reflectively tell their story as it is gradually brought to their attention in their prayer and life. During this stage they are more than likely to experience both consolation and desolation and to describe these feelings and what seems to have triggered them (or if they have come out of the blue). When these different experiences emerge, this is the best time to begin to explain Ignatius’ rules for discernment. But not necessarily using a rigid language. As Ignatius himself said, experience is the best teacher of unforgettable lessons. It is a slow, tender process involving growth of trust and confidence.

At these moments what I am looking for and asking of the person receiving the Exercises are questions like: “Is this experience leading you closer to God? To more gratitude, greater interior peace, increased compassionate love?” Or is it taking you away from God as central in your life? Are the fruits of the Spirit evident here?”

The movements of the Spirit, either sadness or joy, turmoil or peace, are signs, all gifts, that help in discernment. Noticing without judgment is important. When the ‘observer’ within a person is fostered, it helps the retreatant to have some detachment, from either what appears as consolation or desolation, enough to begin to see where they are being led: towards God or away from God, towards Life or away from it. From this noticing then their actions or attitudes can be considered.

The First week stage of the Exercises is early in the retreat, the focus is the depth and extent of God’s love for the retreatant regardless of what has happened in their lives. As each shadow is faced in the context of God’s unconditional love, the retreatant is further freed. There is plenty of time for more detailed discernment of Sprits as the retreat progresses.
1 Louis J Phul SJ, The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, p41


With thanks to Kerry Holland for her written and artwork contributions to the JISA Discernment Series. Kerry is an artist and a Giver of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises associated with Faber JISA in Brisbane. She has a particular interest in the spirituality of ‘imperfection’ and tenderness and encountering God’s presence most clearly on the margins of our society.