10.3 The Discernment of Good vs. Evil.

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The “First Week”: Week Ten/Session Three.

Theme: God’s Merciful Love for Me.

Our reading for today: Ezekiel 36: 25-28.

I’ll pour pure water over you and scrub you clean. I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put My Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by My commands. You’ll once again live in the land I gave your ancestors. You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God! Ezekiel 36: 25-28 (MsgB)

As we come to the close of this section of the Spiritual Exercises (Ignatius called this the “First Week”), it’s time to address what Ignatius called “the motion of the soul” or as others define it, “the discernment of spirits” or “the awareness of interior movements.” Let me quote Kevin O’Brien (author of The Ignatian Adventure) here:

These interior movements consist of thoughts, imaginings, emotions, inclinations, desires, feelings, repulsions, and attractions. Recall that during Ignatius’s convalescence after his run-in with the cannonball, he noticed different interior movements as he imagined his future. In his autobiography, Ignatius writes (in the third person): “He (Ignatius) did not consider nor did he stop to examine this difference until one day his eyes were partially opened, and he began to wonder at this difference and to reflect upon it. From experience he knew that some thoughts left him sad while others made him happy, and little by little he came to perceive the different spirits that were moving him; one coming from the devil, the other coming from God.” In other words, Ignatius believed that these interior movements were the result of “good spirits” and “evil spirits.”

Now, in our generation, modern psychology offers us a much broader understanding of the human mind, thus offering us other names and causes for what Ignatius simply called “good spirits” or “evil spirits.” But regardless of the language, it’s important for all of us to realize the inner workings of our mind, and for those who embrace the belief that God is the Creator of all good things and that Evil does indeed war against God’s good, Ignatius’s exploration of our “interior movements” can, indeed, bring a new hope into this life that’s so often filled with both “good” and “bad.”

Some say the Bible, at its very core, tells the griping story of how a Good and All-Powerful God wins the age-old battle over the lesser forces of Evil. And a study of world religions reveals to us that this story of Good vs. Evil is not unique to Christianity. In truth, even modern psychology reveals that deep inside each human heart is a battle of wills, a war that seems to rage within the human psyche on a daily basis.

When I worked with the men’s ministry Promise Keepers, I had the unique opportunity to meet with a variety of Christian men who had come from a vast array of different cultures. I recall one meeting when we were talking amongst ourselves about the common inward battle all men, despite color or creed, have with lust and sexual purity. When talking about this inward struggle of the mind, or as Ignatius would call it, the “interior movements of the soul,” one of my fellow PK employees, a Native American man, spoke up and said long before he had became a Christian, his tribe had an ancient story that helped him with his battle with sin…

There once was a man who had two dogs. He brought his two dogs with him everywhere he went. One dog was red and the other was grey. He had taught them to fight on command. Every evening, our tribe would gather and these two dogs would fight and the man would take bets on which one would win. On one night the grey dog would win; another night, the red dog would win – but the man always won! His friends began to ask him how he did it. He said, “I starve one and feed the other. The one I feed always wins because he is stronger.”

The Native American man turned to us after telling his story and said, “So…here’s my challenge for you as you battle in your mind…the red dog is your clean thoughts, the grey dog is your unclean thoughts. Now…which dog are you feeding today?”

The room fell silent.

But then, the man spoke again. “In Christ, my brothers, we don’t fight this battle alone. In Him, and with the empowering work of the Holy Spirit within us, you and I can feed the red dog today, coming alongside the good work of God, building up the work of Christ within us. Take heart, my brothers, the victory in Christ can be won!”

So it is, as Ignatius said so many centuries ago, the discernment of spirits, the self-awareness of the interior movement within us, can assist us in our battle between Good and Evil. And with Christ, the victory is not only assured, but you and I can join Him in that battle in a world that abounds with red and grey dogs alike.

My prayer: Father God, thank You for the increased awareness I can have of my interior thoughts. Within me lies the potential for Good or Evil and so much of it depends on which “dog” I will feed. Thank You that Your Holy Spirit dwells within me, empowering me in the battle. Today, may Your goodness win within me. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: So how is the battle of the mind going today? Am I fully aware of the ‘interior movements” Ignatius identified? How is the battle between the red dog versus the grey dog going today? Which one is barking the loudest? Which one am I giving attention to? Which one am I feeding today?

So what is God speaking to you today as we ponder together The Ignatian Adventure?

Over an eight month period, you and I will be working our way through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. For more information on our journey and how to begin…click here!

Click here to go on to the next section in Our Ignatian Adventure.

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