9.1 Consolation vs. Desolation. Light vs. Dark.

Listen to this!

Today’s Lectio Divina: 

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss. God spoke: “Light!”And light appeared. God saw that light was good and separated light from dark. God named the light Day, He named the dark Night. It was evening, it was morning—Day One. Genesis 1:1-5 (MsgB)

Ignatian Truth #9: Ignatian spirituality is all about Consolation vs. Desolation. God-awareness is all about anything, internal or external, that takes us toward God (consolation) vs. anything, internal or external, that takes us away from God (desolation).

In the last section of this blog series, we discussed the merits of Ignatius’ Examen, where we are encouraged to intentionally take the time each day to find a bit of self-awareness, which Ignatius believed that when done in God’s presence, can serve us well in helping us find our bearings along this, sometimes, very confusing journey called life.

If you recall, an important step in the daily Examen is asking yourself these two important questions:

  1. What situation, event, or activity today caused me to move further away from God…and why?
  2. What situation, event, or activity today caused me to move closer to God…and why?

Which now brings us to the important Ignatian themes of consolation vs. desolation.

In her book, The Inner Compass, Margaret Silf provides an excellent description of the role these two words play in our process of discernment…

What do we mean when we talk of consolation and desolation? We are really only talking about our orientation, and the bottom line is this: which direction is our life taking us—toward God [consolation] or away from Him [desolation]?

Here are some of the main symptoms of desolation and the most commonly experienced blessings of consolation.


  • turns us in on ourselves
  • drives us down the spiral ever deeper into our own negative feelings
  • cuts us off from community
  • makes us want to give up on things that used to be important to us
  • takes over our whole consciousness and crowds out our distant vision
  • covers up all our landmarks
  • drains us of energy


  • directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
  • lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people
  • bonds us more closely to our human community
  • generates new inspiration and ideas
  • restores balance and refreshes our inner vision
  • shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
  • releases new energy in us

Any of these descriptions above sound familiar? I’m guessing if you’re like me, there have been seasons in your life when you’ve found yourself in times of desolation, wondering where God is and how you ended up in such a place; and times of consolation, when God seems readily present to you and life seems worth living.

You see, Ignatius believed that when we can recognize the landscape around us (a place of desolation vs. a place of consolation), it’s much easier for us to make wise, discerning decisions that will produce good and lasting fruit in our lives.

So, today, I simply want to ask you this question…

Where are you this day? Are you journeying through a place of desolation, or do you find yourself camping out in a place of consolation?

The good news about your answer is that whether you are in desolation or consolation, God can be found in all things (see Ignatian Truth #3) and He is waiting to be discovered in both the Light and in the Darkness. Considering our passage today from Genesis 1, God is bigger than the “soup of nothingness,” the “bottomless emptiness,” or the “inky blackness” of any desolation we might be wandering through. Our Loving Creator stands over the “watery abyss” of our desolation, speaking “Light” into our darkness on our behalf. And for those of us who feel the joys of consolation, know that God is celebrating with us, speaking His “It is good” over us.

Next time, we’ll discuss a bit more on these themes of consolation vs. desolation, looking at the work you and I can do alongside our God who desires to meet us as we journey through our seasons of darkness and light.

Join us.

My prayer: Father God, throughout my life there have been seasons of both desolation and consolation. And yes, while darkness is hard, I thank You for the truth that even though I might be journeying through hard things, You are still there beside me. Holy Spirit, give me Your light so that even if I’m walking in darkness, I still might make decisions that point me toward Your Light. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: So, over the last few weeks, how would I define the externals of my life situation? A season of desolation? Or a season of consolation? Now…regardless of my answer to the first question, am I willing to choose consolation, words, and actions that will help move me closer to my God?

How are you experiencing God as you ponder on these Ignatian truths today? 

Over a period of twelve weeks (3 sessions per week), we will take this journey into Iggy’s Biggies, contemplating twelve foundational truths found within the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. We suggest you bookmark our blog series homepage to keep all the writings in one place for your future reference. Take note that each blog session begins with a short scripture reading. My suggestion is that you don’t hurry through, or skip the text, but treat it as a Lectio Divina reading where you slow down and sit a bit with God’s Word, allowing it to penetrate and influence you as you read.

If you’ve never journeyed through the Exercises, might I suggest that you find a qualified spiritual director and ask them to accompany you along the way? Here at The Contemplative Activist, we can offer a good number of highly qualified folks to do just that.

Oh, and if you enjoy what you’re reading here, we encourage you to share this page and our website, The Contemplative Activistwith your friends! 

Click here to go on to the next blog/podcast in this series…

5 thoughts on “9.1 Consolation vs. Desolation. Light vs. Dark.

  1. Pingback: 8.3 The Examen: An Attitude of Hope. | The Contemplative Activist

  2. These are wonderful posts. I would like to more deeply understand “covers up all our landmarks.” Do you have any examples of how this happens or what it means? Thanks.


    • Great to hear from you Vicky. Glad the series is helpful. When Margaret Silf suggests that seasons of desolation can often “cover up all our landmarks” I believe she’s referring to those times when we are so discouraged or disheartened, that even core truths and/or core beliefs will seem to be as unstable as my situation seems to be. Normally, every human being holds on to core truths, or core beliefs that serve as anchors for our lives. When desolation hits or lingers, it can mess with our ability to hold onto those core truths or beliefs, or make them hard to find in the darkness. An example: I know that God is my provider and has done amazing miracles of provision for me over the years. “God is my provider” is a landmark truth for me. But when I find myself in a time of financial struggle or inward hopelessness (forms of desolation) I sometimes will have a hard time holding onto that core truth (or in Silf’s language) desolation “covers up” my landmark of truth. Make sense?


      • Yes! Thank you! That was what I was thinking but I needed some words to clarify and make sure I wasn’t missing anything. God bless!


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