Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know

(Pema Chödrön: American Tibetan Buddhist).

AIM: To explore with participants spiritual desolation

Our Intention: Participants will:

  • Reflect on an experience of spiritual desolation (when God seems distant) from their own experience.

  • Become aware of its ‘movement’ and how it contrasts with that of spiritual consolation.

  • Reflect on how to respond to desolation.

  • Recognize its place in the Examen.

  • Be introduced to Ignatius’ Rules / Guidelines on spiritual desolation (Wk 1, Rules 5-9)


Welcome and stilling

Reflect and Share (Last session)

Spiritual Desolation: Introduction

Individual Prayer-with journal


Characteristics of Spiritual Desolation

  • Sharing

  • Plenary feedback

  • Feelings associated with the experiences . . . Characteristics of the experiences?

Dealing with the Experiences

  • Individual reflection

  • Feedback

Ignatius’ Guidelines:


From your experience , identify one occasion when you felt that God was absent or distant. Do not relive the occasion, simply recall it. Now, try to reflect on the following:

  • What was this about . . . . . What was happening .

  • How did it impact on you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually…

  • How do you feel about it now?

  • Speak with God about it. Listen to God’s response.

  • What, if anything , stands out for you when you have reflected on this experience?

  • Turns us in on ourselves;

  • Drives us down the spiral deeper into our own negative feelings;

  • Cuts us off from others;

  • Makes us want to give up on things that were important to us;

  • Takes over our whole consciousness;

  • Cuts us off from our gifts and our goodness;

  • Drains us of energy.

IN SUMMARY: Spiritual desolation turns us in on ourselves and away from God and others. We begin to be drawn into a downward spiral of negative feelings. Our energy is sapped and we can feel very dis-inclined to pray. We may feel listless, tepid, unhappy and separated from our Creator and Lord. Thoughts of guilt, worthlessness, self-hatred and loss of trust in God and in ourselves start to take hold.

Rule 5: Don’t rush into new decisions or change any important decision at this time.

When we find ourselves weighted down by a certain desolation we should not try to change a previous decision or to come to a new decision.

By its very definition, spiritual desolation is when we are not operating out of our “best” selves, or it is when the evil spirit is obstructing the good direction of our lives. It is actually good basic common sense to avoid rash decisions when we are “out of sorts”, and to wait until we have a balanced perspective on what is happening.

Ignatius says spiritual desolation is like water hitting a rock. It is jarring, and the sound of it slowly erodes our sense of right judgment.

Rule 6: Don’t sit back and do nothing

It might be helpful for us to try to tackle what is making us less than we know we can be. Ignatius suggests intensifying our prayer or taking on some penance. This might be as simple as telling God how I feel and asking for his help. Or we might choose to continue our usual pattern of prayer as a spiritual discipline in this dry time. Or we might plan to take some time out to really think about what is going on. It is often helpful to talk through our experience with a soul friend or a spiritual guide. At least seek out companionship. It can also be really beneficial to turn our attention away from ourselves and offer some simple practical help to others.

Rule 7: Remind yourself of what you already know about God

Often in desolation we feel as if God just isn’t there, or has abandoned us. We could reflect on our years of experience and what we know of God’s faithfulness, and the strength and power of his grace. It is an opportunity to exercise faith based on experience. Put another way, it might be useful to recall a time of consolation and to go back to it in your imagination.

Rule 8 : Be patient

This might be the last advice we want to hear as we feel anything but patient! Ignatius talks about it being “work” to be patient. It needs a bit of effort perhaps? To decide to remember previous consolations as in guideline three, and to remember that everything has its time, all things come to an end. There are times and seasons in your life. Keep telling God all about it and asking for his help.

Rule 9 : Three reasons for desolation

  • We are tepid or negligent re our spiritual life

  • It is a ‘test’ of our fidelity-without-consolation

  • Through it we become aware that consolation is pure gift, and this increases our sense of dependency on God.

Do not try to save

the whole world

or do anything grandiose.

Instead, create

a clearing

in the dense forest

of your life

and wait there


until the song

that is your life

falls into your own cupped hands

and you recognize and greet it.

Only then will you know

how to give yourself

to this world

so worth of rescue.

Desolation Trees

Desolation Landscape

O Lord Hear My Prayer – Taize

Oh, Lord hear my prayer

Oh, Lord hear my prayer

When I call answer me

Oh, Lord hear my prayer

Oh, Lord hear my prayer

Come and listen to me


Source: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Jacques Berthier

  1. Complete any unfinished parts of what we did in the session today.

  2. Please take time to read and reflect on Desolation using the material above.

  3. Read the Article ‘Recognising the Treasure when you find it’ by Gerry Hughes

  4. Look up and pray with one or more of the following texts during the coming week:

(a) Luke 18:18-23

(b) Luke 10:25-37

(c) Luke 13:10-17 (The Woman Healed on the Sabbath).

  1. When you make the Examen this week, or while at prayer, take note of the consolations and/or desolations you may have experienced. Speak to God about these.

Please remember…

  • Desolation can be a great ‘growing place . . .a creative moment . . . it is not always a ‘bad’ thing.

  • Desolation is distinct from painful consolation.

  • Desolation is distinct from depression: the former is a spiritual state, the latter a clinical condition.

LINK: S14 “Recognising the Treasure when you find it” by Gerry Hughes