The quick definition of the word desolation is, a state of complete emptiness or destruction and/or anguished misery or loneliness. Spiritual desolation is when one feels empty of spiritual help and or a misery that pushes one toward the darkness of depression.
Ignatius of Loyola understood desolation to be an attack of the Enemy of human nature. Ignatius defines desolation as the soul being disturbed and agitated, “without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord.”
I have lost several battles with spiritual desolation and continue to struggle with it often in my life. Having an understanding what it means to be in a state of desolation helps some with the struggle. I have found my awareness of my entering a state of desolation helps this dreaded state from pushing me to near ultimate despair as it has in my past. Understanding and awareness of the presence of desolation keeps me from acting in a non-rational manner and from being as self-destructive in attitude and action as I used to be. Still, the struggle is just that, a strenuous and suffering in a spiritual struggle.
Ignatius, in his rules for the discernment of spirits, writes, “there are three principal causes for which we find ourselves desolate. The first is because we are tepid, slothful or negligent in our spiritual exercises, and so through our faults spiritual consolation withdraws from us. The second, to try us and see how much we are and how much we extend ourselves in His service and praise without so much payment of consolation and increased graces. The third, to give us true recognition and understanding so that we may interiorly feel that it is not ours to attain or maintain increased devotion, intense love, tears or any spiritual consolation, but that all is the gift and grace of God our Lord, and so that we may not build a nest in something belonging to another, raising our mind in some pride or vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or the other parts of the spiritual consolation.” I have found that the reason I end up in spiritual desolation is probably the first cause. As much as I try, I find it difficult in our world of deceptions, distractions, and delusions to maintain some of the spiritual practices I so desire. Even though I love God, desire God, and seek to be in God’s will I fall and fail time and time again.
So what do I do when I once again find myself in a state of spiritual desolation? I pray. I pray the Jesus prayer over and over.
“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.”
I also refuse to make decisions that require change, retreat from foolish illusions of joy, and I retreat from any anticipations other than knowing that the desolation will end. When I do not know, but it will end.
I now work with people who face not only spiritual desolation but physical, mental, and emotional desolation as well. It is their world. I see them and suddenly realize my desolation is not nearly as bad. The people I work with are basically prisoners. They cannot go and come as they want because the reality they live in is not an accepted reality to those who live without the struggle of dementia. The people I work with also love God, but there are times they forget who God is and so maintaining spiritual disciplines is not a reality for them. There are times they forget who they are or even where they are. Yet, these folks too, in times of lucidness, understand that this desolation will end. Many of them hold on to one hope as long as their minds allow them to do so in the midst of their suffering. They hold on to the hope of the resurrection.
I am beginning to realize that perhaps I am not helping them nearly as much as they help me.