Wednesday 8 January 2014

Experiencing the World in an Ignatian Way

By Edmund, Lo, S.J.

(Image: Warner Bros.)

Towards the end of the film The Matrix, the main character Neo sees everything around him as computer codes. He realizes that he is situated within a computer-generated virtual reality. He begins to understand what makes the world go 'round. More importantly, not only is he seeing reality as it is; he is experiencing it. I think that this leads to an interesting question: how do we experience the reality that makes the world go 'round? It is not my intention that this be considered in an abstract way. I would first consider this from a Christian angle, and then an specifically Ignatian one.

From a Christian perspective, the answer to this question is clear: it is God who makes the world go 'round. How do we experience it? An easy answer is love. Songs have been written on this, and it has been crooned to us for many years: Love Makes the World Go 'Round. This is true in many ways, but it would be insufficient if we only understand love as the warm sentiment that makes us feel good. We often run into problems when we ask ourselves how we are to experience God who is love. I propose that the Ignatian lens comes in handy in this situation. More specifically, it is the way we first understand and then experience spiritual consolation and desolation in our lives.

In a simplified nutshell, consolation is whatever draws us towards God, whereas the opposite is true for desolation. They come and go in our lives for different reasons. Consolation can be accompanied by a good feeling, but also a bitter and stinging one. Similarly, desolation can come with negative emotions, but also with positive ones, at least initially. The key is not to judge our relationship with God by emotion on its own, but rather towards which direction it is leading us.

Consolation and desolation are not just concepts that are pleasing to the intellectually-inclined and ultimately meaningless to the ninety-nine percent of us. They are spiritual states that all can tangibly experience in our lives. It has everything to do with how we are in relationship with the Reality that grounds everything. In other words, we can experience how we live, move and have our being in the Reality that is God.

With this Ignatian lens, we can better understand and interpret the reality in which we find ourselves. As Neo from The Matrix sees and experiences the reality around him as computer codes, we see and experience the reality around us as waves of consolation and desolation. It is like putting on that pair of glasses that enable us to enjoy 3D movies: it adds another dimension that livens our experience.

I personally find this approach the most fruitful one, as it goes above and beyond a simplistic view of the world and ourselves through emotions, politics, self-interests, and heaven forbid, computer codes. It deals with reality as we experience it. Not only is it useful to use this Ignatian lens to examine our days and our lives, but it can also be useful in examining our society.

One example would be Pope Francis. He is opening up venues of conversations everywhere. People who aren't interested in the Catholic Church, the Christian faith, or religion in general are warming up to this interestingly authentic man. I am not exactly a chatterbox, but I have had several conversations with secular strangers on the plane about Francis because they were fascinated by him. At times, his words demand a more careful and profound reflection which some of us are not prepared for. This is not his but ours. By and large, the Lord seems to be making waves of consolation through him. He isn't making others feel good with affirming and politically-correct statements; he isn't championing a particular political or an economic agenda. He is simply drawing others towards God in ways big and small.

While he is certainly a good example to follow, I want to highlight that we can understand him and his impact in the world through the lenses of consolation and desolation. My invitation is for us to put on these lenses, so that we see reality with another dimension.


  1. Brother Edmund,
    I am a mere Hearts on Fire alumni so I do not presume to know more about Ignatian spirituality, but I need a clarification. I agree that in terms of Ignatian spirituality - for all Catholic spirituality - we come to recognize that God makes the world go 'round. And I also agree that the way we read that experience is through consolation and desolation.
    Love is indeed a way we experience reality, but not the only one. We also experience reality - God and his creation - through truth, goodness, and beauty.
    I think it would be fair to say that good spirituality is based on sound metaphysics and epistemology. All the transcendentals are important. What do you think?
    I am very grateful for your blog entries. I always enjoy them.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I use the word "love" in the same sense as St. John the Evangelist, that God is Love. It is not a love understood by a secular perspective, nor is it a kind of love that is merely another mental category. Rather, it is one that encompasses truth, goodness and beauty. After all, this God who is Love is the source of all three.

      In my humble opinion, the transcendentals and consolation/ desolation are not, and cannot be mutually exclusive. I would say that while truth, goodness and beauty (or their opposites) can be known, they are consequently experienced by us through consolations or desolations. In a sense, these felt experiences are like "reactions" that happen in us. I hope this serves as a wee bit of clarification.