Ignatian Discernment (and more!)

We have very nearly come to the end of our series on Ignatian Spirituality. We will have another chance to engage with some Ignatian styles of prayer this Sunday, but a week last Sunday we finished James Martin’s book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by looking at a couple of different ideas related to the core ideas of finding God in all things and being a contemplative in action.

These Ignatian principles suggest a holistic approach to life, in which we stop seeing the world as sharply divided into the sacred and the secular. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have times that feel holier than others, and it doesn’t deny the existence of thin places where we feel particularly spiritual. It means that we are open to God in all times and at all places. Neither does it mean that we must all perfect the practice of praying in every moment, or that there is no value in setting ourselves aside from work and distractions. It means that we create rhythms of stopping and returning that weave prayer and contemplation into our everyday.


We started with vocation, because this is something that encompasses all we are and do. We often speak of vocation in quite a narrow way, but it simply means the thing we are called to, and the truth is that we all have one of those. We are all called to serve God and one another in the best way we can, whether that is through work or hospitality or parenting or activism or anything else, and one of the things I have always loved about revive is the way we recognise and honour one another’s callings through sentness. 

We spent some time engaging with a short reflection on vocation, in which I asked you to think about what brings you pleasure, what your skills are, what God has prompted you to, and where those three things overlap. I will say again that I think that idea of overlap is really important. Our vocation may challenge us at times, but it will always contains moments of joy, it will always draw on the gifts we have been given, and it will always come from God. If you want to spend more time thinking about your own vocation, I got the idea for the meditation from an old blogpost here.


The idea of vocation also brought us to the idea of discernment, of how best to make good and godly decisions. This is somthing which is really important to Ignatian spirituality, and forms a large part of the experience of the Spiritual Exercises, but I didn’t say a huge amount about it as it is something which needs to be practiced rather than simply taught.

Ignatius talked about three types of decision making. A decision in the first time is when we have an immediate sense of certainty about what we should do. A decision in the second time is when we meditate on our choices and follow the one which brings greater spiritual consolation. And a decision in the third time is when we ask God to be in our thoughts and then weigh up our options to find the most rational choice. 

I think this approach is helpful because it reminds us that we won’t always have a lightning bolt moment, especially if we are trusted to choose from among our best options rather than being limited to a single good choice. It’s okay to use all our rational and emotional capabalities, and they are not contrary to listening to God because God can speak through them.

It’s worth saying here that Ignatius believed the process of decision making must begin with indifference, which he described as the freedom to approach each decision with a genuine openness. He also recognised that all outcomes have their drawbacks, and so making a decision means saying a wholehearted yes to the positives and the negatives. That may not feel particularly encouraging, but I think there is a relief in accepting that no decision will ever be perfect, because life isn’t perfect.



We very briefly touched on Martin’s ideas about a spirituality of work (or home or school or you fill in the blank). He talks about the importance of consistently finding time for God, finding time for silence and solitude, and living ethically.  We will all have our own ways of practising these things, but we have much to gain from sharing our experiences with one another, and so I hope to find a way of gathering our wisdom and ideas. Watch this space…


We ended the session with two final thoughts from the closing chapters of Martin’s book. The first was that God loves you but God also likes you. It may not seem a significant difference to some of you, but to me it says that God doesn’t just love me because he cannot do otherwise, he also likes me because he sees the good in me even when I don’t.

The second related to the final scene from Paris Je T’aime, which I have posted a link to below. It does not speak of spirituality or prayer, but it does expresses the sense of connection and aliveness which comes from finding God in all things. I really encourage you to take a few minutes to watch and enjoy it, and then think about a time when you have felt similarly, or ask how you may become more open to such moments.

Published by leighannegreenwood

Baptist minister in training with Revive Leeds. Blogging on behalf of Revive and (coming soon) for myself at Covenant Project.

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