When we make New Year’s resolutions, we often have the best of intentions to make concrete changes in our lives. But isn’t it curious how many of us don’t carry them through to completion? Once again, I look to Saint Ignatius for answers. Although he lived a long time ago (1491-1556) and did not have the benefit of modern psychology he understood that the heart works in slow ways, and that we need great inner freedom to make real change. In his Spiritual Exercises, I look to the ‘Meditation on Two Standards’ (SE 136-148): I ponder that this imaginative exercise on good and evil is congruent with how our conflicting inner movements work in our lives. I draw on one of his rules for discernment that highlights this reality and maintain that the attractive life with God leads to freedom and lasting happiness.
When I meditated on taking the side of evil, I saw an inauthentic leader “seated on a throne of fire and smoke, in aspect horrible and terrifying” around the great plain of Babylon. I saw Lucifer on a throne on the top of a skyscraper, laughing aloud with hyenas laughing alongside him. He called his devils to tempt people throughout the world with riches, honour and pride. I imagined the potential for evil inside of me: emotions and impulses that may lead to endless distraction, addiction and despair. This appears congruent with how our inner movement toward evil works. Later on (SE 335), Ignatius tells us how a negative source touches the soul “sharply, with noise and disturbance, like a drop of water falling onto a stone”. My soul was very much disturbed under the standard of evil to such an extent that I felt poisoned with other vices such as envy, jealousy and deceit.
On the other hand, I imagined an authentic leader “in an area which is lowly, beautiful, and attractive” around the area of Jerusalem. I saw Jesus standing among grassy meadows and tranquil streams, and there was a mellow glow from the sun. He called his followers to go everywhere with the ‘little flame of love’ so that they may embody spiritual poverty, actual poverty and humility. Jesus quenches desires for riches, honour and pride and gives people the inner strength to endure any raised eyebrows and abuse. This also appears consistent with Ignatius’s same rule that speaks of a positive source touching the soul “gently, lightly, and sweetly, like a drop of water going into a sponge”. My whole being became peaceful in the presence of the Spirit to such a degree that the whole world was alight with a warm glow.
Ignatius invites us to engage in this meditation so that we will be filled with a deeply-felt awareness that it is only the authentic leader who satisfies our soul. The attractive life with God – under the standard of good and in alignment with the gentle inner movement – is a recipe for conversion, freedom and real change. It is here that we are able to stand by our New Year’s resolutions and carry them through to completion. It is here that there is an anchoring of Spirit and a heart that is strumming like a guitar. Perhaps, then, we can dare to believe that the power, the energy, the soul in us is not us, but God (Galatians 2:20).