On Desolation and Consolation

By Jennifer Dean

I have been privileged to join the eleventh cohort of the Ignatian Colleagues Program (ICP) this year. My experiences have included orientation and fellowship with colleagues from Jesuit institutions from around the United States, intensive reading and discussion of St. Ignatius’ teachings and spirituality, and an immersion trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti border. Soon, I will take part in a one-week silent retreat.

As part of ICP , I have been introduced to the Spiritual Exercises. Although the full 30-day experience is beyond the scope of the ICP , the Examen has been a regular part of my ICP experience. I was introduced to it in my work at University of Detroit Mercy, and it is a practice I am working to adopt in my professional and personal life.

Most meaningful to me are the concepts of consolation and desolation. This dual concept has been incredibly helpful for me, offering a gateway to deeper reflection. Consolation – experiences and thoughts that bring us closer to mystery and make us more focused on others – has been relatively easy for me. I am a positive person by nature, and although I find I must always work toward mindfulness, it is rarely difficult for me to identify and reflect on the things I am grateful for. Desolation – experiences and thoughts that take us further from mystery, moving our focus away from others and to ourselves in a selfish fashion – has been harder for me to engage with. Still, despite this difficulty, I have been especially grateful for this understanding of desolation. It has given me permission to make space for the places that hurt in my life, things that I don’t want to think about, thoughts I necessarily must push to the side in the course of an ordinary day.

Aaron Van Dyke of  Fairfield University  on an ICP immersion trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Photo by  Joseph DeFeo .

Aaron Van Dyke of Fairfield University on an ICP immersion trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Photo by Joseph DeFeo.

I have been blessed with incredible privilege, and optimism comes naturally to me. But life is full of hardship. Even my best intentions sometimes land me in desolation. At other times, the desolation is simply there, part of our world. Contemplation of it creates a place of discomfort to rest in and reflect. Rather than simply making me feel bad, it gives me the space to focus on why something feels bad, and what this feeling is telling me. It brings me closer to action. This contemplation of desolation spurred me to become a vegetarian within the last year. I was able to recognize that my love for animals was more than that – it was a recognition of the spirit of life within them, and I could no longer ignore the disrespect for this life that I see in our modern food industry.

My ICP immersion trip provided many opportunities to discover both consolation and desolation. My thoughts since this trip have been complex, and I have not taken the time to fully reflect on the desolation of the experience. Consolation comes easily; yet I cannot forget desolation’s role in leading us to action.

Jennifer L Dean, Ph.D., M.L.I.S., is dean of Libraries and Instructional Technology at University of Detroit Mercy.

The cover photo is featured courtesy of Pexels.