From Desolation to Consolation
Updated: Sep 10, 2021
I’ll never forget the summer of 2004 when I had the privilege of taking the infamous spiritual direction practicum course, affectionately known as the “George and Jane show.” George Murphy, S.J. and Jane Ferdon, O.P. have been teaching this course at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley for who knows how many years and it was a real coup to be admitted into the practicum, which usually consisted of 20 people max, many of them Jesuit scholastics.
Within the first days of the course we took a field trip to Bolinas and visited the summer vacation home of the local Dominican order of nuns. It was a lovely, rambling property, with easy access to the rugged Northern California coast.
I don’t remember exactly all of the activities of the day. What I do recall is that we were given ample time for prayer, and were to find a comfortable place, preferably somewhere in nature, to talk to God.
I soon found myself on a lawn chair on the grass, the kind that you find at the pool, with adjustable back settings. It was definitely colder than I had expected (though I should have known better by now to always pack layers - lots of them - when going to the coast).
So there I was, wrapped up in every stitch of clothing I had brought, reclining on the lawn chaise lounge, trying to pray. But deep praying to Jesus was not meant to be. Instead, for whatever reason that escapes me all these years later, I was wrapped by something else as well - the evil spirit. Yes, I was in the grips of desolation, despite being so seemingly happy that I had won the golden ticket for admittance to the George and Jane show.
The picture of myself out on that lawn is so clear in my mind, and apparently the desolation was written all over my face and expressed through my body language, because the next day when meeting with Jane, she observed that the evil spirit was like a snake that had wrapped itself around me.
Once back in Berkeley, we continued the class, meeting all day every day, learning the intricacies of being a spiritual director, role playing in dyads and in front of the whole class and most importantly praying about why we were called to this ministry and how we would take our skills as a director and use them for the greater glory of God.
This was a very intense time, as matters of the heart, prayer, and discerning where and how God is (or is not, as was the case for me in Bolinas) showing up in our lives, all take a lot of energy! While it was all consuming and exhausting, it was also very life-giving and being the extravert that I am , I was having a blast getting to know the others in the class, many of them from all corners of the globe.
One particular afternoon we were given a prayer prompt , and much like in Bolinas, told to go off, find a comfortable place and see what happens. I remember I was sitting on a bench near the driveway of the house where we were meeting. The sun was shining and I stretched out and began to write in my journal. Though I don’t remember specifically what we were to pray about, I do distinctly remember praying and writing, writing and praying, my pen flying off the page, recounting in detail all of the times and situations that God had provided and shown up in my life. I took a detailed trip down memory lane and listed out blessing after blessing, grace after grace.
As I wrote, then was quiet and reflected, the most amazing revelation came to me, much like a wave crashing over the sand. I could TRUST GOD! Yes - Yes - Yes! I had just written down pages of instances in my life where God had shown up for me! Wow - what a feeling. A true epiphany. I was being bathed in consolation on that bench in the driveway, soaking in the warmth of the sun and the goodness of God in my life.
Yes, it was in that Berkeley driveway in the summer of 2004 that my unfailing trust in God was discovered, solidified and has been fortified ever since. I know in the deepest part of my soul, that no matter what life brings my way, I can trust God to love and protect me. That was one of my many parting gifts from the George and Jane show that keeps on giving. By the grace of God I was able to break free from the snake of desolation and come into the light of trust.
Ellen Kelly is a spiritual director. She earned a MTS from The Jesuit School of Theology