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Archive for July, 2017

This morning gentle reader I am going to invite us to consider a few of the conditions that might help us engage the discipline of Discernment.  Our focus will be on ‘Discerning God’s Call.’

I believe that God speaks and reveals in God’s own way and in God’s own time; thus, for example, I believe that there is truth in all faith, humanistic and philosophical traditions – I do not limit God to speaking to me-you-us via only one tradition.

I also believe that there are a number of disciplines that can help me when it comes to the discipline of Discernment and to ‘Discerning God’s Call’ for me.  Integrating these disciplines into my life will not guarantee that I will be able to Discern.

I have learned that if I am going to be able to ‘Discern God’s Call’ I must discipline myself to be open to ‘hearing’ and I must be committed to ‘responding.’  I have also learned that God is patient.  God’s Spirit will offer me innumerable ‘whispers’ – or, once in a while, a ‘shout’ or two.

I have also learned that I have to contribute something to the process; simply being well intentioned is not enough.  I must integrate certain disciplines which then help me be more awake, aware, purpose-full and open to God’s Spirit’s ‘soft voice’ or ‘sudden shouts.’

Given all of this, consider the following ‘Disciplines’ [Discipline = an activity, exercise or regimen that develops or strengthens a skill or capacity].

Trust.  I have to be willing to trust God.  I trust that God is always present (not an easy thing to do as anyone who has experienced a dark night of the soul knows only too well), that God will-does ‘speak’ to me, that God ‘is love’ and that God is mercy-full and that God has a need for me in the world.  I also need to trust that, as a mentor of mine told me 50 years ago, ‘all is good’ (another tough idea for me to trust).

Listening.  I believe that I must develop an attitude of listening with an open heart and an open mind.  I must listen to both the ‘good news’ and to the ‘news that is disturbing’ to me (I also know that the ‘good news’ can also be the ‘disturbing news’).

In order to listen in this way I must also suspend my judgments, my prejudices, my stereotypes, my assumptions, and my ‘sureties.’  Those are just some of the things that hinder and block me when it comes to listening in this way.

I need to be fully present when I am listening.  I have also learned that this type of listening requires me to ‘listen in silence’ and ‘in solitude.’  I recall that Elijah did not hear God’s voice in the might wind or in the earthquake or in the roaring fire, but in a small still voice.

Prayer.  This is the type of prayer where I listen and God speaks.  A role model for me is the young Samuel who said: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant listens.’

God’s ‘whisper’ often comes via other people, or experiences, or even my dreams.  This idea reinforces, for me, my need to be fully present, to have an open heart and mind, and to be a searcher-seeker (in this case, to searcher and seek in order to discern).  In a true sense, then, my life can itself be a prayer.

[To be continued…]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In discernment I move into and beyond my feelings, thoughts and my reasoning about what God is calling me to.  I strive to be guided by God’s Spirit.  Discernment does not imply that I will fully comprehend God’s call.  It does raise the question: What is the next step God is calling me to take?

For me, Discernment is more ‘apprehending’ than ‘comprehending.’  Michael Polanyi in his wonderful book, ‘Personal Knowledge,’ captures this for me: ‘Things which we can tell, we know by observing them; those we cannot tell, we know by dwelling in them.’  The great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke also helps me when he writes: ‘Live the questions’ and some-day, in some way you will live into the answers.

Although Discernment does involve my use of ‘reason,’ the process is delicate and I too often stifle it by excessive analysis/thinking/reasoning.  I like Pascal’s observation: ‘The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.’

Discernment requires intuition and insight, ‘. . .for that which has not been told to them, they shall see, and that which they have not heard, they shall understand’ [Isa. 52:15].  As I respond in faith, rooted in reflective-action, I am more able to Discern.

When I immerse myself in the process of Discernment I have found that either I become more awake, aware, intentional and purpose-full as I walk with and am guided by God’s Spirit or if I deny, repress, or live in contradiction to it I invite internal havoc.  This leads to an inner struggle – a war within in, a jihad (the spiritual struggle within oneself).

Because the experiences, desires, wants and needs that form and inform my actions are at times conflicting and ambivalent, and because I am by nature imperfect and hence vulnerable to my capacity for self-deception, Discernment is often tentative and uncertain.  When this happens I do not feel a sense of having found the way or the truth or the light.  Ultimately, discernment requires my willingness and commitment to act rooted in faith and doubt as I strive to sense what God is calling me to do.

I am vulnerable.  This means, among other things, that I need to be willing to make mistakes.  I am more able to take the risk if I believe that God does, indeed, forgive me when I am wrong (NOTE: I have found that self-forgiveness is more challenging then believing in a forgiving God; I do not think I am alone when it comes to this challenge).

I have also found that in ‘obedience’ to Discernment, more Discernment will emerge.  I have also found that I need to be awake, aware, attentive, and alert if I am going to hear and understand ‘God’s Call’ and then act rooted in reflection.

I have also learned that there are certain conditions that help me Discern ‘God’s Call.’  Next time we will begin to briefly explore some of these conditions.

He who has ears, let him hear. –Matthew 24:15

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I concluded Part I with some questions, here is one of them:  How might I be able to actually verify a call that comes from God?  I ended with: A story might help. . .

In early April, 1997 a fellow was driving on an interstate highway.  For eight months he had been deeply immersed in a ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ journey.  As he was driving along he began to realize that he was extremely tired of living in the ‘Dark Night.’  He also realized that he was feeling that God had abandoned him.  He also realized that he was becoming angrier and angrier with God.

For thirty years he had been holding ‘an escape plan’ – a way out.  His way out was to become a long-haul trucker.  He knew that a number of the better long haul trucking companies trained drivers.  The trucking company that captured his imagination had trucks that were black; they were also emblazoned with red and white designs on their sides.  This company also trained long-haul truckers.  He knew that the 800 number was listed in white on the back of their trucks.

It was early in the morning.  The sky was beginning to emerge a clear blue.  The sun was rising from behind.  As he sped along he noticed, about a half-mile ahead, a black truck.  He knew this was ‘the truck’ he was looking for.  He said, ‘God is providing me a way out and I am going to take it.’  He had been, for miles, pleading with God for a way out.

He sped up.  He took out a pad and pencil so he could write down the 800 phone number.  As he was close enough he looked up; the sun had risen to a height that allowed it to block the number.  He could not look directly at the back of the truck; the glare from the sun was near blinding.  He went a bit faster and inched his way forward.  He thought that if he was able to get close enough he would be able to look up at an angle that would allow him to read the 800 number.

Finally, he was close enough.  He looked up.  The number was partially covered in dirt.  Then he saw it.  Written in the dirt, just below the number were these words: God is Calling You, Pay Attention!

Our driver cursed and said, O.K God, I got it!  He spent another nine months in his Dark Night.  During these nine months, there were, he noticed, little pieces of light that were guiding him into the Sun.

There are no set rules that provide us definitive answers.  Some of the rules that do exist provide incomplete or poor guidance.

Our driver learned that the ability to discern is rooted in striving to live the life of God’s ‘Spirit.’  We choose to be open to God’s Spirit.  We choose to become rooted in the heart of God.  We choose to trust God’s Spirit.  The people who choose to live this way – which is often a way rooted in doubt – are more likely to discern God’s Spirit speaking to them.

As these people move toward spiritual maturity, they move beyond the need for specific rules and answers into the ‘darkness of God’ where they choose to discern and act rooted in faith and doubt rather than in certainty and surety.

 

 

 

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Gentle reader, you might recall that I am a Christian Ecumenicist.  ‘Christian’ = a follower of Jesus-the Christ; ‘Ecumenicist’ = one who believes in the value of all faith traditions.  I also expand the second definition to include all humanist and philosophical traditions.  I also believe that each of these traditions also contains ‘truth.’

For me, ‘Discernment’ is crucial.  As one who believes in ‘God’ I am invited to, perhaps even required to, develop and employ the discipline of ‘Discernment.’  So, given this, what is ‘Discernment’?

‘Discernment’ is rooted in the Latin word discernere, which means ‘to separate,’ ‘to distinguish,’ ‘to determine’ and ‘to sort out.’  In classical spirituality, discernment means identifying what spirit is at work in a given situation: the Spirit of God or some other spirit.  John counsels us: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. [1John 4:1]

I believe that we are all ‘called’ and that we all have a ‘life’s purpose.’  One way of defining ‘call’ is that a ‘call’ involves using your gifts, talents, skills, abilities, and capacities to address a need – or needs – that exist in your/the world.  Our ‘life purpose’ can be more challenging to discern.  Three questions might be helpful: ‘Who am I?’ ‘Who am I choosing to become?’ ‘Why am I here?’ 

The discipline of discernment helps us understand the source of our ‘call’ and ‘life’s purpose.’  It helps us begin to understand to whom both are directed, their content and what appropriate responses are available to us.

The discipline of discernment also entails our learning if we are ignoring a call, or is we are ‘deaf’ to a call or is we are choosing to reject a call.  The great Russian Author, Leo Tolstoy, spent decades seeking to understand the implications of his call as a writer and his life’s purpose as a social activist.  He wrote a powerful piece called ‘What Then Must We Do?’  His mantra became, ‘What am I do to?’  His last words were ‘What am I to do?’

When it comes to discernment, the counsel of an American Indian Shaman might be helpful to us.  His counsel: Show Up!  Pay Attention! Follow What Matters to Your Heart! Plan, but do not be attached to your Plan! 

Show Up! = bring all of yourself; be fully present.  Pay Attention! = strive to be awake and aware, intentional and purposeful to what is emerging, first from within you, and then to what is emerging from within the experience and from within the ‘other(s).’  Follow What Matters to Your Heart!  For this Shaman the ‘heart’ not the ‘brain’ was the key organ.  Plan, but do not be attached to your Plan!  Be open to being influenced AND be flexible.

For me, discernment is not only a discipline, it is a gift from God.  I am intentional in my attempt to discern (‘hear’) God’s call.

Many ‘voices’ call us: voices of culture, career, family, worldview, peer pressure, ego, and self-interest (to name a few of the many ‘voices’ that call to us).  Although these might be ‘good/virtuous’ they might also be so loud as to drown out ‘God’s voice.’  How can I distinguish between God’s call and other calls?  How can I evaluate whether a call is rooted in my desire for security, comfort, status, power, or success rather than my desire to be open to God’s call?

How might I be able to actually verify a call that comes from God?  A story might help. . .

 

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Our society consists of a number of diverse individuals striving to live together.  Because of our diversity we know, by philosophy and by experience, that there is no such thing as a general will of society, except insofar as the diverse individual ‘wills’ agree in desiring certain material things (think: food, shelter and clothing).  Perhaps it is also true that each diverse ‘will’ desires ‘happiness’ and ‘goodness’ – however, their conceptions of these abstractions often conflict with each other.

Ideally, ‘government’ is the means by which all the diverse individual wills are assured complete freedom of moral choice and at the same time ‘government’ strives to keep these diverse ‘wills’ from violently clashing.  As we know, this ‘ideal government’ does not and could not ever exist.  The ‘ideal government’ presupposes that every diverse individual in the society possesses equal power, and also that every individual takes an active part in government.  As we well know, in our society, neither of these ‘ideals’ exists; at minimum, the very size and complexity of our government makes this ‘ideal’ impossible.

What we do know in our society – perhaps in all modern, complex societies – is that the majority is always ruled by a minority.  A certain number of individuals decide what a law should be.  They command enough authority/force to see that the majority obeys them.  In order to do this, the minority must, among other things, command a varying degree of consent by the majority (though this consent need not be and never is complete).  The minority must, for example, have the consent of the armed forces and the police, and they must either control the financial resources of society, or have the support of those who do (think of all the money that is spent when it comes to electing our government representatives).

Our government – a Democracy – assumes the right of every diverse individual to revolt against our government by voting.  Sadly, this has not been as effective as our Founding Fathers hoped because they failed to realize/understand the pressure that the more powerful and better educated classes could bring to bear upon the less powerful and less educated (an inequality that we are confronted with today).  Our Founding Fathers did not understand or they ignored the fact that in an economically unequal society votes may be equal but voters are not.  They did not understand or they ignored the fact that the ‘powerless’ – or apathetic – would not vote or would be blocked from voting (think: voter suppression laws).

Our Founding Fathers did know and understand that a democracy needed its citizens to be educated/knowledgeable and that each citizen of voting age, via education and emotional ownership (think: ‘we the people’ are the government) will, at minimum, choose to vote.  Today, perhaps more than ever before, our citizens are not educated well enough and have not embraced ‘emotional ownership’ and so a minority of voters decides for all of us.  To complicate matters, our two main political parties have moved more and more to the extremes (right and left) and so candidates appeal to their ‘bases’ and strive to win over enough of the moderate majority or the ‘fringe folks’ in order to win (and they do win because less than 50% of registered voters choose to vote).

As a society we have been on this path for almost thirty years and it appears that we are going to continue to choose this path.  Where is this path taking us?  Do we care?  Do we want to know?

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