Archive for April, 2022

‘Discernment-Discretion’ supports our living in ‘our truth’ not living out ‘a truth.’  ‘Discernment-Discretion’ supports our working out faithfully and attentively what we need to do and say in order to remain connected to one another in deep fellowship.  There are, among many, three adverbs and one verb that might help us learn about this ‘Janus.’  These four words are found in many ancient traditions (faith and philosophical); they have ‘staying power.’  Here are the three adverbs and the one verb: faithfully, attentively, obediently & to listen

Faithfully enables us to go beyond our closely held stereotypes, prejudices, opinions, and assumptions as to how the other(s) should act, what the other(s) should believe, what ‘truth’ the other(s) should hold and how the world ‘should’ work.  There is ‘truth’ here, but it is a tiny truth; it is a truth wearing blinkers – for some it is a blind truth.  ‘Faithfully’ enables us to expand our searching and seeking and to trust that there are truths that call me and these are broader and deeper truths than I can imagine. 

Attentively means that I chose to listen rooted in deep attention, receptivity and with responsiveness.  I allow the other and his/her words to reach my heart and soul – not just my intellect.  I choose to become attentive to the deep mystery that is the other.  I honor the other by being attentive to him/her.  If I am attentive I will discern that the other ‘suffers as I suffer’ and given this insight I might well choose to respond rooted in discretion.  If I am attentive I will be able to discern my shadow being manifested by the other (my ‘shadow’ contains the ‘good and evil,’ the ‘light and the darkness,’ the ‘virtues and the vices’ that lie hidden within my-self).    

Obediently means that with freedom-responsibility is yet another Janus that I will embrace.  It means that I will seek to discern and then with discretion respond to my ‘life’s purpose’ and to my ‘call.’   It means that I will discern when it is more important ‘to be faithful’ rather than ‘effective’ and discretion supports my choosing to ‘be faithful.’  An ongoing challenge for me is to discern when I am called ‘to be obedient’ – and then to respond rooted in discretion.

To Listen means that I will choose to listen intently and receptively in order to first understand (myself and the other).  It means that I gift the other with a certain type of listening – a listening that embraces and honors the other.  Listening is also a gift I give to myself – done well, it enables me to expand my own self-knowledge; ‘nosce te ipsum’ – know thyself (If I want to understand the other I must first look in to my own heart!). 

‘Discernment-Discretion’ cannot be taught – it must be learned.  Role-models, mentors and living examples are helpful – if we are willing to be faithful, attentive, obedient as we watch and ‘listen.’ 

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I have been reading and learning more about the ‘Desert Fathers-Mothers.’  Recently my thinking was stimulated by a ‘holistic’ concept; a concept that we, in our culture, have fragmented.  Simply stated the concept is: ‘Discernment-Discretion.’  During this and my next two entries we will briefly explore this concept. 

Many years ago, Discernment & Discretion were the same word ‘discretio.’  They were inseparable.  They were akin to the two-faced god Janus – one face, Discernment, looked internally and the other face, Discretion, looked externally.  For example, Discernment looked internally for ‘truth’ and Discretion helped ensure that the person would act externally rooted in his/her ‘truth.’  The ‘student’ who was learning about ‘discretio’ sought to discern the difference between the ‘true and false’ that resided within and then rooted in ‘Discretion’ would act on his/her truth.   

Consider, Gentle Reader, that in our culture we have come to split these two concepts (reductionism is a habit we have integrated thanks to our industrial revolution and the ensuing mechanical metaphors).  I often hear folks talking about the need to be more discerning; I seldom hear folks talking about the need for discretion. 

Consider that Discretion guides our choice of action – perhaps more importantly Discretion guides our choice for ‘non-action.’  Discretion helps us decide to act upon or not act upon what we have Discerned. 

We have lost touch with Discretion-Discernment as a ‘whole’ and one result is that the definition of Discretion has, itself, become ‘two-faced.’  For example, the ‘Shorter Oxford Dictionary’ provides us with two contrasting definitions.  The first fits well with our ‘relativistic-individualistic’ culture: ‘Deciding and acting as one thinks.’  The second is more counter-cultural: ‘Being discreet and prudent in judgment; being circumspect in speech or action.’ 

It seems that all ancient faith and philosophical traditions emphasize the ‘whole’ – Discernment-Discretion, not just one.  One of the most ancient, the ‘Tao Te Ching’ emphasizes ‘the middle way’ as it is rooted in the ‘whole’ of Discernment-Discretion.  A few centuries later, Aristotle, embraced the ‘whole’ and provided us the ‘Golden Mean.’  A few centuries after that Jesus provided us one of the most powerful ‘lived examples’ of the whole. 

When confronted by the righteous, angry mob who deposited at his feet the woman caught in adultery Jesus became ‘silent,’ he ‘withdrew into inner solitude,’ ‘he waited as he reflected’ (we really do not know how long he remained withdrawn – it was long enough to cause the mob to become more irritable).  After ‘writing in the dust’ (What did he write anyway?), he looked up and with a few simple words he both defused the situation and raised the awareness of all present (my hunch is that this ‘awareness’ was quite disturbing).

Jesus’ ‘holistic’ approach – Discernment-Discretion – elevated (or was it that he ‘deepened’) the situation to a more profound and powerful level.  No one was condemned and yet no one could walk away unashamed (not ‘shamed’ but ‘unashamed’).  By his embracing the ‘whole’ of ‘Discernment-Discretion’ Jesus enabled the potential for a greater good.     

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However exalted we image ourselves to be in spiritual and emotional matters, we have only to spend a few hours around our families to see how far we still have to go and what in particular we need to work on. –Gregg Levoy

Two days ago our family gathered to celebrate my daughter, Becky, and her 45th birthday.  All, save one, was able to be with us – nearly a ‘full house.’  Yesterday morning I found myself thinking about ‘Family’ and in particular thinking about ‘Attending.’  Today, Gentle Reader I will share with you some of what emerged for me as I reflected upon both concepts: ‘Family’ & ‘Attending.’

AN ASIDE: ‘Family.’  There are numerous definitions for ‘Family’ and those who gathered with us yesterday are considered to be part of ‘Our Family.’  ‘Attending.’  ‘Attending’ comes from the Latin word ‘tendre’ which means ‘to hold.’ 

‘Family’ is inherently affirming, challenging and humbling.  Thus ‘Family’ is a fertile ground for developing a spiritual practice.  If we look closely and pay attention we can perceive our interactions with those we love AS OUR PRACTICE.

‘Attending,’ as I am thinking about it, is a way of being with another person – a gift of ‘presence’ that nurtures and sustains body and soul.  I experience being ‘attended to’ when someone seeks to ‘understand’ what my experience feels like to me; when this person walks with me even for a few moments in my journey.

‘Attending,’ as I am thinking about it, is not a solution to a problem, the gift of my ability to analyze.  Not advice, the gift of my own life-experience and learning. Not reassurance, the gift of my faith and hope (dare I say, ‘optimism’).  Nor is it consolation, the gift of my empathy and compassion.  It is accompaniment, attending to the other’s experience – striving to make known my efforts to understand.

When I am attending, the focus of my mind and heart is on you – my energy is for NOW; I strive to be fully present to you, NOW. 

If I am willing to develop myself so that I become aware of the many opportunities to ‘Attend To’ and recognize them and then choose to respond to them then I am more likely to choose to share the gift of ‘Attending To.’ 

At times, for me at least, ‘Attending’ is a challenge and is risky because it asks me to set aside my agenda and focus on the one I desire to ‘Attend To.’  ‘Attending To’ invites me into the land of uncertainty for in this land I have to admit that I don’t have all of the answers.

If I ‘Attend To’ the way I want to be ‘Attended To’ then it is possible that my caring actually contributes to the discomfort (think: suffering) that I am attempting to minimize or prevent.

What if part of the Good News is that we are not alone, that we are ‘Attended To’ – that we are indeed accompanied?   The Family I am part of strives to ‘Attend To’ and thus each of us deeply experiences that we are not alone even though we also know that each of us has been entrusted with our own life-journey. 

I sustain myself with the love of family. –Maya Angelou

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Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery it is.  In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments and life itself is grace. –Frederick Buechner

Greetings Gentle Reader.  A few days ago my long-time friend, Steve, shared a talk he delivered to a gathering at his home-town YMCA.  I was deeply moved by his words and asked him if I could post the first few paragraphs as I wanted to share with you the “Rules for a Perfect Day.”  So, Gentle Reader, I invite you to read, savor and reflect upon these ‘Rules.’  Prior to the ‘Rules’ I offer you a bit of a context. 

My friend, Steve, writes:

I was a nine-year old Richmond kid when my father handed me a small printed card that was entitled “Rules for a Perfect Day”. I don’t know where he got it but it was important enough to him that he wanted his son to have a copy. You might have heard some of these “rules” before…maybe in a different form. I have kept that now-laminated card very close by for the past 63 years.

My father was one of those special men who was part of what has been called the “Greatest Generation”…men who fought and won a bloody war in dangerous places around the globe. The lucky ones returned home, most of them got married, started their careers and started their families. My father never talked with me about his WWII experiences in the Pacific or his time on Mindanao.

And my father rarely talked with me about theology, church doctrine, or things religious. I sense that his focus on the rules written on that little card was his best effort to communicate with me about his faith, about how he tried to live his life, and how he hoped I would try to live my life.

Here are the key rules from my Father’s Perfect Day card:

•Today I will invest my time and energy on my faith, my family, service to others, and earned success through hard work.

•Today I will love people and use things…I will not love things and use people.

•I will try to live through this day only and not tackle all of my life problems and challenges at once. I can do some things for 12 hours that would overwhelm me if I had to keep them up for a lifetime.

•I will be happy and seek joy. This assumes that what Abraham Lincoln said is true, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their mind to be.” Happiness and joy are from within; they are not a matter of externals.

•I will exercise my soul in three ways:

-First…I will do someone a good turn today and not get found out. If anyone knows, it will not count.

-Next…I will do at least two things today I don’t want to do, just for the exercise of will-power.

-Finally…I will not show anyone my feelings are hurt. They may be hurt, but today I will not show it.

•I will have a quiet half hour by myself today so I can have a deep conversation with God…so as to get a little perspective in my life.

•I will be unafraid today, especially I will not be afraid to be happy, to enjoy what is beautiful, to love, and to believe I am loved…by God and those I love.

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Thus far, Gentle Reader, we have briefly explored Steps One and Two.  This morning we will conclude our exploration of ‘Personal Vision’ by engaging Step Three.

STEP THREE: Clarify…Clarify…Clarify.  There are two questions that I have found to be helpful as I seek to clarify my Personal Vision. 

If I could have it now, would I take it?  At first blush, this seems to be a no-brainer; ‘Of course I would!’  Ah…let us pause a moment, take a deep breath and reflect a bit.  In 1973 when I emerged my vision of having a suite of offices I would not have been prepared to accept all that went with it if it were given to me at that time.  I had a great deal of self-preparation to do – some of it I was aware of and some of it emerged over time.  My hunch is that for most of us we will have some challenges to meet and some work to do before we are able to live into and out of our vision. 

Here is a complementary question: 

O.K., I have it now.  What does it bring me?  For me, I needed to ask: ‘Why do I want this suite of offices?’  Part of my response involved others: ‘So I might more effectively serve others.’  Part of my response involved myself: ‘So I could demonstrate that I was successful.’  What helped me was an exercise that I engaged with others during the years that followed the emergence of my Personal Vision.  This exercise enabled me to ‘go deeper still’ and to uncover the more powerful motivations as to ‘Why this Personal Vision?’  Here is a snap-shot of the exercise itself. 

I would sit with another (a person I trusted) and I would state my Personal Vision:

‘I want a suite of three offices.’ 

The person would then ask:  ‘What would that bring you?’

I would then reply.  A short, specific reply is most helpful.  The other would then repeat the question: ‘What would that bring you?’  This response-question format would continue for some time.  With each iteration I would become more and more aware – of my motivations and of my ‘true goal’ (or ‘truer goal’).  What emerges can be confirming, affirming or disturbing (somewhat, moderately or intensely).   Being more aware does not always bring comfort or solace; being more aware might also bring disturbance.  By the by, I did obtain my suite of offices in 1979 and in 1984 I let go of them for I realized that they did not provide me the flexibility I needed; opportunities emerged that required me to travel and by 1990 I was working and traveling internationally.  Having my own suite of offices did not serve me or others well. 

The lesson for me: Keep re-visiting my Personal Vision and have another help by asking the ‘What would that bring you?’ questions.  My Personal Vision since 1984: ‘Be flexible and be open to opportunities to serve.’ 

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