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My dears –
There was a time just before I was lucky enough to find my way – be given a way – back home to myself when that way had been obscured. It was a time of great fun, but it was also a time when I was lost and didn’t know it. I was “in a dark wood,” and I didn’t even know I needed a light. I had no sense of direction or even the need for a direction.
It was a time when it would have been very simple for you to have found me, though I couldn’t find myself. In fact, you could have found me on any night of the week…
You see, Mondays we went to the Dark Horse. Excellent wings there. (I mean, they were excellent.) A rockabilly band my group of friends loved and $5 drinks—tall, unwatered, crazy-ass drinks. Tuesdays to a total dive so we could dance and drink some more. Wednesdays back to the wings place. Thursdays to my favorite underground bar (why are they always underground?) And Fridays playing pool (I’m really not that great at it, but I’m a damn sight better at it than I am at darts!).
Saturdays we were “off” because there might be parties to attend. And if there weren’t parties to go to, we certainly knew how to make our own. One famous quotation, from that long-ago time: “You know what this party has too much of? PANTS!” (I am not making this up, you can ask my brother!)
Which brings us to Sundays, the slowest night of the week for the bars in town. And so naturally, it was queer night at a club, and that night of the week I danced more than I drank, and maybe I hit up the Thursday night bar before I went home for the night.
Oh look! It’s Monday.
Over and over and over…
I cannot IMAGINE how much money we spent as a group during that time—or even how much I spent on my own. There is a comrade in The Way of the River who could probably figure it out, but don’t worry, friend, I won’t ask you.
There are people from that time who are among my dear friends. And maybe that time in our lives was just part of growing up. Just part of a phase of late adolescence, or something.
Nevertheless, I was lost.
Lost with no sense of what I was going to do besides spin on this rat-wheel of bars and parties with no end in sight. Just adrift.
I had a decent job. I had somehow managed to keep friendly with the people with whom I had been roommates—largely through their own largesse of heart. I finally was learning how to pay my bills. I was paying off my student loan from my first and second attempts at college, after having been in default for years. (Goddess bless the Clinton administration, who made it possible to have student loan defaults expunged from your record!)
I had good friends. Real friends. I was lucky/blessed enough to have a spiritual community that, I believe, held me as together as I was at that time.
But I was drinking or dancing or recovering from drinking half my waking hours.
I was simply spinning my wheels with no sense of future, only regret for my past, and no pride in the present.
Paula was a Sister of St. Joseph, a member of the order of Roman Catholic religious sisters with whom I had been hanging out while I was studying to become a Wiccan priestess. (Yup. I’ve always been this way: Why do one thing when you can choose seemingly opposing things?)
It was Paula who taught me the value of finding my way home to my heart. Like in the story of the prodigal son, I had to “come to myself” in order to come home to a meaningful life. It was Paula who taught me about the Jesuits’ focus on prayer and contemplation, action and leaving this world better than you found it, and she taught me “discernment.”
Not just discernment in the sense of being able to tell one thing from another. Not just the sense of having a discriminating palate or being smart. Those things—a fussy taste in cheese and high SAT’s—I already had. I didn’t need any more of that.
What I needed was to come to know who I might hope to be.
I needed discernment to help me find my own values. Discernment to help me find my own hopes. Discernment to help me find my own deepest desires.
It was Sister Paula, bless her, and Sisters Mary (and Mary and Mary—I am not making that up), and Carolyn who taught me about formal discernment.
Obviously, I never became a Roman Catholic sister, and that is due in great measure because the sisters’ lessons themselves stuck with me. It was in part because they helped me find my own values and what I most desired in the depths of my heart. And eventually I knew the lessons of discernment weren’t even solely Catholic. They were lessons anyone could use—even this “lost sheep.”
Once I left the convent, I was still able to take the tools the Sisters of St. Joseph had given me into a new life. I needed those tools and I used them to find that the spiritual nourishment I received was the same nourishment I wanted to provide. I needed Spirit at the center of my life, and until I had that, the days of my life were so much dust in my mouth.
I started looking at how discernment played with the values of my Wiccan tradition, how discernment was used in secular contexts, and how I could put it all together. Because, no matter how confusing it might look on the outside, I was always someone who wanted to Bring It All Together. And I still am.
And as I have done and continue to do the work of Bringing It All Together (though now my theology would say, “Catharine, how can you bring together what has never been separate?” but that’s another letter.), I have come back to discernment again and again.
This August, I will once more offer Making Hard Choices: The Art of Discernment. I will share some of what I learned from those sisters. I will share some of what I have learned in the arts of priestessing. And I will share some tried-and-true, totally secular methods of discerning how to build a life, how to make good decisions, how to make hard choices.
Discernment isn’t about choosing between bad and good. That’s the easy version. Discernment is about choosing among choices seeming equally problematic or equally beautiful. And is indeed about how to feel, intuit, and come to know deeply in what direction your North Star lies.
Discernment says, “Do I want to keep doing what I’m doing, or do I dare to ask the questions I know are deep inside of me?”
Discernment is great when you know you need it now. But its practices can become beautiful, helpful, common—or even daily—parts of your life.
Making Hard Choices: The Art of Discernment may be for you right now because you are at one of those branching, life-defining moments.
Or maybe you just want to have discernment as a friend always there when you need it most. You never know when that time will come, and it’s so helpful to have discernment within you, in the Deepest, Wisest places of your heart.
Those are the places Paula said were where it’s hard to tell the voice, the alluring Presence of God from my own deepest desires. Those places where the Hand of the One Love has written on the wall of my heart.
My days no longer begin and end with the question of what bar I will go to.
Spirit is at the origin and circumference of what I do. When I am doing my best (granted, an elusive state), authenticity, integrity, compassion, wisdom, and most of all, love, determine my courses of action.
It is because of discernment that I learned those values were mine to try to live up to. It is because of discernment that I learned those values are what I want to live up to. It is because of discernment that I have come to know so many of you, so many marginalized in other religious environments (even when you lead them!), so many wandering in a desert of uncertainty.
Making Hard Choices: The Art of Discernment can help you find your inner compass. It won’t give you mine. It won’t give you Paula’s. But it can help you find your own.
But maybe you don’t know me that well? Want to come to get a taste of what I’m like in person and how I teach? Well, come on into the July 16th 8:30 Eastern/5:30 Pacific free workshop that will show you a bit more of who and how I am. We’re going to spend probably just shy of an hour getting to know one another, and engaging a practice I call The Qualities of Desire. Understanding the nature of what you really want will help you to aim in the right direction. It aids you, if you will, in reading your compass.
Will you look into finding your compass with me?
I hope to see you!
PS—If you’d like the nuts and bolts, or even just find your curiosity piqued about the full class, go to Making Hard Choices to find out more information about the course beginning in August and join us on this summer’s-end journey of discernment.
PPS—And hey you! Yes you, the one with the packs of Tarot cards you haven’t touched in months (or never even opened) or the one who’s been curious about Tarot for years but have no idea what to do with it, and you too who LOVE Tarot and can’t wait to get more of it … click the PS link to find out even more fun information – all about the three weeks we will spend playing with reading Tarot as a tool of discernment, together as a group!