First, you should know that as I finished proofing and editing this love letter, my hands shook, there were butterflies in my belly, my feet were squirming, and I had to remind myself to breathe. This is not bullshit, friends. What I am writing is real for me right now, and I hope it is real for you.
Second, I promise I’m not going to talk about the Roman Catholic church for this entire love letter. If you really can’t stand anything about any of all that, skip down to where it says, “So let’s go to someone else.” Seriously. Don’t worry about it. Just skip on down.
One of the most important maxims I have ever learned about discernment is one that I have had to translate into my own theology. The statement is attributed to the Spanish theologian, Ignatius of Loyola, also the founder of the Jesuit order:
“The will of God is written in the deepest desires of our hearts.” The will of God is written in the deepest desires of our hearts.”
The will of God, you say?
Okay, how about your own most profound truth, your own Highest Will, your own best self, your own true calling, how about one of those? Better?
Is written in my own desires?
Yes. That’s what I’m saying, and it is one of the founding principles of the Jesuits, the Sisters of St. Joseph, and many other religious orders.
Now, the Jesuit Pope Francis I (born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, from Argentina) may be doing a lot of things that one certainly wouldn’t have expected of, say, his predecessor. Nonetheless, if he said, “Consult the deepest desires of your heart to find the truth of what you’re meant to do,” I think a lot of people would be surprised. Most of us don’t generally think of Popes as encouraging us to attend to desire.
Nonetheless, our own most profound truth, what some of us magical types call our Highest Will, what we are most meant to be doing in this world, is findable.
You can know it. You can find it.
So let’s go to someone else. Let’s see what another powerful leader, this one from the Black church tradition, has to say.
Let’s go to the theologian, Howard Thurman. In 1944, the Rev. Dr. Thurman founded the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples. People’s Church was super important (at its founding and today) because it was the first major, interdenominational, multiracial, multicultural church in the United States. In Rev. Dr. Thurman’s work, Jesus and the Disinherited, he outlines a theology of liberation for all people with those most on the margins centered as he believed they were for Jesus.
And the Rev. Dr. Thurman also famously said, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
But again, we struggle with this maxim, this wise aphorism, because we have no idea what makes us come alive. Many of us feel such a lack of life, such apathy and despair in the face of the evils being done around us—even, and maybe, so sadly, especially those evils being done in our name—that we cannot name what brings us alive. We are, some of us, afraid to be alive.
Where life is concerned, or, if you will, vitality, the white dancer Martha Graham did not mince words:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” (emphasis mine)
Please let our quickening, our action not be lost. The world needs it. The world needs YOU.
These writers and thinkers, all of them, as well as the Quaker teacher Parker Palmer, public servant Janet Reno, anonymous writer of the Gospel of Thomas, and ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle all agree with Ignatius and Francis, Howard, and Martha up there.
What we do matters. What we don’t do matters. What we allow matters.
Who we are and how we are matters.
You matter, my dear one. You matter.
I made a video early last week about these very issues. About how vitally important I think it is that we pay attention to what is given to us. What are our gifts? What are our strengths? Where do we need help, and how do we ask for it?
And yes, friends, I want my class, Making Hard Choices, or its sister class, Tarot for Discernment, to help you understand your heart, to help you hear your life speak, to bring forth what is within you. I want to help.
Because I believe that teaching and learning and listening and hoping and dreaming and attending are all part of the ministry I am called to do.
And also because discernment is a lifelong activity that calls us again and again to attend to the choices we’re making or permitting to be made for us.
And also of course because my ministry is part of the livelihood of my household.
And also because I can imagine a movement of people who are committed, whose previously comfortable hearts have been afflicted into speaking truth to those in power, who have claimed their dignity and liberation, who are dismantling myths of oppression (thank you, adrienne maree brown, for that formulation), and who are saving our habitat so that we stop killing one another and the other beings on this planet.
I can imagine that movement because I know what it’s like to find one’s comfortable heart afflicted, or as my Pentecostal and Baptist friends might say, “convicted.” I can imagine that movement because I know that when enough people know that they’ve got to do something, that something can be accomplished.
I know that when enough people know that something is worth not just dying for, but living for, appointing their lives for, that something will happen.
Friends, I want us to stop killing one another.
I want the concentration camps (“detention centers”) in the United States to be closed and the people currently in them taken care of as befit their human dignity.
I want not to see the animals and plants who share this beautiful, glorious home of ours, this Earth of Whom we are an expression, continue to be destroyed and utterly lost from Earth’s beautiful face.
I want barriers to the full inclusion of people with disabilities to come down and for us to learn how to honor and welcome each and every one of us.
I want people to use our bodies, our souls, and all the strength we can find for the highest, deepest good we can find. And we can find that strength through the open door of our hearts, as the Sufis say.
I want a movement to grow up with people like Greta Thurnberg (teenage environmentalist), Rev. William Barber (Protestant minister and founder of Moral Mondays), adrienne maree brown (writer and community organizer), Rev. Theresa Soto (Unitarian Universalist minister, intersectional activist, and poet), Mark Silver (Sufi teacher and business educator), and Rev. Eric Eldritch (Wiccan priest and interfaith activist).
These are people, while they are as fallible as the rest of us, who listen to their hearts. To their heads, to their studies, to their experience, to their bodies, yes, and to. their. hearts.
“The will of God is written in the deepest desires of our hearts.”
Friends, I’m not saying that I can give you all the answers to your questions, or even ANY of the answers. What I can give you is my experience of a powerful periscope that allowed me to see up out of the muck of my life and into a new life I love.
What I will say is that I have some tools that have helped me when I have used them. I will say that they are tools that have saved my life.
I will say that these tools are, I am reminded again and again, necessary for my well-being and the well-being of my ministry.
So perhaps, if you attend to your heart right now, or over the course of this week, you will decide to join our small band of comrades in the work of August’s course, Making Hard Choices. Or perhaps this is not the right time.
But what if it is the right time?
Making Hard Choices registration will be open through this Saturday (11:59 Pacific Daylight Time). If your heart longs for comrades in the journey, if you want to work hard to learn what is yours, if you want to know how to move forward, then consider joining us.
And if you already know what you are called to do, then please do it. Please, please, please move against the fear, and do it.
Please move one more inch toward your fear, and help us love one another now. Help us act together now. Help us save one another now.
I love you.
PS – Not only is Making Hard Choices open, but so is its friend, Tarot for Discernment, and registration for that course will be open all month. Whatever you decide, know that I am always here, Beloved, waiting to hear from you, waiting to see you in The Way of the River Facebook Community Group, or at firstname.lastname@example.org, waiting to know more of who and how you are.