My dears –
One of the things I haven’t written to you about much is the time just before I was lucky enough to find my way – be given a way – back home to myself when my way was obscured. A time when it was very easy to find me, given any particular day of the week…
Mondays, you see, Mondays we went to the Dark Horse. Excellent wings there (I mean, they were excellent. A cross between a garlic sauce and something really spicy. Oh, so good.), a rockabilly band my group of friends loved, and $5 drinks—tall, unwatered, crazy-ass drinks.
Tuesdays were next, of course, at a bar called (who knows why? Not I!) the Phyrst. It’s the kind of incredibly divey place with really sticky floors, long, trestle-style tables, and another band we danced and danced and danced to.
Thank goddess for the dancing.
Wednesdays, to round out our healthful living, oh yes, back to the Horse and the wings, and that drink called “Pazzo’s Revenge.” I don’t remember what was in it. Only that it was $5 and I only drank two (maybe three?) in a night. At a time when all our paychecks burned holes in our pockets the second we hit the bars, that was a bargain!
Thursday was another dive (but one I still love in my heart of hearts), also underground (why do all these places need stairs to get into the front door?!), and a return to our rockabilly friends.
Friday, we played pool. I was never great at pool, but I played and went home early.
Saturday we were “off” because there might be parties to attend. And if there weren’t parties to go out to, we certainly knew how to make our own. One famous quotation, from one of those long-ago times: “You know what this party has too much of? PANTS!”
Which brings us to Sunday, the slowest night of the week for the bars in town. And so naturally, it was queer night at a club, and that night 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, 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.
But 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.
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 defaulted on them.
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 and 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.
Enter Paula. Paula was a Sister of St. Joseph, a member of the order of Roman Catholic religious sisters with whom I was in relationship 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 word discernment.
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 (color you shocked?) 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 had always 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, and how.
Discernment about finding my values.
Discernment about finding my hopes.
Discernment ultimately about finding 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, but it was in part because the sisters’ lessons themselves stuck with me. I learned about my own values and what I needed. And eventually I knew the lessons of discernment weren’t even Catholic at all. They were lessons anyone could use; even me.
And I needed them. I needed them and I used them to find that the spiritual nourishment I received was the spiritual nourishment I wanted to provide. I needed Spirit at the center of my life, and until I had that, the days of my life would be dust in my mouth.
I started looking hard 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 messed up my life looked, 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.
So 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 Making Hard Choices 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 Making Hard Choices may be for you just to have discernment as a friend always there for you when you need them. Because you never know when you’re going to need them most.
My days no longer begin and end with the question of what bar I will go to. Instead, Spirit is at the origin and circumference of what I do. Authenticity, integrity, compassion, wisdom, and most of all, love, determine my courses of action. And it is because of discernment that I learned those values were mine. 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.
Now be careful, mind – I am NOT saying I will give you certainty – I can only provide a set of tools you can use to help find your own compass.
Will you consider joining me this summer on the journey of finding (or indeed building) your compass?
I hope to see you!
PS – If you’d like the nuts and bolts, or even just find your curiosity piqued, go HERE to find out more information about August’s Making Hard Choices and join us on this summer’s journey of discernment.
PPS – And hey you! Yes you, the one with the packs of cards you haven’t touched in months… click the link above to find out even more information—information about Tarot for Discernment, my September class!