I am reading Big Magic, the creativity book by Elizabeth Gilbert. And I am reading A Spiritual Handbook, by Father James Galluzzo, the founder of the Urban Spirituality Center. Both books are leading me to think in new ways about discernment. Or perhaps I just mean deeper ways.
The Galluzzo book has the following quotation from Debra Farrington:
“Discerning and acting on God’s will does not mean you’ll never have difficult days or feel lousy sometimes. But choosing to live in alignment with God makes you more joyful, compassionate, and peaceful, even on bad days.”
Another friend just posted a quotation from Colossians: “Devote yourself to prayer, being thankful, and watchful.”
These quotations are very important when considering discernment, the process of learning to be in alignment with the Divine, to working to perceive, to “listening” for the movements of the Spirit in one’s heart and communities.
First, the quotation from Colossians, in the New Testament of the Bible. The three elements of discernment are laid out clearly: Prayer, gratitude, and attention. Prayer is the first and most continuous action of discernment. Whatever your tradition, however you pray or direct yourself toward the Divine, prayer is the piece of discernment that happens at every stage.
Gratitude = prayer of thanks. Attention = attention to the movement of the Divine, and so, prayer of perception and awareness.
Gratitude is also a practice of attention to what is happening around you. If you’re not aware, not attending, it’s hard to be grateful, because what is there to be grateful for? What is there in your life?
I have taken to writing in a small datebook about what my day has held—a classic diary, not my journal—just to be aware of what has happened. What is there in my life that makes me grateful? The buds on the hydrangea in the backyard, and the little yellow flowers on the unknown-to-me shrub farther back. The patience of my wife. The signs I’ve put up around the house to remind me of what’s important. I could go on and on.
And then there’s watchfulness, or what I’m calling “attention.” Attention is related to gratitude, as I noted above, but attention is also more than that. Attention and prayer are also intimately linked. Without attention, prayer is a one-way affair: “God, tell me what to you,” as it were. And then no “listening,” no attending? No feeling for the movements in the heart? Well, that’s just silly, isn’t it? It’s just silly because the whole point of discernment is alignment, is feeling the “nudges” that lead us along.
The Farrington quote, on the other hand, is not so instructive as it is descriptive. It points out that being in alignment—a word I love—doesn’t make life all wine and roses, as it were. Rather, it gives us the resilience to weather the difficult times.
Most significant is that well-discerned decisions give us peace. Even when they make us sad—for example, when I left the convent—they come with peace. They come with a sense of rightness deep in our bellies. They come with a sense of stillness, and in my experience, often that stillness is kind of sudden. I will have been struggling and praying and waiting and listening and frustrated, and then, when I come to something right, everything just kind of stops. It kind of stops and I feel open and free and peaceful. I know that I am going to do as I am led, no matter how difficult it is.
As you know, if you have been reading of late, my discernment has led me to reclaim parts of myself that have been lost for a while. The decisions coming out of this discernment are difficult, scary, and leave me feeling vulnerable. And peaceful. And peaceful.
I have made these decisions in consultation with others I trust, with a spiritual director, with my wife, with other mentors and people close to me. And I am receiving confirmation from communities I didn’t even know I had, from readers I have never met online or otherwise, and from friends who needed to hear about whom I have been and where I have been.
Do you need someone to walk with you on the road of discernment? Do you need someone to help you find your authentic self, especially if part of that self has been lost? I am here to help you, if you’re willing to explore these questions, or any other questions of spiritual deepening.
If you would like to understand more about what I mean, go to this page and see what my method of spiritual counsel, spiritual direction is all about. I’d love to share a free half-hour session with you to explore whether we might work together. Be well, be blessed, and be a blessing.