Friday, October 16, 2009

Spiritual Discernment

Discernment is not always a pleasant process. It’s also a process easily complicated by attempting to inject what I think is in my best interest, what will suit my own preferential desires, or even what I think is God’s will, according to my own perceived and conditioned notions, into the process.

The process of discernment is something very fluid and its outcome, quite often, can be far different from what one may think. The involved fluidity can be something of a challenge, especially when we are conditioned to think in concrete and systematic terms, terms that can place personal limits on the illuminating capabilities of the Holy Spirit.[1]

It was a stark and numbing reality that I awoke to. Although it was a quite sudden awakening, it was predicated by a long road littered with the debris of multiple personal crises arising from the process of trying to faithfully serve God in what I honestly understood to be my vocation in life as a Protestant minister.

For all my best efforts and personal sacrifices, despite all my best efforts and sacrifices, the road in my rear-view wasn’t a very pleasant sight to behold and I no longer possessed the emotional and spiritual stamina to keep riding the waves of disaster that beat against the shore of my life. I simply could not keep doing what I was doing and accruing what I was accruing.

I didn’t see a pathway when I consciously stepped off the road that was familiar to me. It was, in fact, more like blazing a trail through the brush and bramble. I did not know where I was going and had no idea or inclination that the trail that I was blazing as a mere act of survival would intersect with monastic spirituality, solitude and contemplative prayer, and the Catholic Church. But I was satisfied in knowing that I was going.

Discernment is a process that bears its precious fruit over time. Its fruit blossoms and develops “in the going.” It has its moments of epiphany, those little rays of brilliance that penetrate our hearts and minds to give us hope. The process of discernment takes us into ourselves to show us where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. It offers us opportunity to grow deeper in our understanding of ourselves. It takes us out of ourselves to help us better understand God and his will for the life we’ve been given to live in this present world.[2]

“All sorrow, hardship, difficulty, struggle, pain, unhappiness, and ultimately death itself can be traced to rebellion against God’s love for us.”[3] My own rebellion. Other’s rebellion. It’s really a simple but nasty matter.

I, for the most part, credited the cause and fault of the multiple crises to others. It was, after all, from others both in marriage and ministry that the leaping flames of disapproval reached out to singe my heart and blacken my emotional skin. At this point now, in the course of my life, I can own up to my share of the causes and faults that worked covertly deep within my ill-prepared self.

And, more honestly, pray ... forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

[1] Romans 8:7
[2] Phillipians 3:15-16
[3] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 267