Spirituality and Discernment

Newly returned from the 1st annual Leadership Institute on Group Discernment, I am filled once again with the awareness of how hard it is to do discernment right if we aren’t grounded in God when we begin. Discernment is defined as “separating apart” – distinguishing between God’s movement within us and movements that aren’t of God. In my own mind, I have come to equate discernment with decision-making. My belief that every decision I make has an effect in the world – it furthers God’s love of it works against God’s love. This, I think, is what is meant by the concept of the Lamb’s War – we see every action in this world as affecting the spiritual state of the world.

For the purposes of group discernment, it is clearer to me after the conference that we can and should hone our skills and learn techniques for guiding a group towards unity on an issue. It is even clearer to me that achieving unity is crucial to Godly decision-making, simply because voting or any other way of making group decisions sets up a situation where one group gets what it wants at another’s expense. Since God loves us equally, I find it hard to believe that God would favor one group over another. Also, I believe that God has ONE plan for a group (God isn’t giving different and opposing ideas to different groups of people) and I believe that God does tell us what that plan is and that we can learn to hear God’s invitations towards the right thing.

Occasionally God does speak to us through burning bushes and pillars of fire – in ways that allow for no contradiction or confusion. More often, however, I think God speaks more softly and gives us choices. Those who want to know God’s mind can hear it, and those who don’t can ignore it.

In my own experience, ultimately, it does boil down to how much we want to know God’s mind and how much we are willing and able to hear the Godly things through the clamor of cultural expectations. It never ceases to amaze me just how often God does something unexpected and suprising – in fact that is often a sign to me of God’s handiwork. But if our expectations are too rigid, our “prec-conditions” on how we think God works may limit our ability to hear. Here are some of the pre-conditions I sometimes notice:

If we expect “the right way forward” to be expressed through the voices of resourceful, educated, or “hardworking” people, we are likely to miss God’s voice speaking through or on behalf of those who have less strong a voice in society, be they children, minorities, people who suffer with mental illness, uneducated, unemployed, etc.

If we expect God to require us to pick up our cross daily and for it to be a hard thing to do, we are unlikely to hear God whispering to us that we are his beloved with whom God is well pleased, and any joyful and fulfilling calls God offers.

If we haven’t learned how God speaks to us – and God does speak in different ways to each one of us – or we believe that we have flaws that keep us from hearing God, we may miss God’s tugs and nudges.

So an important part of decision-making is to continually strip away our own notions of how God does and doesn’t act in the world, and let God speak for God-self.  

Query for prayerful consideration:

What are beliefs I hold that may get in the way when I seek to know God’s way?


Money, money, money…

I must confess that I started my work at the Recovery Cafe (see 12.5 blog entry) with some misgivings about the cliches that seem to me to emanate from 12 Step environments and all the Saturday Night Live-type routines that have grown out of them. Maybe the program is a bit simplistic and ritualized? Maybe as a Quaker I have a bit of a bias against “programs”? Anyway, since my job was to lead an exploration of Ignatian prayer practices, I figured the 12 steps would be at a bit of a distance and it would be fine.

However, this committed Quaker, who has come to love and use the tools of Ignatian spirituality and discernment, has now discovered – experientially – some core spiritual practices at the center of the recovery movement that she thinks might speak to our spiritual condition. This discovery ties in with my month-long blog exploration of how hard it is for comfortable middle class people like me to experience and trust in God’s abundance.

Here are the gems I have found and wish to share with you:

People in recovery are supposed to focus on the good things in life and not dwell on things that are painful or unfair. The idea being that if addicts get to feeling sorry for themselves, that puts them in danger of using that old coping strategy of drinking or using. So the recovering addict focuses on looking for things in life for which to be grateful. Also, s/he is encouraged to take for granted that life will bring many disappointments, injustices, and pain. No big deal. Certainly no excuse for “needing a drink” to feel better. And the third component of avoiding self-pity is to exercise the compassion muscle by focusing on helping and supporting other people in their times of trouble. 

Gentle reader, I wonder if my focus on needing a new computer, my fear that choosing a path of greater simplicity might harm my marriage or my daughters’ well-being, my need to set money aside for my retirement or my daughters’ college fund are sometimes just an unhealthy coping skill in response to self-pity? Don’t miss the word “sometimes” in the preceding sentence.

The greatest gift of the recovery process to my spiritual life is the way I think it helps me discernment between the things I truly need and the things I only imagine I need. If I steep myself in gratitude, compassion, and acceptance that life does indeed bring disappointment/injustice/pain, I believe I can be more trusting of the next impulse to, say … put money in my daughters’ college fund? I’ll know it’s less likely to be the old unhealthy coping skill of relying on money to fix things, and more likely to be a genuine response to the calling God has given me by entrusting my daughters to my care.

The women and men of Recovery Cafe have shown me the perfect antidote to our society’s addictive reliance on money as the tool with which to address the injustices, disappointments, and fears that life inevitably will bring: compassion, gratitude, and acceptance.      

Query for prayerful reflection:

God, I admit that I am powerless over money – my life has become unmanageable.